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.

Advertisements

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.

 

April’s Washington Update

April 18, 2017                                                                  Volume 23, No. 4

***PRIORITY***

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.

House VA Health Subcommittee Considers Pending Legislation

On March 29, 2017, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health, held a hearing on pending legislation. Sarah Dean, Associate Legislative Director, testified on behalf of PVA. This testimony was Sarah’s first opportunity to testify before Congress.

Of particular importance to PVA was H.R. 95, the “Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act.” This legislation, introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), would make permanent the provision of child care for a veteran receiving covered health services at VA. PVA knows child-care is critical to expanding access to care. When veterans have reliable child care their participation in their own health increases, no-shows and cancelations decrease. Women veterans particularly report the inability to obtain child-care as one of their greatest barriers to VA.

PVA also supported H.R. 907, the “Newborn Improvement Act,” introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). This bill would authorize hospital stays of up to 42 days for newborns under VA care. Currently, only seven days after birth is covered, after which the veteran takes on the cost. As the average hospital stay for a health newborn is two day, any newborn needing additional coverage is likely to be facing serious complications. PVA is specifically concerned about veterans with catastrophic injuries that can cause or exacerbate high-risk pregnancies or pre-term deliveries. A seven day limit arguably impacts veterans with disabilities at a greater rate than other veterans.

PVA also offered support for H.R. 1545, the “VA Prescription Data Accountability Act of 2017,” introduced by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH). All VA facilities now share prescription information of veterans and their dependents with state Prescription Database Monitoring Program (PDMP). However, due to technical oversight in the law the information of non-dependent, non-veteran, VA beneficiaries is not shared. This bill would rectify the flaw. While PVA strongly supports the bill, we expressed concern that the PDMPs may not be capturing those veterans who travel across multiple states to receive care from the SCI/D Centers. PVA encouraged Congress to ensure state PDMPs are able to share information across multiple state lines to offer all veterans the benefits that will come from these opioid safety measures.

All of the bills considered in this hearing were later passed by the subcommittee and sent to the full committee for consideration.

To read PVA’s full written testimony, please visit www.pva.org.

House VA Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Holds Legislative Hearing

On April 5, 2017, the House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a legislative hearing to consider a number of bills. Among them were two provisions affecting the annual cost-of-living allowance (COLA). PVA supported both measures. The first bill would authorize a cost of living adjustment effective December 1, 2017 equal to the percentage increase implemented by Social Security. The second provision being considered would make the annual adjustment automatic, not requiring Congressional action. Historically, the annual COLA bill has been important legislation that must pass each year. During times of particularly contentious relations in Congress, this legislation has been used as a vehicle to pass other important veterans legislation. While we have voiced this concern in the past, PVA did not object to making the COLA adjustment automatic going forward, as it would add a level of certainty for veterans expecting annual increases.

PVA also supported Ranking Member Tim Walz’s (D-MN) legislation which would prevent VA from demanding redundant compensation and pension (C&P) exams when veterans provide private medical evidence. While VA has the legal authority to rely on private medical evidence, too often it seems that VA requires a second medical exam from the veteran with a VA doctor despite having quality evidence already in hand. The pattern suggests a prejudice toward private medical evidence and the possibility that VA is seeking further evidence solely to avoid granting a claim.

Rep. Brownley (D-CA) offered a bill, H.R. 105 that would add greater protections to veterans who are fraudulently deprived of benefits being administered by a fiduciary. Currently, VA may only reissue lost benefits to veterans who are harmed by fiduciaries who administer benefits to more than ten veterans or if the fiduciary is an institution. If the veteran is not served by a qualifying fiduciary, VA can only reissue benefits to the extent that it recoups money from the bad actor. PVA supported this measure because it would allow VA to reissue benefits under all circumstances, regardless of whether it recoups the funds.

PVA also continues to support a service-connected presumption for Blue Water Navy Veterans who are claiming exposure to herbicides containing dioxin, including Agent Orange. We stressed that as more evidence and information becomes available on the connection that Congress take appropriate steps to ensure these veterans receive the appropriate care and compensation.

