July Washington Update

July 18,2018      Volume24,  Number 7

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Holds Nomination Hearing for Robert Wilkie

On June 27th, Robert Wilkie, President Trump’s nominee to serve as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), testified at his nomination hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Mr. Wilkie was nominated to the position following a recent stint serving as Acting VA Secretary in the wake of the departure of Dr. David Shulkin.

During the hearing, Democratic Senators pressed Mr. Wilkie on his views concerning privatization of VA health care. Mr. Wilkie consistently stated his opposition to any privatization efforts. He also asserted his intent to be transparent and, if needed, to stand with veterans over the views of the President. Importantly, he also highlighted VA’s SCI care on two occasions, noting the importance of VA continuing to provide such specialty care.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted on July 10th to send his nomination to the full Senate. Based on support expressed by the committee, it appears that Mr. Wilkie is headed for confirmation. With congressional leaders anxious to have permanent leadership in place at VA as implementation of the VA MISSION Act begins it is likely that a floor vote will take place soon.

House VA Subcommittee on Health Advances Legislation

On June 27th, the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee held a markup and advanced seven bills by voice vote to the full committee. These provisions were considered in a subcommittee hearing in early June where PVA offered a statement for the record. Committee members modified the bills based on that feedback. Of particular interest to PVA, was H.R. 5693, the Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act. This bill would allow VA to contract with non-VA adult foster homes for certain veterans who would otherwise require institutional care. Sponsored by Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) and co-sponsored by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) the bill received praise and swift support.

Another bill of note was H.R. 5974, the Department of Veterans Affairs Creation of On-Site Treatment Systems Affording Veterans Improvements and Numerous General Safety (VA COST SAVINGS) Enhancements Act. This legislation would require VA to use on-site regulated medical waste treatment systems at VA facilities. Currently, most VA facilities dispose of hazardous waste by contracting for removal by truck. This is both costly and potentially dangerous. On-site systems would mitigate such factors.

Subsequent to the subcommittee’s action, on July 12th, the full committee approved and sent to the House floor several bills for further action, including H.R. 5693 and H.R. 5974. Other bills from the June 27th markup that were approved by the full committee include H.R. 2787, the Veterans-Specific Education for Tomorrow’s Medical Doctors (VET MD Act); H.R. 5938, the Veterans Serving Veterans Act of 2018; H.R. 6066, to improve the productivity of the management of Department of Veterans Affairs health care; and H.R. 5864, the VA Hospitals Establishing Leadership Performance (VA HELP) Act.

Hiring and Retaining Veterans for the Modern Day Workforce

The House Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee held a hearing on June 26th titled, “Hiring and Retaining Veterans for the Modern Day Workforce.” There was a single panel that included representatives from Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Walmart; Starbucks; Prudential Financial; and Dell EMC. All panelists agreed that veterans bring a work ethic and leadership skills that are valued by employers. They also agreed that gaps between discharge and the time a service member becomes employed must be identified.

At the hearing, Mr. Matt Kress, Manager, Veterans and Military Affairs, Starbucks, stated that his company has committed to hiring 25,000 veterans and spouses by 2025. Mr. Robert Douthit, Senior Director, Dell EMC, emphasized that his company has a long history of identifying with and working with the military and will continue to do so by focusing on employing veterans and their spouses. It was also noted by panelists that some corporations actually have a difficult time finding qualified veterans for specific leadership positions.

Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-TX) requested that panelists review H.R. 5649 and provide the committee with feedback on how to improve its provisions. This legislation would make improvements to facilitate separating service members’ transition. PVA submitted a statement in May in support of the legislation.

H.R. 299 Update

On June 25th, the House suspended the rules and passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, as amended, 382-0. Once referred to the Senate, the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee decided not to send the bill to the floor, but to instead hold a hearing. The committee has since announced that it will review the measure during a hearing scheduled for August 1st.

PVA Advocacy Staff Go to Pittsburgh for ADA Training

During the week of June 18th, PVA national advocacy staff attended the annual Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Symposium in Pittsburgh, PA. The Symposium was sponsored by the ADA National Network and hosted by the Great Plains ADA center. The event included three days of educational breakout sessions providing updates on the many facets of the ADA. Breakout sessions were presented on topics such as service animals, mapping and way finding, and the most recent ADA court decisions. Representatives from the Department of Justice also gave an update on Project Civic Access and how city and county administrators can comply with Title II public services requirements.

Another major area of focus was access to health care under the ADA. Sessions included: medical diagnostic equipment in health care, accessible personal health care records, enhancing patient experience in health care, and effective communication in the health care setting. All sessions at the Symposium are eligible for elective credit towards the ADA Coordinator Training Certificate Program (ACTCP), a professional certificate of expertise in ADA compliance.

The 2019 Symposium will be held in Dallas-Grapevine, Texas. For more information about the Symposium go to www.adasymposium.org.

PVA Advocates for the “Complete the MISSION” Amendment to the

MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill

On June 19th, PVA joined with more than 30 other veterans and military service organizations in support of the “Complete the MISSION” funding amendment. The amendment, which was spearheaded by Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice-Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would allow Congress to provide VA with sufficient resources to implement the provisions of the recently passed VA MISSION Act without triggering sequestration or requiring cuts to other programs. Shelby and Leahy sought to include the amendment on a “minibus” of appropriations bills, which included the MilCon-VA bill that the Senate passed the last week of June.

The need for the amendment is based on concerns about budgetary pressure resulting from provisions in the VA MISSION Act that would effectively move funding responsibility for care currently provided through the Veterans Choice Program from mandatory appropriations to a new discretionary program. The current domestic budgetary cap for FY 2019, and the anticipated caps for FY 2020 and FY 2021, did not contemplate the new and increased costs associated with the VA MISSION Act. The amendment would allow Congress to appropriate additional discretionary funding to meet the new requirements of the act: $1.6 billion for FY 2018, $8.67 billion for FY 2019 and $9.5 billion for FY 2020.

Despite bi-partisan support for the amendment, concerns about pitting the need for overall fiscal restraint against support for veterans resulted in a decision not to force a vote on the Senate floor. Now that the minibus has passed both the House and Senate, a conference committee is attempting to work out a compromise between the bills. According to the amendment’s supporters it is still in play and could still be included in a final bill.

PVA Participates in Canadian Forum on Wheelchair Damage in Air Travel

Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, and Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, participated in the Mobility Devices and Air Travel Forum sponsored by the Canadian Transportation Agency in Toronto, June 12th -13th. The forum served as a kick-off meeting for efforts by the Canadian government to address damage to large powered mobility devices in air travel. The effort is led by Oregon State University engineering professor Dr. Katharine Hunter-Zaworski, who has decades of experience in accessible travel.

The forum brought together a broad range of stakeholders, including Canadian and U.S. disability advocacy groups, Canadian and U.S. airlines, U.S. and Canadian government officials, aircraft and wheelchair manufacturers, airline trade associations, and international air travel policymakers. PVA, the only U.S. disability advocacy group, was invited to give a presentation during the forum regarding our many years of air travel advocacy and our current efforts working with the RESNA Standards Committee on Air Travel. The efforts by the Canadian government are more focused than those of the RESNA committee, which should produce important synergy between these initiatives.

Changes to Access for Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

in Air Travel

PVA along with other members of our Air Carrier Access Act Working Group, submitted comments on July 9th, in response to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) published by the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding access for service animals and emotional support animals in air travel. The Department requested public comment on 10 areas, including documentation for psychiatric service animals, conditions of access for emotional support animals, species limitations, and training requirements. The ANPRM is the Department’s first effort to revise its regulations since the failed attempt of the Department’s Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS) Advisory Committee in 2016. PVA served as a member of that committee and led the disability community in the negotiation efforts.

In the intervening years, airlines have continued to push for revision of the rules based on concerns primarily about fraud and poorly trained animals that cause safety issues. Earlier this year, these concerns resulted in some airlines moving forward with their own restrictions on emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals. PVA provided comments to the Department in June asserting our belief that in many cases these restrictions go beyond those allowed under the Air Carrier Access Act and cause confusion for not only passengers but also airline personnel. On June 21st, Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, also presented on this issue to disability protection and advocacy lawyers from around the country at a national conference in Baltimore.

The Department’s ANPRM will likely be followed by a notice of proposed rulemaking that will lay out a new rule for public comment. PVA has three main goals for a revised regulation: continued access for emotional support animals, equal treatment for psychiatric service animals, and improved training for airline personnel and their contractors. In addition, we will oppose any new restrictions on service animals that the Department might propose.

Some Veterans Can Now Claim Refund of Taxes Paid on

Disability Severance Payments

The Internal Revenue Service announced on July 9th, that certain veterans who received disability severance payments after January 17, 1991, and included that payment as income should file Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to claim a credit or refund of the overpayment attributable to the disability severance payment. This is a result of the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act passed in 2016.

Most veterans who received a one-time lump-sum disability severance payment when they separated from their military service will receive a letter from the Department of Defense (DoD) with information explaining how to claim these tax refunds. The letters will include an explanation of a simplified method for making the claim. Veterans eligible for a refund who did not get a letter from DoD should visit the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and IRS websites for more information.

Statute of Limitations

The amount of time for claiming these tax refunds is limited. However, the law grants veterans an alternative timeframe – one year from the date of the letter from DoD. Veterans making these claims have the normal limitations period for claiming a refund or one year from the date of their letter from the DoD, whichever expires later. As taxpayers can usually only claim tax refunds within three years from the due date of the return, this alternative time frame is especially important since some of the claims may be for refunds of taxes paid as far back as 1991.

Amount to Claim

Veterans can submit a claim based on the actual amount of their disability severance payment by completing Form 1040X, carefully following the instructions. However, there is a simplified method. Veterans can choose instead to claim a standard refund amount based on the calendar year (an individual’s tax year) in which they received the severance payment. Write “Disability Severance Payment” on line 15 of Form 1040X and enter on lines 15 and 22 the standard refund amount listed below that applies:

  • $1,750 for tax years 1991 – 2005
  • $2,400 for tax years 2006 – 2010
  • $3,200 for tax years 2011 – 2016

Claiming the standard refund amount is the easiest way for veterans to claim a refund, because they do not need to access the original tax return from the year of their lump-sum disability severance payment.

Special Instructions

All veterans claiming refunds for overpayments attributable to their lump-sum disability severance payments should write either “Veteran Disability Severance” or “St. Clair Claim” across the top of the front page of the Form 1040X that they file. Because all amended returns are filed on paper, veterans should mail their completed Form 1040X, with a copy of the DoD letter, to:

Internal Revenue Service
333 W. Pershing Street, Stop 6503, P5
Kansas City, MO 64108

Veterans eligible for a refund who did not receive a letter from DoD may still file Form 1040X to claim a refund but must include both of the following to verify the disability severance payment:

  • A copy of documentation showing the exact amount of and reason for the disability severance payment, such as a letter from the DFAS explaining the severance payment at the time of the payment or a Form DD-214, and
  • A copy of either the VA determination letter confirming the veteran’s disability or a determination that the veteran’s injury or sickness was either incurred as a direct result of armed conflict, while in extra-hazardous service, or in simulated war exercises, or was caused by an instrumentality of war.