Finally, PVA supported H.R. 1390. Currently, VA is only authorized to transport veterans’ remains to the nearest national cemetery with available burial space. This proposal, though, would extend the options to state and tribal cemeteries. It would limit, however, the amount of reimbursement to the cost of the nearest national cemetery so as not to increase the financial burden on VA.

To view PVA’s full statement, please visit www.pva.org.

Congress Passes Choice Program Extension

With the Choice program set to expire on August 7, 2017, Congress recently passed a law eliminating the mandatory expiration date for the program, allowing it to continue to deliver health care services to veterans in the community and use up the remaining funds in the program. Without the extension, the projected remaining funds would be returned to the Treasury. This extension now provides extra time for Congress to address the shortfalls of the current program and move toward a wider and more permanent health care reform in VA. The bill now awaits the President’s signature.

Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Leadership Holds Round Table on Appeals Reform

On March 28, 2017, PVA participated in a widely attended round table sponsored by Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Mike Bost (R-IL) and Ranking Member Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) to discuss moving forward with plans developed over the last year to modernize the disability claims and appeals process. The legislation proposed during the last Congress reflected the work product of numerous veterans’ service organizations, organizations representing private attorneys practicing veterans’ law, and leadership from the Board of Veterans Appeals and the Veterans Benefits Administration. The legislation ultimately failed to secure passage due to a number of concerns, primarily related to the necessity of further discussions on how the new system would be implemented without hurting veterans who have current claims pending. A renewed effort by stakeholders to push the legislation forward during this Congress is gaining traction, and a hearing on an updated version of the legislation is expected to take place in the coming months.

ACA Repeal and Replace Health Care Reform Effort Fails

In early March, the House of Representatives took up legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with the American Health Care Act (AHCA). While portrayed as an effort to reduce health care costs for American consumers, the bill also proposed major changes to the Medicaid program through per capita caps and block grants and to repeal many provisions of the ACA that are critical to people with disabilities. In addition, the AHCA continued several problematic policies for veterans left over from the last effort to reform the health care system and created a potential roadblock for veterans to take advantage of tax credits offered in that measure.

The AHCA included cuts in Medicaid of some $880 billion along with caps on federal spending for the program. In return for greater flexibility for designing their own Medicaid programs, states would have received a lump sum—either in the form of block grants or a per capita spending formula—to provide services to their residents. Under the cap and cut proposal, the federal government would no longer share in the costs of providing health care services and community services beyond the capped amount. This would eliminate the enhanced federal match for the Community First Choice Option under Medicaid that provides attendant care services in the community. Thanks to this program, many poor veterans with serious nonservice-connected disabilities have been able to move from nursing homes into their communities. The AHCA would also have ended the ACA Medicaid expansion at a date earlier than current law. Data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that the Medicaid expansion has helped thousands of veterans and caregivers obtain affordable health insurance coverage.

During its time under consideration in the House, the AHCA went through a number of changes in an effort by the leadership to garner sufficient votes to ensure its passage. However, each successive version made the bill even more challenging for people with pre-existing health conditions.

  • Loss of essential health benefits: One proposed change was to give states the option to waive important consumer protections in current law. For example, states could choose to ignore the essential health benefits rules that ensure that health plans cover basic services, many of which are particularly important to people with disabilities. Without a requirement that basic services be included in health insurance plans, insurers are likely to drop coverage of therapies or medications that support people with more health care needs.
  • No more protections for pre-existing conditions: Another troubling change being discussed was to let states waive the requirement for community rating. This would allow insurance companies to charge people with pre-existing conditions – including people with disabilities — whatever they wanted, essentially making any pre-existing condition protections meaningless. The combination of these changes would make it nearly impossible for people with pre-existing conditions to find affordable plans that cover basic health care services.