Veterans who did not receive the DoD letter and who do not have the required documentation showing the exact amount of and reason for their disability severance payment will need to obtain the necessary proof by contacting the DFAS.

ACAA Working Group Meets with American Airlines

PVA national advocacy staff and other disability groups that are part of our Air Carrier Access Act Working Group met with Suzanne Boda, Senior Vice President, American Airlines (AA), and two other AA representatives on July 12th, to discuss the airline’s “disability improvement project” and other pending issues. The disability improvement project is an improved accountability program ensuring that AA employees and contract services personnel are trained to proficient standard of knowledge in how to assist passengers with disabilities. Areas of training focus on passenger assistance, from curb to gate, in an airport wheelchair; boarding passengers with disabilities via an aisle chair; and stowage of assistive devices. Also, there is a focus on training of personnel that load and unload wheelchairs into the belly of the plane.

With this improvement project, AA hopes to increase its customer service to people with disabilities. This includes minimizing wait times and ensuring connections. It also includes protecting assistive devices that are stored in the cargo hold of the plane so that they will be returned undamaged to their users.

Ms. Boda also discussed emotional support animal policy changes implemented on July 1st. In addition to the 48 hour notice, passengers who use emotional support animals must attest that their animal has been trained to behave in a public setting. All front line employees, such as gate agents, ticket agents, and flight attendants have been trained on the requirements of the Air Carrier Access Act. AA has also implemented an accountability rating system under which employees will be rated on their performance through survey scorecard responses by passengers with disabilities.

CCD Veterans Task Force Receives Briefing on Employment Among Veterans with Service-Connected Disabilities

On July 12th, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Veterans Task Force, of which PVA is a member, hosted James Borbely with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for a briefing on that agency’s collection of data concerning unemployment and labor force participation among veterans with service-connected disabilities. Approximately 60,000 households and 100,000 individuals aged 16 and older are interviewed each month under the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by BLS. Of those numbers, between 8,000 and 9,000 respondents are veterans aged 18 and over.

Each year, in August, additional information is collected by BLS about veterans with service-connected disabilities which is compiled into an annual supplement that is released in March of the following year.

According to the data collected in August 2017, 4.9 million veterans had a service-connected disability, with 28 percent reporting a disability rating of less than 30 percent and 41 percent reporting a rating of 60 percent or higher. Veterans with a rating less than 30 percent were more likely to be in the labor force than those with a rating of 60 percent or higher [53.5 percent and 37.7 percent respectively]. Among the most recent cohort of veterans, those of Gulf War II era, 75.8 percent were in the labor force. However, broken down by disability rating, the data reveals a similar pattern to the broader population of veterans. Those with a VA disability rating less than 30% had the highest workforce participation rate at 91.6 percent, while those with a rating of 60 percent and higher had the lowest workforce participation rate at 61.7 percent. Veterans with a service-connected disability were far more likely to work for the federal government (19%) than veterans without a service-connected disability (7%) or nonveterans (2%). Only 59% of veterans with a service-connected disability worked in the private sector compared to 73% of veterans with no service-connected disability and 80% of nonveterans.

The 2017 BLS report, the Employment Situation of Veterans, can be found at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/vet.pdf.


May’s Washington Update

May 16, 2018​​​​​​​​ Volume 24, Number 5

Historic Caregiver Expansion Passed by

the House of Representatives

On May 16th, the House of Representatives passed the “VA MISSION Act of 2018” by a vote of 347-70. The legislation now heads to the Senate.

This historic, bipartisan legislation would reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community care programs by consolidating them into a single program with enough funding to get through May of 2019. Second, it would review and realign VA’s health care infrastructure and strengthen VA’s ability to hire and train medical personnel. And of highest importance to PVA, it would make caregiver services available to those veterans with service-connected injuries that were incurred before September 11, 2001. By ending this inequity, roughly 70,000 veterans would be able to receive care and remain in their homes. At the same time, their caregivers, having sacrificed their own health and employment opportunities, some for half a century, would finally have desperately needed supports, and be acknowledged for the decades of service given, and billions of taxpayer dollars saved.

On May 8th, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs acted to advance the bill with a vote of 20-2. Prior to the House Committee vote, PVA, alongside 37 other veteran and military service organizations signed a joint letter to Congress expressing our strong support of the bill and asking Congress make progress before Memorial Day, as the VA MISSION Act is an “historic opportunity to improve the lives of veterans, their families and caregivers.”

Since the access crisis, illustrated by wait times in Phoenix in 2014, Congress, VA, and VSOs have worked to create a system to ensure it never happens again. While the VA MISSION Act is not a perfect solution it is a monumental step forward to ensure veterans are never without options.

Also included in the markup hearing on May 8th were 15 other bills, which were favorably reported. These bills included H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017; H.R. 5520, the Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018; H.R. 4245, the Veterans’ Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act of 2017; and H.R. 4334, the Improving Oversight of Women Veterans’ Care Act of 2017.

If the VA MISSON Act is not signed into law by Memorial Day, the Choice Program is set to run out of funding on June 1st. This would result in private providers unable to provide care to veterans and increased wait times at VA.

Please call your Senators and tell them to vote “Yes” on the “VA MISSION Act.”

PVA Participates in Event Highlighting the Need for a

Fourth VA Administration

On May 15th, Heather Ansley, Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, participated in an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) titled, “Reforming the VA by Empowering Veterans: A Conversation with Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH).” The purpose of the event was to highlight the need for the creation of a fourth administration at VA that would focus on VA’s economic opportunity and transition programs.

The event, which was moderated by Leo Shane, Deputy Editor of Military Times, featured Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH). On April 26th, Rep. Wenstrup introduced the Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan (VET OPP) Act of 2018, H.R. 5644. This legislation would establish the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration within VA to be overseen by an Under Secretary of Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition. VA programs and benefits to be moved to this new administration include the vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) program, educational assistance programs, and the veterans’ housing loan and related programs.

Ms. Ansley participated in a panel discussion at the event with representatives from Student Veterans of America, AEI, and the Rand Corporation. During the panel discussion, Ms. Ansley discussed the importance of VA’s economic opportunity programs to assist veterans who acquire disabilities as the result of their military service and the need for VA to place more emphasis on the administration of these programs. The full event is available for viewing here: http://www.aei.org/events/reshaping-the-veteran-narrative-with-the-department-of-veterans-affairs-a-conversation-with-rep-brad-wenstrup-r-oh/.

Rep. Wenstrup’s legislation will be the subject of a legislative hearing on May 23rd, before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. PVA strongly supports this legislation. We believe that the creation of a new administration within VA focused on veterans’ economic opportunity and transition would elevate programs like VR&E and Specially Adapted Housing and result in increased attention from VA leaders and stakeholders. Also, the removal of these programs from the Veterans Benefits Administration will allow the Under Secretary for Benefits to focus fully on disability compensation and pension.

New Under Secretary for Benefits Begins Work at VA

Paul R. Lawrence assumed the role as head of the Veterans Benefits Administration on May 15th. Under Secretary Lawrence arrives at VA following a career in the accounting industry, where he focused mainly on federal government practice. He has a Ph.D. in Economics from Virginia Tech and served as a captain in the United States Army.

Under Secretary Lawrence joins Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy C. Reeves in leading VA. At this time, Dr. Carolyn Clancy is serving as the Executive in Charge for the Veterans Health Administration. A permanent Under Secretary for Health has not been nominated.

Rumors continue to swirl about possible nominees for a permanent VA Secretary. Potential nominees include Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), a veteran who lost both legs due to an IED while deployed to Afghanistan, and former House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller. VSOs have been informed that a new nominee may not be immediately identified. In the meantime, PVA’s Executive Director Carl Blake recently met with Acting Secretary Wilkie and pledged our support to work with the Department during this time of transition.

Provisions to Improve the Air Travel Experience of People with Disabilities Included in the FAA Reauthorization

On April 27th, the House passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4) overwhelmingly by a vote of 393-13. This legislation includes many amendments from the Air Carriers Access Amendment Act (H.R. 5004) as introduced by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI).

PVA supports the following provisions included H.R.4:

Development of an airline passengers with disabilities bill of rights.
Increased civil penalties for harm towards passengers with disabilities or their wheelchairs.
Establishment of a Select Subcommittee on Aviation Consumers with Disabilities to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.
Evaluation of areas for improvement to increase airport accessibility and training of air carrier and contract personnel.
Requirements for the U.S. Access Board and the DOT to investigate the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems for people with disabilities.
Directions to DOT to revise its service animal regulation.
Requirements for passengers with disabilities to receive timely and effective assistance at the airport and on the aircraft, including personnel providing hands on assistance possibly beingrequired to receive hands on training to perform that assistance and on the use of any needed equipment.

The Senate’s FAA reauthorization legislation is still pending and will likely come to the floor in June. The Senate legislation, S.1405, passed out of Committee on June 29, 2017, and has many of the same provisions affecting passengers with disabilities as the House version (H.R. 4). Of note, the Senate bill does not include specific direction for DOT to revise policies regarding service animals.

Other parts of the ACAAA (H.R. 5004 / S. 1318) that could possibly be added as amendments when the Senate bill goes to the floor are a private right of action, the referral to the Department of Justice (DOJ)
of alleged violations, and a requirement for airlines to use aircraft that meet accessibility standards as defined by the ACCESS Board and the DOT.

After the Senate passes its version of FAA Reauthorization, the two measures will be conferenced to work out the differences with the goal of having legislation for the President’s signature before the current FAA authorization expires at the end of September.

Important Disability Disaster Recovery Provisions Were

Added to the FAA Reauthorization

Included in H.R. 4, the House FAA reauthorization measure, were a number of disaster recovery related measures concerning temporary housing assistance, data reporting, duplication of benefits, and transparency in contracting. Of particular interest to people with disabilities are provisions of the bill that would increase funding for disaster mitigation and raise the ceiling on certain costs that can be excluded from maximum financial assistance that can be provided to survivors. Because funding for pre-disaster planning and development as well as post-disaster recovery is considered federal financial assistance, any construction undertaken for these purposes must comply with Section 504 accessibility guidelines. Thus, the monies in the House bill offer the potential for enhancing accessibility in post-disaster rebuilding efforts. In addition, the bill would exclude costs associated with repairing or replacing accessibility-related improvements or personal property from counting against a household’s maximum allowable disaster financial assistance. The Senate has not yet determined whether it will include these House disaster relief provisions in its version of the FAA bill but advocates remain cautiously optimistic that they will be included in any final agreement.

More Airlines Announce Changes to Their Service Animal Policies

American Airlines is the latest to announce that it will make changes to its service animal policy. Starting July 1, American will require travelers with emotional support animals to attest to their animal’s behavior via an airline provided form. The airline also announced additional changes including restrictions on types of animals and enforcement of the requirement to complete medical and the now animal behavior documentation 48 hours before takeoff.