For veterans and PVA members in particular, the AHCA would have continued several problematic policies of the ACA as well as troubling new provisions that could affect the ability of many veterans to afford health insurance in the private market. The AHCA:

  • Continued to exclude CHAMPVA beneficiaries—dependents of the most catastrophically disabled veterans—from the dependents’ coverage policy up to age 26.
  • Failed to remove the prohibition on enrollment into the VA health care system for Priority Group 8 veterans, thus denying these veterans access to the principal health care system for veterans.
  • Denied access to tax credits making health insurance affordable to anyone eligible for a host of other federal health programs, including those “eligible” for coverage under Title 38 health care programs. This would prevent many veterans who may be “eligible for” but not enrolled in the VA health care system from accessing these tax credits intended to help people buy insurance.

On March 24, 2017, House Speaker Paul Ryan declared that there were not enough votes for the bill to pass the House of Representatives and the bill was pulled from the calendar. Nevertheless, discussions have continued between the Congressional leadership and the White House to craft a version of the AHCA that will be acceptable to a majority of Republicans in the House and Senate. PVA plans to continue monitoring developments in the health care reform debate to ensure that veterans and people with disabilities are not harmed by changes to vital health care programs on which they depend.

Update on the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017

The “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017,” H.R. 620, continues to gain co-sponsors. PVA opposes this legislation because it would limit the ability of people with disabilities to enforce their rights under Title III of the ADA. It was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). Original co-sponsors include Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX).

H.R. 620 has gained nine additional co-sponsors since it was introduced on January 24th:

  • Representative Pete Aguilar (D-CA)
  • Representative Ralph Lee Abraham (R-LA)
  • Representative J. Luis Correa (D-CA)
  • Representative Doug Collins (R-GA)
  • Representative Bill Foster (D-IL)
  • Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA)
  • Representative Krysten Sinema (D-AZ)
  • Representative Paul Mitchell (R-MI)
  • Representative Darrell E. Issa (R-CA)

Please contact your Representatives to let them know that PVA opposes this legislation because it would require a person with a disability to send a letter of notification to the business that it was out of compliance with the law giving it a grace period before one could file suit. Instead of complying with the law now, businesses (large and small) could employ a “wait and see” approach, continuing to violate the law with impunity. Instead, businesses should be proactive in complying with the ADA and work with the ADA National Network and other entities for any needed technical assistance.

The bill is pending before the House Judiciary Committee and may be marked up by the full committee in the coming weeks.

The “Social Security 2100 Act” Reintroduced

On April 5, 2017, PVA Senior Associate Advocacy Director Susan Prokop joined Members of Congress, disability advocates and representatives of the aging community at a Capitol Hill roll out of H.R. 1920, the “Social Security 2100 Act,” introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-CT). Rep. Larson is Ranking Minority Member on the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee. Citing polling data that shows 72 percent of Americans believe that Social Security benefits should be increased, not cut, Rep. Larson described provisions in his bill favored by 7 out of 10 Americans. Among those provisions are:

  • Adoption of the CPI-E for inflation increases: Using the CPI-E for the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) would better reflect the costs incurred by seniors and people with disabilities who spend a greater portion of their income on health care, utilities and other necessities.
  • Protections for low income workers: To ensure that low income working people who pay into the system over a lifetime don’t retire into poverty, the bill establishes a new minimum benefit set at 25 percent above the poverty line.
  • Adjustments in the payroll tax wage base to help finance the system: Presently, payroll taxes are not collected on annual wages over $127,000. H.R. 1902 would apply the payroll tax to wages above $400,000 which would affect the top 0.4 percent of wage earners.
  • A gradual increase over 20 years in the payroll contribution rate to keep the system solvent: Beginning in 2018, FICA taxes would rise 0.05 percent annually so that workers and employers would pay an additional 1.2 percent by 2041. For the average worker this would mean paying an additional 50 cents per week to ensure the system’s longevity.

In addition, HR 1902 would provide a modest increase in benefits for all beneficiaries equivalent to 2 percent of the average benefit, cut taxes for upper income beneficiaries by raising the thresholds at which benefits are taxed to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples and combine the old age and survivors and disability insurance trust funds to foreclose future arguments over the disability insurance program by eliminating the artificial separation of the trust funds.

PVA supports H.R. 1902 because of its more realistic cost-of-living-adjustment for beneficiaries, enhanced protections for low income workers, and long overdue adjustments in the financing mechanisms for the system. Indeed, an independent analysis by the Social Security Administration’s Chief Actuary indicates that this legislation will extend the financial health of the system beyond the next 75 years. PVA believes this legislation demonstrates that preserving and strengthening Social Security can be done without causing harm to beneficiaries.

U.S. Access Board Issues Guidance on the International Symbol

of Accessibility

The U.S. Access Board has released guidance on the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) to address questions that have arisen on the use of alternative symbols. Some cities and states have adopted a different symbol that was created to be more dynamic and suggestive of movement. The Board’s guidance explains how use of a symbol other than the ISA impacts compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Standards issued under the ADA require that the ISA label certain accessible elements, spaces, and vehicles, including parking spaces, entrances, restrooms, and rail cars. Similar requirements are contained in standards issued under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) for federally funded facilities. The ISA, which is maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), has served as a world-wide accessibility icon for almost 50 years.

“Consistency in the use of universal symbols is important, especially for persons with limited vision or cognitive disabilities,” states Marsha Mazz, Director of the Board’s Office of Technical and Information Services. “In addition to the ADA and ABA Standards, many codes and regulations in the U.S. and abroad also require display of the ISA.”

While the ADA Standards do not recognize specific substitutes for the ISA, they do generally allow alternatives to prescribed requirements that provide substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability under a provision known as “equivalent facilitation.” However, in the event of a legal challenge, the entity pursuing an alternative has the burden of proof in demonstrating equivalent facilitation. Under the ABA Standards, use of a symbol other than the ISA requires issuance of a modification or waiver by the appropriate standard-setting agency.

The ISA bulletin is posted on the Board’s website along with other issued guidance on the ADA Standards and the ABA Standards.

 

 

October Washington Update

October 18, 2016 Volume 22, No. 10

***PRIORITY***

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.

Congress Approves CR, Includes PVA Priorities

Prior to recessing for the November election at the end of September, Congress approved H.R. 5325, the “Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for FY 2017,” that included full-year funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill contains three very important priorities for PVA. These include:

1. Reinstatement of the annual capacity reporting requirement. While a date for implementation has not been established, this is an important accomplishment that will bolster the work done by the PVA Medical Services site visit teams.
2. Authorization of the provision of reproductive services through VA, to include in vitro fertilization (IVF). This has long been a high priority for PVA. For the first time, veterans with service-connected catastrophic disabilities that preclude them from having children will have access to reproductive services through the VA. Unfortunately, we will have to defeat an amendment included in the Labor/HHS Appropriations bill, introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), that risks undermining the authority to provide IVF services both at VA as well as the Department of Defense.
3. Beneficiary travel for “some” non-service connected catastrophically disabled veterans, including those with SCI, blindness and amputation. The language in the bill states that it can be provided to those who travel to an inpatient rehabilitation facility, such as an SCI center, and are admitted for overnight stay or provided temporary lodging. Assuming appropriate interpretation, this should at least open the opportunity for beneficiary travel for PVA members receiving annual physicals; however, we do not believe it authorizes beneficiary travel for non-service connected veterans for same-day appointments. Additionally, it remains to be seen when this benefit will actually go into effect. We will obviously have to track implementation of this closely.

Sarah Dean, PVA Associate Legislative Director, deserves a great deal of credit for her tireless work on the capacity reporting issue and the IVF provisions specifically. Hard work remains to ensure that proper implementation of these important provisions occurs. This will be particularly true of the capacity report and the beneficiary travel provisions, which I anticipate VA will be resistant to acting on.

Legislation Stalled in the Senate

While key provisions were included in the CR, the lack of compromise generally led to a number of important pieces of legislation being left unfinished. Perhaps the biggest issue that has yet to be resolved is the appeals reform included in H.R. 5620, the “Accountability First and Appeals Reform Act,” introduced by House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL). That legislation also included strong accountability measures for VA staff. The legislation passed the House in September with strong bipartisan support, but it is being held up in the Senate, primarily over disagreements on the accountability provisions.