On March 1, Delta Airlines and United Airlines made similar changes to their service animal policies. Alaska Airlines also made changes to its policy that went into effect on May 1. Additional airlines are considering revisions to their policies.

Prior to making its announcement, American met with members of the disability community to discuss our concerns. During our discussions, PVA made it clear that we do not believe that airlines have the authority to place additional requirements on passengers traveling with emotional support animals, beyond those listed in the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulations. One positive aspect of American’s policy change, that is a direct result of our conversations, is the implementation of additional training for American personnel and contractors regarding service animals and emotional support animals.

PVA and nine other disability organizations sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao on February 6th asking the Department to deem Delta and United’s policies to be in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). On May 16th, DOT issued an Interim Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals. DOT also released an ANRRM to begin the process for revising the ACAA’s service animal regulations.

In the meantime, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced legislation in the Senate, S. 2738, which would eliminate access for emotional support animals under the ACAA. PVA does not support this legislation. We believe that DOT should continue to move forward with its regulations to allow all stakeholders to engage in the process of determining access for service animals and emotional support animals.

PVA Participating in “Dry Run” of Appeals Modernization

In response to the growing backlog at the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), the President signed into law the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, also known as the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA). Along with AMA, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), a program that provides veterans with more appeals options.

This law, which is expected to go into effect in February 2019, creates a new framework for veterans who are dissatisfied with decisions rendered on their claims. Progress has been made in implementing the law; however, many questions remain unanswered, including:

What choices will veterans make under the AMA framework, and what factors will influence those choices?
What resources and information will veterans and their representatives need to effectively navigate the available options?
How easy or difficult is it to understand and use AMA forms, and how can they help avoid errors and confusion?
Will VA have all processes in place to smoothly implement AMA in February 2019?

To answer these questions and assist with the implementation of the AMA at the Board of VeteransAppeals, VA has implemented the Board Early Applicability Appeals Modernization program (BEAAM). This program allows up to 50 veterans and their representatives to participate in a “dry run” of AMA, including all appeal options, culminating in decisions by December 2018.

VA partnered with PVA, CalVet and the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) and veterans they are representing to take part in the BEAAM program.

BEAAM offers veterans three “lanes”, or choices; veterans may choose one of the following options:

Direct Review: Judges will review the appeal using the same evidence that was considered in the original decision. The record is closed, so there is no submission of additional evidence.

Evidence Submission: Veterans may submit additional evidence with their appeal, or within 90 days of filing their appeal.

Hearing: Veterans may request a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ); additional evidence may be submitted at the hearing or 90 days thereafter.

Currently, PVA has chosen 20 veterans who will participate in the BEAAM program.

April Washington Update


On March 28th, President Trump announced the removal of Dr. David Shulkin as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In his place, the President stated his intent to nominate Rear Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD. In the interim, he appointed Robert Wilkie, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, to serve as Acting Secretary.
Following the announcement, PVA Executive Director Carl Blake released the following statement:
“We look forward to understanding more about the qualifications of Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD to helm the VA during this critical time. The VA has a broad mission and the Secretary must be someone who is eminently qualified to lead the nation’s second largest cabinet agency. In particular, reforming VA’s health care system to better serve the needs of veterans and their families is of great importance. We encourage the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to take these concerns very seriously as it considers Admiral Jackson’s nomination.”
Much has been made of Dr. Shulkin’s departure from VA and in particular what it means for the future of the VA’s health care system. The struggle to define the role of community care in serving the health care needs of veterans has torn open the debate on what some see as efforts by the Administration to privatize the provision of VA health care. Thus, we were pleased to see that Acting Secretary Wilkie has given his support to an existing bi-partisan, bi-cameral proposal with broad VSO support pending in Congress that would reform community care, expand eligibility for the program of comprehensive caregiver benefits, and launch a review of VA’s assets and infrastructure.
Rear Admiral Jackson’s confirmation hearing is currently scheduled for April 25th. In the meantime, PVA is anxious to learn more about him and hear his views on the issues that impact the services and benefits that PVA’s members depend on. During this time of change, VA needs a strong, capable leader who will focus on the needs of veterans in receiving the care they have earned.


In November 2017, the Senate VA Committee passed, 14-1, S. 2193, a bill that would reform the current VA Choice Program and all care in the community programs by consolidating them into one program. It also included the full expansion of the caregiver program to veterans injured in service in any era.


Amidst budget hearings in March 2018, there was speculation parts of S. 2193 would be included in the omnibus spending deal. Within a week, House and Senate committee leadership had crafted a deal, supported by the VSOs that included care in the community reform, asset review, and full expansion of the caregiver program.

Ultimately, these provisions were removed last minute in a round of political tradeoffs between House and Senate leadership. While a disappointing loss, we are pleased that members of Congress who were once opposed to expansion are now supportive. In the months to come, we hope to see such momentum push forward on behalf of caregivers.

On March 29th, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and 42 of her colleagues sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing opposition to the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620). Signatories to the letter include Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Diane Feinstein (D-CA). In the letter, the Senators noted their strong opposition to not only H.R. 620, but also to “any legislation that would repeal or weaken rights under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The letter further requests that Leader McConnell join with them in ensuring that either H.R. 620 or any notification legislation “will never receive a vote in the United States Senate during the 115th Congress.”
PVA and other disability and civil rights organizations joined with Senator Duckworth to encourage Senators to sign on to the letter. In releasing the letter, Senator Duckworth specifically noted the opposition of PVA to H.R. 620. PVA Executive Director Carl Blake stated in a March 2nd letter to Senator Duckworth that, “Passing H.R. 620 would be devastating to the promise of the ADA to increase opportunities for people with disabilities.”
The formal opposition of 43 Senators means that any efforts to move ADA legislation that includes a notification requirement and cure period in the Senate would be up against very difficult odds. Nonetheless, to guard against the possibility of this or similar legislation moving this year, PVA staff recently participated in a briefing for Senate staff to educate them about the dangers of limiting the opportunity for people with disabilities to enforce their rights under the ADA. Moving forward, PVA will continue to strongly oppose the ADA Education and Reform Act, or any other legislation that rolls back the obligations of businesses under the ADA to accommodate people with disabilities.
For more information about Senator Duckworth’s efforts to stop ADA notification, please visit: https://www.duckworth.senate.gov/news/press-releases/duckworth-and-senate-democrats-vow-to-defeat-house-gop-led-effort-to-curtail-civil-rights-of-americans-with-disabilities.

The Federal Aviation Administration Re-Authorization Act of 2017–S.1405, introduced by John Thune (R-SD) Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) along with Aviation Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is must pass legislation in order to keep airports and general / commercial aviation in operation. The Senate is expected to take up debate in June after the House of Representatives finishes its business on H.R. 4–The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
The House version is scheduled for debate at the end of April. Both versions of the legislation have amendments affecting passengers with disabilities as originally drafted in the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (S.1318/H.R. 5004). Committee staff report that they would like to be through a conference committee by the end of July and have the legislation ready to go to the President, prior to September’s expiration of the current FAA authorization.

Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI-2) introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (H.R. 5004) in the House on February 13th. This is the companion piece to S.1318 introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) last year. H.R. 5004 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Aviation for further action. To date, the bill has added four cosponsors: Robert Brady (D-PA-1), Richard Neal (D-MA-1), Gwen Moore (D-WI-4), and David Young (R-IA-3), making the legislation bipartisan. This legislation would provide many improvements affecting passengers with disabilities including:
• Strengthening ACAA enforcement through referral of certain complaints to the U.S. Attorney General, increased civil penalties for damaged wheelchairs, and a private right of action.
• Ensuring airlines acquire airplanes that meet broad accessibility standards. Improved structural access includes safe and effective boarding and deplaning processes, procedures, and equipment along with better stowage options for assistive devices.
• Improving training for air carrier personnel and their contractors, including requiring heightened training for personnel who assist with the boarding and deplaning process.
• Requiring the Secretary of Transportation to work with stakeholders to develop an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.
• Creating a U.S. Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on the Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities.

Advocacy staff attended the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS) monthly briefing with veterans service organizations (VSOs) on March 30th. Senior Advisor for DOL, Matt Miller, gave an update on the omnibus appropriation that had just been enacted, noting the increases that were included for VETS.
The Jobs for Veterans State Grants program received an additional $5 million, as did the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) program and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP).
HVRP is now funded at its authorized level. Miller also reported that 230 companies have signed up for the pilot run of the HIRE Vets Medallion program that seeks to recognize businesses that undertake special efforts to recruit and hire veterans.
The main focus of the meeting was a presentation by James Borbely with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the release of that agency’s annual report on the employment situation of veterans. The jobless rate for all veterans declined from 4.3 percent in 2016 to 3.7 percent in 2017. Veterans with a service-connected disability had an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent in 2017, which was little different from the rate for veterans with no disability. The unemployment rate measures those persons that are out of work but actively seeking employment.


Labor force participation rates are another measure and tell a somewhat different story when looking at the most recent cohort of veterans and their employment experiences.

The labor force participation rate of Gulf War-era II veterans with no service-connected disability is 85.5 percent. Among veterans with a service-connected disability, 75.8 percent are in the labor force. However, among veterans rated 60% or higher, only 61.7 percent are working. Detailed information from BLS on veteran employment can be found at: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/vet.toc.htm.


On April 3rd, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, Lee Page went to Wilmington, DE to view a “mockup” of the next generation high speed trainset business car. The new design by Alstom, a French manufacturer, has an extendable bridge plate that deploys from the train car to accommodate the gap. Upon entering the train car you will notice a wide open vestibule with a wider turning radius connecting two cars (business and café) with an accessible path to go between the cars. Immediately entering the business car, you will see the accessible restroom with a circular door operated by electronic push button. The restroom is large enough to accommodate a person in a power chair or 3 wheeled scooter. After the restroom, you pass through an automatic glass partition into the seating area where on your left is a cut out for wheelchair space adjacent to a table that is accessible for the passenger to use for work or eating. Across from the wheelchair cut out space is an accessible passenger seat that a passenger could transfer into and his wheelchair would be placed behind his seat in a designated space for wheelchair stowage on the car.

The train ordered by Amtrak is Avelia Liberty, the latest development of Alstom’s high-speed train range Avelia. The new trainset will be able to carry up to 33% more passengers than the current Acela trains. The trainset configuration includes an innovative compact power car and nine passenger cars, with the possibility of three more being added if demand grows. The train is capable of travelling at speeds up to 186 mph, but will initially operate at a maximum speed of 160 mph based on Northeast Corridor (NEC) track speed limits.
Alstom is contracted to design and build 28 new high-speed trains, which will run on the NEC between Boston and Washington D.C. eventually replacing the Acela.
Amtrak and Alstom also signed a long-term contract under which Alstom will provide Amtrak with long-term technical support and supply spare components and parts for the maintenance of the new trainsets. Together, these contracts are worth $2 billion.
On April 5th the Republican staff of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a roundtable to further discuss their proposed legislation to both expand and limit the caregiver program to veterans of any era who require assistance with three Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). At the same time, this draft is being considered, PVA, along with other VSOs, are working to advance a deal negotiated last month that would expand the caregiver program to all eras with the current eligibility criteria of one ADL. As this approach is most ideal, and would serve most of PVA’s members, we continue to advocate the Congress pursue it without hesitation. We hope to see a vote before Memorial Day recess.

If the effort of full expansion does not succeed, PVA will continue to support any legislative measure that opens any access to the caregiver program.
PVA has been clear, incremental expansion is not success, only a first step. Our priority remains equal access to the caregiver program for all veterans regardless of era served.


On April 10th, Associate Legislative Director Steven Henry attended the Military to Civilian transition summit that convened leaders from public and private sector organizations who are committed to the seamless transition of military service members, veterans, families, and caregivers.
During the summit, multiple presentations were conducted regarding transition of service members and personal stories were provided by the families of veterans who had committed suicide. During breakout sessions, it was determined that the greatest barriers to a seamless transition are: gender; lack of a support network, to include family support; financial difficulties; and a lack of job prospects. Everyone in attendance agreed that for a seamless transition, all of these factors must be addressed.


On April 11th, a markup of pending legislation was scheduled with the House Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs subcommittee; however, that markup was cancelled.
That same day, the House Economic Opportunity subcommittee marked up the following bills that PVA currently supports:
• H.R. 1206, Reducing Barriers for Veterans Education Act of 2017: This bill makes an individual who is eligible for educational assistance under the Post 9/11 Educational Assistance program eligible for assistance with the fees for applying to Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs)

• H.R. 3023, To Amend Title 38, United States Code, to eliminate the Authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to pay reporting fees to educational institutions: This bill eliminates the authority of the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay reporting fees to educational institutions.

• H.R. 3940, Veterans Education Disaster Assistance Act: This bill provides housing stipends and supply fee payments under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program for individuals affected by extended school closures due to natural disasters.

• H.R. 4451, Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act of 2017: This bill reauthorizes Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) homeless veterans’ reintegration programs through FY2022. The bill includes among those for whom job training, counseling, and placement services are to be provided to expedite their reintegration into the labor force:

(1) veterans participating in the VA supported housing program for which rental assistance is provided under the United States Housing Act of 1937, (2) Indians who are veterans receiving assistance under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996, (3) veterans who are transitioning from being incarcerated, and (4) veterans participating in the VA’s rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention program.


• H.R. 4830, SIT-REP Act: This bill provides for the disapproval of any course of education for purposes of the educational assistance programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs unless the educational institution providing the course permits individuals to attend or participate in courses pending payment by Department, and for other purposes.

• H.R. 4835, Job TOOLS for Veterans Act: This bill extends the pilot program on off-base transition training for veterans and spouses.

• H.R. 5044, Service-Disabled Veterans Small Business Continuation Act: This bill clarifies the treatment of certain surviving spouses under the contracting goals and preferences of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Additionally on April 11th, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on the nominations of Paul R. Lawrence to be VA Undersecretary for Benefits; and Joseph L. Falvey Jr., to be a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
During the hearing, both gentleman were allowed five minutes to provide opening remarks where each gave a brief description of his background, experience, and veteran status.
Mr. Lawrence, a graduate of West Point, thanked his family and explained that one of his priorities is to address over payments within the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also stated that he had not been interviewed by the White House, has no intention of privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs, and is committed to ensuring all veterans receive the benefits they have earned, timely and accurately.
Mr. Falvey is a 30-year veteran of the United States Marines who has vast experience as a Judge Advocate but very limited experience in veterans law. Mr. Falvey did state that in the past few months he has been reading up on precedential decisions made by the CAVC and that his lack of VA experience does not hamper his ability to be an effective judge; instead, he will effectively apply the law without allowing outside influences to affect his decisions.


March Washington Update

March 20, 2018​​​​​​​​Volume 24, Number 3
The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel. Please visit http://www.AirAccess30.org and share your story.
PVA National President David Zurfluh Testifies Before Congress
On March 6, PVA National President David Zurfluh testified before a joint session of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees regarding PVA’s public policy priorities. President Zurfluh’s testimony focused on protecting and strengthening VA’s specialized health care services and the expansion of VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver program. President Zurfluh also spoke about the difficulties faced by PVA members in Puerto Rico following last year’s devastating hurricane. In concluding his oral remarks, President Zurfluh told members of the committees that, “Our members and thousands of other veterans will hold you accountable if you fail to do what everyone in this room and people around this country know is right.”
To watch President Zurfluh’s testimony, please visit: https://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/legislative-presentation-of-multiple-vsos-03062018.

Air Carrier Access Amendments Act Introduced in the House
On February 13, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (ACAAA) (H.R. 5004). This legislation is a companion to legislation introduced in the Senate in June 2017 by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). The ACAAA would make needed improvements to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and provide increased opportunities for stakeholders to work with airlines and the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the air travel experience for passengers with disabilities. One original co-sponsor, Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA), joined with Rep. Langevin in supporting the legislation. The bill currently has one additional co-sponsor.
Despite progress since the passage of the ACAA, too many travelers with disabilities still encounter significant barriers, such as damaged assistive devices, delayed assistance, and lack of seating accommodations. Access for people with disabilities in air travel must move into the 21st century.
Otherwise, people with disabilities will be left behind unable to compete in today’s job market or enjoy the opportunities available to other Americans.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (H.R. 5004/S. 1318) will address these problems by:
• Strengthening ACAA enforcement by requiring referral of certain complaints to the U.S. Attorney General, increasing civil penalties for damaged wheelchairs, and establishing a private right of action.
• Ensuring airlines acquire airplanes that meet broad accessibility standards. Improved structural access includes safe and effective boarding and deplaning processes, procedures, and equipment, along with better stowage options for assistive devices.
• Improving training for air carrier personnel and their contractors, including those who assist with passenger boarding and deplaning.
• Requiring the Secretary of Transportation to work with stakeholders to develop an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.
• Creating a U.S. Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on the Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities.
Some of the provisions in the ACAAA are included in the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2997) and the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 1405), the House and Senate versions of the FAA Reauthorization. Currently, these bills are pending floor action in the House and Senate. The FAA Authorization expires on March 31. It is likely that Congress will extend the current authorization with the hopes of completing a long-term reauthorization this summer.
We urge our members to contact their Senators and Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor this important legislation. We need to show widespread support for H.R. 5004/S. 1318 in the coming weeks and months.

ADA Notification Legislation Passes the House
On February 15, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620) passed the House by a vote of 225-192. Nineteen Republicans voted against it, while 12 Democrats, 6 from California, voted for its passage.
In a statement issued on February 16, Paralyzed Veterans expressed our strong opposition to this legislation. Executive Director Carl Blake stated that, “The message this vote sends to people with disabilities is that ADA compliance is no longer a priority in America.” Mr. Blake further stated that, “Instead of expecting that business owners will proactively seek to educate themselves about the legal requirements of the ADA, the burden would be shifted to people with disabilities who would be expected to tell businesses how to become compliant.”
Prior to passage by the House, several amendments were offered to amend the legislation. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Rep. Greg Harper (R-MS) offered an amendment that would have removed the notice and cure provisions from the legislation. The PVA-supported amendment failed 188-226. In addition, three amendments directed at refining the notice and cure provisions were offered and accepted. The first was an amendment from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) that would require a business to remove a barrier rather than just make “substantial progress” unless additional time is needed for barrier removal due to circumstances beyond the control of the business owner or operator.
The second amendment, from Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), cut the amount of time that a business has to cure the ADA violation from 120 to 60 days. Finally, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who ultimately voted against the final bill, offered an amendment removing the requirement for a person with a disability to cite the specific section(s) of the ADA allegedly violated by the business in the notice.
Proponents of H.R. 620, and notice and cure requirements in general, assert that Congress must act to stop Title III lawsuits, whether frivolous or not. We oppose even the amended notice and cure requirements, because without the threat of a lawsuit, too many businesses may simply choose to employ a “wait and see” approach rather than become ADA compliant.
The lack of monetary damages under Title III would further remove any incentive for a business to meet ADA requirements. Consequently, there is no way to amend the notice and cure provisions of H.R. 620 to address the concerns of the disability community.
It’s now up to the Senate to stop this legislation from becoming law. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is circulating a Dear Colleague letter seeking to solidify Senate opposition to the bill. We are working to educate members of the Senate about the dangers of this legislation and urging Senators who oppose ADA notification to sign the Duckworth letter.
At this time, we have no information about when or if this legislation might move in the Senate. In the meantime, please let your Senators know that you oppose H.R. 620, or any similar efforts to impose notification and cure requirements on the ADA.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee holds Roundtable on Caregiver Program
On March 6, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a roundtable with veterans service organizations to discuss their draft legislation to make certain improvements to the VA’s Comprehensive Family Caregiver Support Program. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin proposed a limited expansion to certain pre-9/11 veterans to appease the cost concerns of some members of the House of Representatives and the White House. In a memo to Congress from January, the White House said it could not support expansion to pre-9/11 veterans because of “fiscal restraints.” Secretary Shulkin said he believes his proposal would allow for a restricted expansion with a more appealing cost.
The draft legislation articulated a limited expansion, proposed by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin during a hearing last month. As drafted, the legislation would make eligible veterans injured prior to 9/11 who need a caregiver’s assistance with three or more Activities of Daily Living, rather than one as currently required for those injured post-9/11.
Veterans with severe PTSD and TBI would remain eligible. And the 26,000 caregivers already in the program would continue under the current eligibility requirements.
Chairman Roe continues to have concerns about the cost of a broader expansion, like the one in S. 2193, the “Caring for our Veterans Act,” currently awaiting a vote from the full senate. During the roundtable he again expressed his belief that expansion can only be done by tightening eligibility in order to allow pre-9/11 veterans to participate. PVA’s Associate Legislative Director, Sarah Dean, made it clear to the committee that while this draft could be a good first step, we will continue to advocate, along with our VSO partners to ensure the equitable treatment of all veterans in need of caregiver services.

We will continue to work to see that veterans who were made ill or injured in any era are able to receive the services they need.

VA Health Subcommittee Conducts Puerto Rico Field Hearing
The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health conducted a field hearing on Monday, March 12 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The topic of the hearing was the overall operation of the health care system on the island in serving veterans as well as the performance of the VA during the 2017 hurricane season. Invited witnesses included Mr. Agustín Montañéz-Allman, Puerto Rico State Director of Veterans’ Affairs, Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado, MD, Puerto Rico Secretary of Health, Dr. Victor Ramos-Otero, MD, Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Miguel LaPuz, MD, Director, VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8), VHA and Dr. Antonio Sanchez, MD, Acting Director, VA Caribbean Healthcare System, VHA. In addition to the hearing, the subcommittee held a roundtable with local veterans service organizations at which PVA was represented by its Puerto Rico chapter leadership. Written witness testimony, as well as a statement for the record submitted by the national office of PVA, can be found at http://docs.house.gov/Committee/Calendar/ByEvent.aspx?EventID=106923.

Independent Budget Testifies on FY 2019 Budget Request
On March 15, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the “FY 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Request for the Veterans Health Administration.” PVA Associate Legislative Director Sarah Dean testified along with Independent Budget (IB) partners, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Overall, the IB commends the Administration’s budget submission as it includes several critically needed increases for FY 2019 for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), construction, and information technology modernization. There remain looming questions over the adequacy of existing and now proposed funding as neither the House nor Senate has yet to pass legislation addressing the future of the Choice program and community care programs.
The IBVSOs conveyed to the members of the subcommittee our expectation of adequate resourcing and oversight of VA, particularly with regards to specialized services. In testimony, PVA expressed serious concerns with the lack of or altogether missing funding for several medical care programs. In 2016, Congress authorized appropriations through FY 2018 to provide the reproductive service, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), to those veterans whose catastrophic injuries preclude their ability to conceive children. As of January 2018, some 500 consults for IVF had been made. However, these procedures are not directly funded, and therefore, the IB recommends $20 million to cover the cost through FY 2020.
Additionally, PVA recommended the necessary funding to implement eligibility expansion of VA’s comprehensive caregiver support program to severely injured veterans of all eras. The funding level is based on CBO’s estimate for the expansion preparation costs under S. 2193. For the initial phase, we recommend $11 million for FY 2019 to increase staff and improve IT.
PVA’s formal written statement for the record on behalf of The Independent Budget—co-authored with DAV and VFW can be viewed at http://www.pva.org.
VA Proposes Rule Change Related to Consent for Sensitive Health Information for Community Partners
On January 19, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposed a change to the rules governing the consent to release confidential VA medical records. The proposed rule change would allow confidential VA information to be shared with a Health Information Exchange (HIE) community partner after a veteran provides consent to that partner.
The proposed rule would allow VA to amend current consent regulations so that partnering HIEs can obtain permission to share EHRs without a hardcopy of a patient’s written consent form. While a hardcopy form is still an acceptable way of obtaining consent, HIEs may also have the option to electronically attest that a patient has granted them legally sufficient consent.
With the proposed rule, VA intends to ensure more providers can access veteran EHRs at the point of care for better-informed clinical decision-making by having access to a patient’s comprehensive medical history.
According to VA, an estimated three out of every four veterans enrolled in VA’s healthcare system also visit non-VA facilities in their communities. However, community providers are frequently denied access to veteran EHRs because VA does not have a hardcopy of the patient’s consent form on file. And a lack of access to veteran’s EHRs may result in delays in care or poorly-informed treatment, which may have a negative impact on patient health outcomes.
PVA understands the rationale and the need behind the rule change making it easier for outside providers to view the records to provide the care needed to the veteran; however, PVA does have some concerns.
For example, information protected by 38 U.S.C. § 7332 is exceptionally sensitive information about a veteran. It can affect job prospects and other benefits or programs to which a veteran may be entitled. Furthermore, PVA is requesting more information regarding how the veteran’s information will be protected in the HIE. PVA is also requesting to receive copies and templates of the “opt-in” consent forms that veterans would be using.
The comment period closes on March 20. PVA appreciates VA’s continued communication with all VSOs and allowing us to provide input in regards to how perspective rule changes will affect our veterans.

PVA’s 2018 Advocacy and Legislation Seminar Includes Focus on Key Veterans and Disability Issues
On March 5-8, PVA Chapter representatives from across the nation descended on Washington, DC to educate their members of Congress about issues of importance to PVA, its members, and all veterans and people with disabilities. Approximately 100 attendees listened to presentations from PVA’s National Office staff, government officials, congressional staff, and other experts on issues of concern to veterans and people with disabilities.
Presentations focused on PVA’s top three policy priorities: protecting specialized health care services, expanding comprehensive caregiver benefits, and improving the air travel experience for people with

disabilities. Other topics discussed included oversight of VA’s implementation of appeals reform; improvement of benefits for catastrophically disabled veterans, including increasing Special Monthly Compensation and ensuring access to VA prosthetics; efforts to safeguard the Americans with Disabilities Act, and protection of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Following two days of education and training, PVA members and Chapter representatives spent two days on Capitol Hill meeting with their legislators about PVA’s priorities. Early reports from the meetings indicated that members of Congress and their staff members were generally supportive of helping protect those who have given so much for this nation. Success was seen in the information presented and the approximately 300 meetings held during the event.
One of the highlights of the week was the presentation of the 2018 Gordon H. Mansfield Congressional Leadership Award to Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Isakson received the award, in part, because he has championed the expansion of the VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver Program to pre-9/11 veterans.
To further move PVA’s policy priorities forward, please continue to speak with your elected officials about the needs of veterans and people with disabilities.

February Washington Update

February 14, 2018​​​​​​​​Volume 24, Number 2
The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel. Please visit http://www.AirAccess30.org and share your story.

ADA Notification Legislation Will be on the House Floor February 15

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620), is headed to a vote on the House floor. The House is scheduled to take up the legislation on Thursday, February 15th.

In a letter to House leadership on February 1, 2018, Paralyzed Veterans of America expressed its strong opposition to this legislation. If signed into law, it would require a person with a disability to send a letter with very specific information notifying a business, regardless of its size, that it is out of compliance with the ADA. The business would then have 60 days to respond and 120 days to make “substantial progress” toward fixing the problem. Only if the business failed to acknowledge the notification or make substantial progress in fixing the violation, could the business be sued.

Although proponents of notification insist that it is needed to stop lawsuits, whether frivolous or not, we believe that such a requirement would only serve to remove all incentive for businesses to comply with Title III ADA requirements. There are no monetary damages available under Title III of the ADA, only injunctive relief. If a notification and cure requirement, such as that laid out in H.R. 620, became law, a business could simply employ a “wait and see” approach and continue to violate the law without any real fear of consequences.

Now is the time to let your members of Congress know that you oppose this legislation. As action is imminent, it is important to call and express your opinion as opposed to emailing or sending letters. We will continue to advocate against the bill’s passage and will do so if it passes the House and heads to the Senate.

House Veterans Affairs Committee holds hearing on Caregiver Program

On February 6, 2018, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing entitled “Correcting Course for Veteran Caregivers.” Chairman Roe’s goal for the hearing was to examine how to strengthen and modify the existing caregiver program. Sarah Dean, Associate Legislative Director, testified on behalf of PVA regarding the state of the program and current legislation that would authorize its expansion.

As is, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers provides monthly stipends, respite, CHAMPVA, and training to caregivers of veterans injured on or after 9/11. PVA, alongside DAV, and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF), used their opening statements to highlight the unconscionable inequity created by the date of injury requirement.

In November, 2017, S. 2193, passed out of the Senate VA Committee with a vote of 14-1. Included in that community care reform bill is the expansion of caregiver eligibility pre-9/11. The bill has not yet passed the Senate nor has it gained support from Chairman Roe because of his concerns of the cost of the expansion. During the hearing he expressed his belief that expansion can only be done by tightening eligibility in order to drive down costs.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin proposed a limited expansion to certain pre-9/11 veterans to appease the cost concerns of some members of the House of Representatives and the White House. In a memo to Congress sent last month, the White House said it could not support expansion to pre-9/11 veterans because of “fiscal restraints.” Secretary Shulkin said he believes his proposal would allow for a restricted expansion with a more appealing cost. It would restrict pre-9/11 eligibility to veterans who require assistance with three activities of daily living, rather than one as currently required for post-9/11 veterans. Veterans with severe PTSD and TBI would remain eligible.

The 26,000 caregivers already in the program would continue under the current eligibility. PVA, DAV, and EDF made it clear to the committee that while this proposal would not be opposed, our priority remains the equitable treatment of all veterans in need of caregiver services. We will continue to work to see that veterans who were made ill or injured in any era are able to receive the services they need.

PVA Testifies on Rapid Appeals modernization Program

On January 30, 2018, PVA Associate Legislative Director, Steve Henry testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) on the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) and whether or not the program is effectively helping veterans. The testimony consisted of two panels; one panel was made up of VA and GAO staff and the other panel was Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the National Organization of Veteran Advocates.

The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program is a “test” program implemented by VA to test aspects of the Modernization law that will be fully implemented on February 2019. RAMP offers veterans an alternative to appealing their claims to the BVA by offering them two options: Veterans can choose between a higher level review and the supplemental claim process.

The higher level review is conducted by an experienced Decision Review Officer (DRO), who will review the veteran’s claim and provide a decision based on what was in the record. The supplemental claim option allows the veteran to submit additional evidence, have their claim reviewed by a DRO, who will then make a decision based on the entire record, including the newly submitted evidence.
Unlike DAV’s testimony that provided a positive outlook on the RAMP program, PVA’s testimony was quite the opposite. For veterans to “opt in” to RAMP, all of their appeals must be withdrawn from the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA); consequently, they would lose their docket date and their place in line. Furthermore, if veterans receive an unfavorable decision, they would be unable to appeal their claims to the BVA until February 2019.

PVA reiterated to the HVAC that unlike DAV, claims filed by PVA members are more often than not extremely complex. It is difficult to believe that the same representatives who had previously denied and improperly adjudicated PVA’s initial claims would then re-review and provide a proper decision.

Furthermore, to force veterans to withdraw their claims and lose their docket date is unacceptable. The claims of our members must be adjudicated expeditiously. Our members require quick and accurate decisions. They should not have to navigate more layers only for a negative outcome. When asked by Committee Chairman Roe what PVA would change about the program, we stated that veterans should not be required to withdraw their appeal from the BVA resulting in losing their docket date.

PVA feels that RAMP is not good for our members.

Budget Agreement Includes Disaster Relief Funding

The budget bill signed into law by the President on February 9, 2018, after a brief government shutdown includes $89 billion in additional emergency funds for communities affected by the recent hurricanes and wildfires. The bill includes $28 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funding, as well as resources to shore up the Medicaid program in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While this bill contains significant disaster relief resources, housing advocates are concerned that it does not include the support necessary to ensure that disaster recovery reaches all households, including those with the lowest incomes. For example, the bill does not include the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) that addresses longer term housing needs of low income disaster survivors, a requirement to collect and make public the data to ensure that the needs of low income people and communities are met, and housing-specific resources to ensure that the severe shortage of affordable rental homes in disaster-impacted communities is not worsened.

The following details of the CDBG-DR funds are provided courtesy of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition:

Community Development Block Grants

The bill provides $28 billion in CDBG-DR funding. Of this amount, up to $16 billion is slated to address unmet needs, including $11 billion that will be allocated to state and local governments impacted by Hurricane Maria, with $2 billion of that set aside for rebuilding the electrical grids in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The remaining $12 billion is set aside for mitigation projects. Up to $15 million of CDBG-DR funds can be used to provide capacity building and technical assistance.

The measure provides the HUD Secretary with a number of limitations and special authorities. For example, the bill:

​• Limits the determination of “duplication of benefits” to exclude those households that applied for, but did not accept, a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.

​• Requires grantees to maintain a public website with common reporting criteria to allow the public to see how all grant funds are used, including copies of all relevant procurement documents, grantee administrative contracts, and details of ongoing procurement processes.

​• Allows the HUD Secretary to waive or specify alternative HUD requirements, except for requirements related to fair housing, nondiscrimination, labor standards, and the environment, if the HUD Secretary finds that good cause exists and that it is not inconsistent with the purpose of the CDBG program.

​• Allows the HUD Secretary to make temporary adjustments to the Housing Choice Voucher annual renewal funding allocations and administrative fee eligibility determinations for public housing agencies (PHAs) in disaster-impacted areas. This authority is provided to “avoid significant adverse funding impacts that would otherwise result from the disaster, or to facilitate leasing up to a PHA’s authorized level of units under contract.”

​• The bill also provides that any CDBG-DR funds that remain, after allocating funds for all necessary expenses, shall be used for additional mitigation activities in the most impacted and
distressed areas.

Rural Development

The disaster relief bill would provide a total of $18.7 million to offset the cost of modifying Section 502 homeownership loans and to rebuild Section 515 Rural Rental Housing properties in USDA’s portfolio that were damaged or destroyed by the recent hurricanes and wildfires. The bill, however, limits Section 515 funds to those property owners who were not required to carry flood insurance.

Nearly $166 million was provided to repair drinking water and wastewater systems that were damaged. Of this amount, $2 million is provided for technical assistance.

Legal Aid Services

A total of $15 million is provided for legal aid services, however, the bill limits the usage of these funds to “mobile resources, technology, and disaster coordinators to provide short-term services.”

Tax Provisions

The disaster package also extends favorable tax provisions that were provided to hurricane-impacted areas to communities affected by the California wildfires. This includes allowing tax-favored withdrawals from retirement funds, tax credits for employers impacted by the wildfires for retaining employees, and the temporary suspension of limits on charitable deductions, among other tax provisions.

Delta and United Announce Changes to Their Service Animal Policies

In recent weeks, Delta and United have issued revised policies for the transport of service animals and emotional support animals on their airlines. The new policies go into effect on March 1.

Delta’s revised service animal policy includes several key requirements that will impact all passengers with disabilities who use service animals. First, Delta’s revised policy requires all service animal users to submit a completed “Veterinary Health Form” 48 hours prior to travel. The form is available here: https://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/pdfs/policy/TrainedServiceAnimal-RequiredForms.pdf. Second, Delta’s revised policy requires all psychiatric service animal and emotional support animal users to submit, in addition, a completed “Confirmation of Animal Training” form 48 hours prior to travel. On this form, available here: https://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/pdfs/policy/EmotionalSupportAnimal-RequiredForms.pdf, the user of a psychiatric service animal or emotional support animal must confirm that the animal has been trained to behave in public and affirm that inappropriate behavior will lead to denied boarding of the animal or its removal from the aircraft.

United’s revised policy would also require emotional support animal users to provide confirmation of training and a health certificate, to include an affirmation from a veterinarian “that there is no reason to believe that the animal will pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service,” 48 hours prior to travel. More information about United’s policy is available here: https://hub.united.com/united-emotional-suppport-animal-policy-2530539164.html.

Paralyzed Veterans and nine other disability organizations sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on February 6th, asking the Department to deem these revised policies to be in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and advise Delta and United accordingly. On February 8th, disability organizations, including Paralyzed Veterans, also met with Delta to discuss their policy and express our concerns.

In the meantime, however, the policies are still slated to move forward. We will continue to follow their status. Also, the Department has stated that it will begin the process for revising the ACAA’s service animal regulations starting in July.

Disability Coalition Meets at PVA

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) met for its annual meeting at PVA on January 29, 2018. CCD is the largest coalition of national organizations working together to advocate for federal public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. Since 1973, CCD has advocated on behalf of people of all ages with physical and mental disabilities and their families. CCD has worked to achieve federal legislation and regulations that assure that the 54 million children and adults with disabilities are fully integrated into the mainstream of society.

In addition to organizational matters for 2018, the meeting featured an array of speakers from think tanks, Capitol Hill and federal agencies. Ellen Nissenbaum, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
offered an overview of the budget environment confronting Congress in the year ahead. There is strong interest among the majority in the House of Representatives to tackle changes and cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps and low income housing programs.

However, some of the changes would require the use of the so-called reconciliation process whereby only 51 votes are needed for passage in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed little inclination to use reconciliation this year but GOP members of that body are still particularly eager to pursue changes to Medicaid similar to those attempted in 2017.

A panel of administration officials featured representatives from the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and Administration for Community Living (ACL). Jennifer Sheehy from ODEP reported that among DOL Secretary Alex Acosta’s priorities is increasing labor force participation, including among those injured on the job. She and her colleagues described numerous demonstrations and pilot projects underway that are aimed at promoting, staying at work or returning to work for those with job-related disabilities. Describing her office’s agenda in expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities, Melissa Ortiz, from ACL, noted the President’s commitment to finding ways to encourage those “who are work capable.” She said she expects much of the administration’s work on welfare reform to target that issue.

Staffers with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, outlined a 2018 agenda heavily focused on education matters. Those committees also expect to monitor the evolution of Medicaid work requirements and implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

January Washington Update

PVA Outlines Policy Priorities for the 2nd Session of the 115th Congress

Prior to the Christmas holiday, the Government Relations Department finalized our primary policy priorities for 2018. A brief outline of those issues that will comprise our point papers for the 2018 Advocacy and Legislative Seminar in March is below:

  1. Protection of Specialized Services
  • The highest priority is to strengthen and sustain VA’s specialized services, such as spinal cord injury/disease care, blinded care, poly-trauma care, and mental health care, which are not duplicated in the private sector.
  • Provide sufficient funding for VA to hire additional clinicians, to include physician, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and rehabilitation therapists to meet demand for services in the SCI/D system of care.
  • Ensure veterans who receive care in the community retain current protections unique to VA health care under Title 38 U.S.C., including medical malpractice remedies governed by 38 U.S.C Section 1151, clinical appeal rights, no-cost accredited representation, and Congressional oversight and public accountability.
  1.      Expand Eligibility for VA’s Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program
  • Congress must expand eligibility for caregiver services provided through the VA’s Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program for veterans with service-connected injuries or illnesses incurred prior to September 11, 2001.
  1.     Oversight of Comprehensive Reform of the Claims Appeals Process Needed
  • Provide oversight of VA’s implementation of the comprehensive reform of the benefit claims and appeals process that was agreed to by stakeholders and subsequently signed into law.
  1.     Improve Benefits for Catastrophically Disabled Veterans
  • Increasing the rates of Special Monthly Compensation as well as Aid and Attendance benefits.
  • Maintaining appropriate Automotive Adaptive Equipment (AAE) reimbursement.
  • Ensuring access to Prosthetics as VA considers rule changes.
  1.    Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) Problems for People with Disabilities
  • Improve access to air travel for people with disabilities by strengthening protections in the ACAA to ensure safe and efficient assistance and accommodations in air travel and increasing enforcement of these protections.
  1.    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Notification
  • Protect the rights of people with disabilities to seek immediate redress of discriminatory barriers in public accommodations under the ADA by refusing to enact notification requirements under Title III.
  • Protect and Strengthen Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (Entitlement Reform)
  • American workers have earned these vital social insurance benefits. Because these programs represent an economic safety net for millions of Americans, Social Security and Medicare should be strengthened and efforts to undermine these programs through benefit cuts or privatization must be rejected. Access to Medicaid, including long-term services and supports, must also be protected.

Update – Tax Reform

Just before Christmas, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the major tax initiative of the Trump Administration and Congress.  The vote in the House of Representatives was 227 in favor and 203 opposed with five Members not voting.  In the Senate, the party line vote was 51 to 48 with Senator McCain [who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer] not voting.  While taking no position on the overall issue of tax reform, PVA had expressed strong objections to several provisions in the House bill that would have adversely affected many veterans and people with disabilities.

The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for significant medical expenses, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) that offers incentives for companies to hire veterans, people with disabilities and others with barriers to employment and the Disabled Access Tax Credit (DAC) which assists small businesses in making their establishments accessible to people with disabilities.  The final version of the tax bill preserved these vital tax credits.  For those who itemize their taxes, the medical expense deduction was not only maintained but made more generous.  Starting next year, the deduction will kick in for expenses totaling 7.5percent of income instead of 10percent.

While the tax bill will provide significant cuts in corporate tax assessments and temporary reductions in tax rates for individuals, it will add an estimated amount to the deficit over ten years between $1.5 trillion and $600 billion (assuming economic growth offsets some of those costs).  PVA is concerned about the impact this may have on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security because of the linkage between the tax measure and proposals outlined in the House and Senate 2018 budget plans.  Those Congressional budget resolutions call for $487 billion in savings over ten years from Medicare, $1 trillion in savings from Medicaid and $5.4 billion from Social Security.  Proposed changes for Medicare include a gradual increase in the eligibility age from 65 to 67, raising income related premiums for Parts B and D and converting this program to a premium support system of financing.  If enacted, Medicare beneficiaries would be given a flat payment or voucher with which to buy health insurance either under traditional Medicare or through the private market.

All plans competing in the program would have to match the benefits and services of traditional Medicare and insurers could not deny coverage to any beneficiary.

Although the impact on beneficiaries of this plan is unclear, previous analyses by the Congressional Budget Office have indicated that a premium support system would increase costs for those enrollees in traditional Medicare.

The $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid are assumed to come from adoption of provisions that were included in previous House-passed health care reform bills such as turning Medicaid into a block grant to the states and ending the Medicaid expansion. Some two million veterans and their families are covered by traditional Medicaid or the expansion and reductions in spending on that program could strain capacity of other health systems such as the VA.  For Social Security, the 2018 budget resolution proposes reducing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to those beneficiaries receiving Unemployment Insurance compensation.  Such a move could prove to be a work disincentive for SSDI recipients who attempt a return to work but lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

Although these changes proposed to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are only a road map for authorizing committees to turn into legislation, PVA remains concerned that pressure to address the deficit will drive calls to dramatically reduce benefits to beneficiaries of these programs.  PVA expects to be involved in efforts to combat threats to safety net programs that are vital to so many members and their families.

Analyses of the tax bill can be found at:  https://taxfoundation.org/final-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-details-analysis and http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/feature/analysis-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Development holds hearing on Veterans Home Loans

On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Development held a hearing to address “Home Loan Churning Practices and How Veteran Homebuyers are Being Affected.”

Testifying on the panel were Mr. Jeffrey London, Director of the Loan Guaranty Service, Veterans Benefits Administration; Mr. John Bell, Deputy Director of the Loan Guaranty Service, Veterans Benefits Administration; Mr. Michael R. Bright, Executive Vice President and COO, Government National

Mortgage Association; Mr. J. David Motley, CMB, President, Colonial Savings F.A.; and Mr. Brock Cooper, General Counsel, Veterans United Home Loans.  The hearing opened with Mr. Jeffrey London providing testimony regarding the VA home loan program.

Over the past 70 years VA has guaranteed more than 23 million loans totaling in excess of $2 trillion dollars.  Last fiscal year alone, VA guaranteed an all-time record of over 740,000 loans totaling more than $189 billion.

The hearing focused on questionable practices by organizations who prey on veterans who used the VA home loan program and/or one of VA’s two refinance programs.  These organizations will provide erroneous information to the veterans that could have a detrimental effect on the loan to include ruining the equity of the loan.  It has been determined that these questionable practices, or “churning,” are not a systemic problem and VA has been addressing the problem.

Representative Mark Takano raised the question of whether or not the “churning” organization could be fined.  While the panel indicated the organization could be fined, it must be very specific and address whether the organization had intended to specifically fraud or mislead the veteran.

Representative O’Rourke asked the panel if there had been any progress ensuring the “churning” organizations have ceased their questionable practices.  The panel responded that as of that day, January 10th, organizations must disclose all loan information sent to the veteran including recoup time for refinance loans.

President Trump Signs Executive Order on Transitioning Veterans

With the statement that “We must ensure that our veterans are given the care and support they so richly deserve. That is our unwavering commitment to those who served under the flag of the United States,”  President Donald J. Trump signed a new Executive Order to ensure veterans have the resources they need as they transition back to civilian life.  He signed the Executive Order on “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.”  The Executive Order directs the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs to:

  • Within 60 days, develop and submit a Joint Action Plan to provide “seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning uniformed service members in the year” following military service; and
  • Within 180 days, update the President on the implementation of the Joint Action Plan and outline further reforms to increase veterans’ access to mental health services.

The status report will include the progress of reforms implemented through the Joint Action Plan and any additional reforms that could help further address problems that obstruct veterans’ access to mental health treatment resources.

There is significant concerns that veterans in their first year after service are particularly vulnerable to mental health risks but often do not receive adequate care.  Most veterans’ experience in uniform increases their resilience and broadens the skills they bring to the civilian workforce.  Unfortunately, in some cases within the first year following transition, some veterans can have difficulties reintegrating into normal life after their military experiences and some tragically take their own lives.  Only 50 percent of returning service members who need mental health treatment seek it, and only about half of those who receive treatment receive adequate care, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Perhaps more concerning, the suicide rate among veterans in the first year after their service is twice the average among veterans.  Veterans 3 to 12 months out of military service are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than their active duty compatriots, while those up to 3 months out of service were 2.5 times as likely, according to a study from the Naval Postgraduate School.  Approximately 18.5 percent of veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression

President Trump and Secretary Shulkin have announced four important initiatives to expand healthcare access for our veterans through technological innovation.

  • An expansion of the VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere” healthcare, which allows VA providers to use tele-health technology to remotely treat veterans regardless of geographic location.
  • A greater adoption of VA Video Connect, an application for mobile phones and computers, which directly connects veterans and healthcare providers from anywhere in the country.
  • At over 100 VA sites across the nation, a rollout of the new Online Scheduling Tool, which enables veterans to schedule appointments from their mobile devices or computers.
  • A launch of the VA’s “Access and Quality Tool,” which allows veterans to view online both wait times at VA locations and important quality-of-care data.

President Trump has ensured continued access to care in the Veterans Choice Program by signing the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, authorizing $2.1 billion in additional funds for the Veterans Choice Program (VCP).  The VCP gives eligible veterans their choice of private care if they live more than 40 miles from the closest eligible VA facility, experience wait times over 30 days from the clinically indicated date, or face an excessive burden in accessing VA care.  The President also announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs will adopt the same Electronic Health Record (EHR) as the Department of Defense (DOD).  VA’s adoption of the same EHR as DOD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system, enabling the immediate availability of service member’s medical records and seamless care between the departments.  Secretary Shulkin has expanded access to urgent mental healthcare to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges.

Access Board hosts meeting on Accessible Parking

On December 6, 2017, the Access Board hosted a stake holder’s forum on accessible parking and disabled placard abuses. The event was organized by the International Parking Institute and they shared the results of a survey they administered about accessible parking. The survey was online and distributed to the membership organizations of American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), National Council of Independent Living (NCIL), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), United Spinal Association, and the United States ACCESS Board social media network.

There were 3,751 respondents who completed the survey.  Out of that number, 91 percent of the respondents said they had a permanent need for accessible parking and that 85 percent of the time they have trouble finding a space. The biggest obstacle is that there are not enough spaces or they are all full with fraudulent placards. In parking on the street, 82 percent of the disabled drivers said, when trying to leave the space other cars have parked to close. Forty percent of the time, respondents say they physically couldn’t pay for parking, or feed the meter because it was inaccessible.

Other presentations were made by the Texas Governors Committee on people with Disabilities, a survey that had over 7,500 participants. The KU Life Span Institute from the University of Kansas, did a presentation on the importance of accessible spaces designated for van parking. Demonstrated many violations and frustrations of drivers who cannot access their van because the access aisle has been blocked after they parked by another car or improper parking space design. They had an extensive study on signage and the message that discouraged violator’s from parking in the space.

Two study reports from Los Angeles and San Francisco Parking Management and Enforcement Divisions, San Francisco reported that at any time during the day in the central business district that 90 percent of the metered parking spaces had cars with handicapped placards allowing them to park for free. San Francisco has a dedicated parking enforcement members to seek out fraud in the handicapped placards.  Of the respondents surveyed 55 percent said, “If we had to pay for parking it still wouldn’t make a difference due to the amount of fraudulent placards in use.”

The participating groups in the meeting agreed to form a coalition to work on this issue which includes disability group, academics, state and local governments, the ACCESS Board and other interested parties

PVA Conducts Webinar for TSA Officers

On January 10, 2018, PVA recorded a webinar for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that will be available to TSA officers around the nation. The purpose of the webinar is to educate TSA personnel about PVA, spinal cord injuries, wheelchairs and accessories. Also included were important items for TSA officers to consider when screening someone with a spinal cord injury. TSA asked PVA to conduct the webinar as part of their series on disability awareness. Heather Ansley, Associate General Counsel for Corporate and Government Relations, and Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, served as presenters for the webinar

PVA Expresses Concern to DOJ Regarding Withdrawal of Olmstead Employment Guidance

On December 21, 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) rescinded its “Statement on Application of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. to State and Local Governments’ Employment Service Systems for Individuals with Disabilities.” The statement provided guidance to states on administering their employment services for people with disabilities in the most appropriate integrated setting. Although DOJ noted that their action “does not change the legal responsibilities of state and local governments under Title II of the ADA,” members of the disability community, including PVA, believe that DOJ’s withdrawal of the guidance sends the wrong signal to public entities and employment service providers about what is necessary to comply with the ADA’s integration mandate in employment services.

On January 8, 2018, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination sent a letter to John Gore, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at DOJ, expressing concern over the withdrawal of the guidance. PVA signed on in support of this letter. On January 9th, PVA and other members of the CCD Rights Task Force met with DOJ officials to further discuss our concerns. During our discussion, we also expressed concern regarding the lack of transparency in DOJ’s decision to withdrawal not only the Olmstead employment guidance but also nine other technical assistance documents. PVA will continue to work with the broader disability community to ensure that ADA protections for people with disabilities remain strong.

PVA Government Relations Welcomes Steven Henry to Legislative Team

The PVA Government Relations team welcomes our newest Associate Director Steven Henry.  Steve is replacing Gabe Stultz, who resigned from GVR in September of 2017.  Steve recently worked in PVA’s Veterans Benefits department.  Steve will be representing PVA to federal agencies, most notably the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on issues regarding veteran’s benefits.  Prior to joining PVA, Steve represented The American Legion at the Board of Veterans Appeals, he served as American Legion’s only service officer in Washington, DC, where he conducted site visits to VA Medical Centers across the United States to assess them for timeliness and quality of care.  Steve currently represents PVA on VA’s VSO Advisory Council on preventing veteran suicide.

Steve grew up in Severna Park, Maryland and enlisted into the Marines at the age of 17.  He started his career as a veterans advocate in 2010, with the American Legion. Steve currently resides in Bowie, Maryland with his wife Jennifer and his son Ethan.


December Washington Update

The Government Relations staff is still looking for stories about problems that our members have experienced during air travel.  Please visit www.AirAccess30.org and share your story.

December 18, 2017                                                         Volume 23, Number 12

Tax Cut Bill Moves Ahead But Preserves Disability Provisions

As the Washington Update went to press, Congress was preparing to vote on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the major tax initiative of the Trump Administration and Congress.  While taking no position on the overall issue of tax reform, PVA had expressed strong objections to provisions in the House bill that would have eliminated the deduction for significant medical expenses, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) that offers incentives for companies to hire veterans, people with disabilities and others with barriers to employment and the Disabled Access Tax Credit (DAC) which assists small businesses in making their establishments accessible to people with disabilities.  PVA had also expressed concern about the impact on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security of the tax bill’s $1.5 trillion addition to the federal deficit.  While the final conference agreement to be voted on does not eliminate the medical expense deduction, WOTC or DAC, it will still add at least $1.5 trillion to the deficit and debt which is likely to play out in 2018 in proposals to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  PVA expects to be involved in efforts to combat any dramatic reductions in these safety net programs that are vital to so many members

Senate VA Committee Advances Reform Bil

On November 29, 2017 the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs voted to advance the “Caring for our Veterans Act of 2017.”  This legislation would consolidate the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community care programs into a singular program and provide additional resources to enable VA to meet the ever-increasing healthcare needs of veterans.  Since the establishment of the Veterans Choice program in 2014, VA has struggled with ever-changing program requirements enacted by Congress.  The proposed legislation is the logical next step to finally solidify the ways in which VA provides care in the community and provide the necessary tools to keep pace with the needs of our nation’s heroes.

Of great significance to Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the major VSOs, is expansion of eligibility to VA’s Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program.  Currently, the program is restricted to veterans injured on or after September 11, 2001.  This legislation would make eligible those veterans severely injured during and prior to the Vietnam War.  Two years later the program would expand to include veterans of all eras.  This will correct a shameful inequity that has gone on for too long, and asked caregivers and veterans to endure far too much

Press Conference on Expansion of VA Caregiver Progra

On December 6, 2017, PVA, DAV (Disabled American Veterans), The American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) presented nearly 200,000 petition signatures to House and Senate leaders urging passage of the “Caring for our Veterans Act of 2017” to expand access to the caregiver program.  At a press conference highlighting the issue, longtime champion and architect of the bill, Senator Patty Murray, and Ranking Member Tester spoke of the bipartisan commitment among members of the Veterans Affairs Committee to see caregiver expansion is accomplished by the end of the 115th Congress.  A similar commitment was offered by House of Representatives members Ranking Member Walz, and Congressmen Langevin and Costello.  The bill now awaits passage in the full Senate and would then require passage in the House

PVA Submits Comments on VA Claim Appeals Program

In November, PVA submitted comments on VA’s changes to its claims and appeals system, including RAMP, directed in the Veterans Appeals and Modernization Act of 2017.  It was PVA’s intent to provide observations on the process to date, provide comments on the information presented at a November meeting on the proposed CFR changes, as well as comments on the draft proposed regulations released on November 20

Our general observations included that we believed continued open and transparent communication from the VA was the best way to ensure veterans organizations are able to work within the new framework and best represent our members.  The meetings and contact with staff are very helpful, but we urged VA to promptly make available any internal training materials the agency is using so that we can train our staff in both the transitional phases, including RAMP, and the new appeals framework.

We also indicated that to be successful in rolling out the new framework, we needed to see where RAMP was working and where it was not.  Throughout the discussions leading up to the passage of the Veterans Appeals and Modernization Act of 2017, VA emphasized the importance of creating a feedback loop to identify and correct RO-specific errors.  We expected that the RAMP analysis would begin to provide this information and looked forward to seeing what VA had to report.

There were several areas of concern such as the agency sometimes using the term “dissatisfied” to describe when veterans might make a choice within the new framework.  “Dissatisfied” is not a statutory term, so it should not appear in any regulations or other binding guidance.  We expressed concerns about what happens after a case is remanded by the Board because if the case is not returned to the Board following continued denial, and it is not tracked in some way, then there is no way to ensure compliance with the remand order. This puts a huge burden on veterans and NSO representatives.  PVA also had specific concerns with the RAMP draft Standard Operating Procedure and about notice being provided to representatives simultaneously with claimants, whether by letter, email, text, or phone.

PVA will continue to monitor this critical change to VA’s appeals process to ensure all veterans receive the compensation they are due and have earned.

PVA Raises Concerns on VA Automobile Adaptive Equipment Program

PVA is very concerned about VA will no longer reimburse qualifying veterans with disabilities for standard Automobile Adaptive Equipment (AAE).  VA argues that many items such as air-conditioning and power brakes or steering are now standard equipment and not eligible if the veteran does not have an invoice reflecting the specific cost.  Unfortunately, many manufacturers now include these components as “equipment packages” without an itemized listing.

Interim Executive Director Carl Blake has met with VA Under Secretary of Health Dr. Clancy to express PVA’s displeasure with the number of denials of reimbursement.  He has also informed her that there has been no action in rewriting the AAE Handbook, but that when VA does decide to take action, they must involve the PVA and other VSOs in the development and writing of the new Directives.  He has also told VA Secretary Shulkin that AAE is one of the top priorities for PVA.

PVA requested that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provide an AAE briefing to the Veteran Service Organization (VSO) Prosthetic Workgroup in November.  During the briefing PVA and other VSOs expressed their dissatisfaction with the AAE program’s failure to allow for changes in the automobile industry technological advances to provide reimbursement for new technology in addition to the continuing failure of VA to reimburse vets for standard AAE.

PVA has met with VHA three times in the last two years to provide recommendations to improve the new Directive whenever VA takes action to rewrite it.  PVA will consider to work on this issue and has included AAE as a policy priority for 2018

Senate Briefing on Employment of Veterans with Disabilities

Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Jack Reed (D-RI) sponsored a briefing for Senate staff on December 7th about supports and strategies for increasing employment of veterans with disabilities.  Bill Metheny, Director of Field Operations, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS), for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) described DOL VETS role in promoting veterans’ employment among the various workforce development programs at the agency.  Carol Glazer, Executive Director for the National Organization on Disability (NOD) outlined that organization’s employment programs for wounded warriors.  Susan Prokop, Senior Associate Director of Advocacy spoke about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) successful vocational rehabilitation program, Paving Access to Veterans Employment (PAVE) that now operates in seven regional offices around the country offering services to veterans as well as their caregivers.  Information about PAVE can be found at http://www.pva.org/veterans-employment.

PVA Serves as Panelist for Congressional Briefing on the Dangers of ADA Notification Legislation

On November 29, 2017, PVA participated in a congressional briefing sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind in opposition to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620).  This PVA-opposed legislation would require a person with a disability to give notice to a public accommodation of an architectural barrier under the ADA and provide the business with an opportunity to “cure” the violation prior to filing a lawsuit.

The purpose of the briefing was to educate congressional staff about the ADA and why the notification requirements proposed by H.R. 620 would be devastating to public access for people with disabilities.

Heather Ansley, Associate General Counsel for Corporate and Government Relations, served as PVA’s representative to the panel.  Other participants in the briefing were Scott LaBarre, Chairman of the Disability Rights Bar Association Board of Directors and President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers; Andy Levy, Partner, Brown Goldstein and Levy; and Andraea LaVant, Self-Advocate, Girl Scouts of America.  Former Congressman Tony Coelho, principle author of the ADA, served as the moderator.

In her comments, Ms. Ansley noted that implementing a notice requirement would effectively remove all incentive for businesses to fully comply with the ADA prior to being notified by a person with a disability about a violation.  This is against the goal of Title III which is to prevent denials of access by ensuring that barriers are removed so that when a person with a disability arrives at a business it is accessible to them.  She also noted that compliance with the ADA is not burdensome as there are free resources available to help businesses comply with the law.  For example, the federally funded ADA National Network provides free technical assistance through 10 regional centers located around the country.  Businesses needing assistance can call 1-800-949-4232 to reach the center nearest them.

At this time, we still do not know when, or if, this legislation will move to the House floor.  It was passed on a party-line vote by the House Judiciary Committee in September.  In the meantime, please continue to contact your House Member to let him or her know that you oppose H.R. 620.

House Task Force Hosts Forum on Veterans Entrepreneurship

On November 30th, the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus’ Task Force on Reinvesting in our Returning Heroes held a Member briefing about challenges facing veterans in starting their own businesses.  Attending the forum were House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (NY-14), Vice Chair Loretta Sánchez (CA-38), task force co-chairs Representatives Julia Brownley (CA-26), Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), Donald McEachin (VA-4) and Brad Schneider (IL-10) along with Representative Marcy Kaptur (OH-9).  Speakers included Sue Hoppin, President of the National Military Spouse Network,

LeRoy Acosta, Assistant National Service Director for Disabled American Veterans, Susan Prokop, Senior Associate Advocacy Director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Ed Vargas, veteran and owner of a small business in Maryland.  The panelists discussed many of the problems veterans and military spouses encounter in starting a business when they return home and seek to begin their post-military professional careers.  Prokop focused on the appeal of self-employment for veterans with disabilities and efforts in past sessions of Congress to overcome some of the unique barriers to entrepreneurship that these veterans often face.  Mr. Vargas, owner of a Mr. Appliance franchise, spoke about the difficulties that high franchise fees pose to many veterans who wish to establish a business, noting the introduction by Rep. Brownley of HR 4473, the Veteran Entrepreneurs Act of 2017 that would provide a tax credit worth up to 25 percent of initial franchise fees for eligible veterans.

PVA Leadership and Staff Visit Puerto Rico Chapter in Aftermath of Hurricane

PVA President David Zurfluh and Vice President Hack Albertson led a delegation of national staff to Puerto Rico on December 4 through 6 to meet with chapter leadership, check on PVA members and meet with federal officials for an update on recovery efforts in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria which devastated the island in September.  Meeting at the chapter office on the day of their arrival, the group heard a presentation about the Puerto Rico Recovery Fund (PRRF) recently established by the Center for a New Economy (CNE).  CNE is a non-partisan think-tank that advocates for the development of a new economy for Puerto Rico and created the PRRF to draw in nonprofit and corporate support for rebuilding the island.  Jose Oramas with UPS [a PVA corporate supporter], another CNE PRRF partner described some of the work UPS has been doing through PRRF to activate charter flights moving supplies to Puerto Rico.  PRRF has set up 11 distribution centers around the island for water, food, hygiene kits, and other material and have delivered 1.4 million pounds of supplies thus far.

December 5th the delegation visited several PVA members in the outskirts of San Juan and mountain areas in the middle of the island.  Most of the members with whom the group spoke had power to their homes supplied by generators, but getting water continued to be an issue for almost all with whom they met.  The VA Medical Center had established contact with some PVA members, but not others, and only one veteran reported contact with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).  In the meeting the day before, several chapter members had expressed varying degrees of frustration in their encounters with the FEMA bureaucracy.

December 6th was devoted to meetings with VA and FEMA officials from the Joint Field Operations center, which is the main office for federal agencies coordinating in Puerto Rico.  Dr. Antonio Sanchez, the acting director of the VAMC outlined numerous challenges the hospital confronted in trying to contact and assist veterans after the storm because of the destruction of internet, phone and satellite capacity.  Lack of street addresses in the medical center’s patient registry made it difficult, if not impossible, to find many veterans in the more remote areas of the island.  Dr. Sanchez observed that the center needs to do better at identifying patients who live alone and include plans for these people in their emergency preparation plans.

Dr. Nadal, the acting chief of the spinal cord injury unit, reported on the efforts VA has undertaken to offer training to other agencies involved in emergency preparation and response.  One of the problems mentioned by several members in the visits the day before was difficulty in obtaining vital prescriptions in the immediate aftermath of the storms.  The VA had implemented a pharmacy emergency system whereby veterans in rural and hard to reach areas were authorized to obtain prescription drugs from local drug stores.   However, many local pharmacies were unfamiliar with this emergency program and were charging the veterans copays and other expenses.  Dr. Nadal acknowledged that the VA needed to be more proactive in advertising its resources such as this.

The VA hospital had an open door policy during the emergency to anyone with a spinal cord injury, but the patients they received were considerably sicker than they expected.  In addition, many of the 350 veterans with SCI on the VAMC registry were medically stable but most of the emergency shelters were a challenge for patients with spinal cord injury.  Dr. Nadal said they ended up sending 15 patients to the mainland because they couldn’t manage patients at all the shelters on the island and felt that more work is needed to develop better shelters for medically stable people with disabilities.

The meeting with FEMA representatives included Madeleine Goldfarb the FEMA Disability Integration Advisor in San Juan, Philip Shaw with the FEMA Volunteer Agencies Liaison (VAL) office and Josephine Carmona whose office is responsible for handling immediate needs of storm survivors.  In discussing the apparent lack of contact among PVA members by FEMA, Ms. Goldfarb noted that a FEMA survivor registration number is needed in order for them to send out disaster assistance teams and Ms. Carmona added that they have to depend on local governments to inform them of the locations of people with disabilities, but once that information is provided, FEMA will then send in aid.

The FEMA officials expressed a desire to work more closely with PVA’s chapter to resolve some of the problems that had been raised in the previous days and in the meetings.  There also seems to be a need for improvements in the integration of the VA with the overall emergency management system and in its communication with veterans and the community about the resources it has to offer in disasters.  At the same time, agencies like FEMA and voluntary organizations need to understand that the VA does not serve all of the needs of veterans with disabilities and, like other people with disabilities, their circumstances need to be taken into account in emergency preparation and response.  In the months ahead, PVA plans to map out a set of recommendations for improving emergency preparation and response for its membership as well as the broader community of people with disabilities.