Our work also continues on H.R. 3471, the “Veterans Mobility Safety Act.” While we were able to get it passed in the Senate, there has been continued resistance in the Senate. However, Gabe Stultz, Associate Legislative Director, has worked closely with Senator Jerry Moran’s (R-KS) office and they are prepared to move an amended version of H.R. 3471 that will satisfy all interested parties when Congress returns after the election.

Finally, the Senate has been unable to advance S. 2921, the “Veterans First Act.” Of highest importance to PVA in that legislation is provisions that will expand access to the Comprehensive Family Caregiver program to veterans of all eras, not just those injured after September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, cost remains a hurdle to advancing that effort. Additionally, provisions that are generally perceived to water down accountability, per the request of the government unions, have led a stalemate over the bill.

We anticipate a lot of focus on appeals reform and accountability when Congress returns for a lame duck session after the election in November.

DOT ACCESS Committee Completes Work

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS Committee) completed its business on Friday, October 14, 2016. The 25 member Committee was charged with negotiating in good faith to reach consensus on a proposed rule addressing inflight entertainment, service animals, and accessible lavatories on single aisle aircraft. The department intends to use the consensus agreement from the ACCESS Committee as the basis for a proposed rule. After six months’ worth of work, there were varying degrees of success. The Committee focused on three key areas—lavatories, service animals, and inflight entertainment. The following is a review of that work.

Lavatories

The Committee reached consensus that all new aircraft of a certain size shall have accessible lavatories by a certain date. Recognizing that a prior committee failed in this process in 1993 and that there is expense to the industry in complying, the Committee adopted a two tiered approach in providing accessible lavatories on new single aisle aircraft.

The first tier includes all new aircraft delivered three years after the effective date of the final rule. The second tier includes aircraft that are ordered 18 years and delivered 20 or more years after the effective date of the final rule; or are a new type design for which application is filed with the FAA or a foreign carrier civil aviation authority more than 1 year after the effective date of the final rule. Both tiers have multiple levels of access for passengers with disabilities. Access that begins in the first tier carries over into the second tier of accessibility.

Specifically, the first tier applies to all carriers operating aircraft that have FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 60 or more seats. This will include flight attendant training on an annual basis to proficiency in use of the new DOT onboard wheelchair and assembly or modifications to the accessible features of the lavatory. Carriers must also provide information upon request to passengers with disability concerning the accessible features of the lavatory including controls and dispensers and the information must be on the carrier’s website, in electronic or printed forms with picture diagrams, on the aircraft. Carrier will also remove the international symbol of accessibility (ISA) from all lavatories new and in service that cannot facilitate an independent seated transfer.

All first and second tier aircraft with FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 125 or more seats will have at least one lavatory that meets the following specifications. The aircraft shall have a standard toilet seat height ranging from 17-19 inches high, assist handles that support 250 pounds and an array of controls and dispensers that are tactilely accessible and measured for a performance specification that meets the definition of a person with a disability in a seated position. These interior lavatory components include: attendant call buttons, door lock, flush control, faucet controls, paper towel and soap dispensers, and trash and bio waste units. All components where reasonably available in supplier catalogs shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.

Other features that will apply to a first tier aircraft include a visual barrier that shall be available upon request. It will provide passengers with disabilities using the lavatory (with the door possibly open) a level of privacy substantially equivalent to that provided to ambulatory users. Most importantly is a door sill or threshold that provides minimum obstruction to the passage of the on board wheelchair across the sill while preventing leakage of fluid or causing a tripping hazard during evacuation. The door sill threshold applies to both tiers of access.

New covered single aisle aircraft with FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 125 or more seats entering service three years after the effective date of the final rule must have onboard wheelchairs that meet new standards to be developed by DOT. DOT will consult with advocates, airlines, wheelchair manufacturers, flight attendants and other stake holders in developing these standards. The purpose of the onboard wheelchair standards is to improve the safety of traditional models of onboard wheelchairs and develop, if feasible, specifications for an over-the-toilet onboard wheelchair design. The target date to complete the onboard wheelchair standards is February 2017.
Second tier aircraft with FAA-certified maximum passenger capacity of 125 or more seats in which lavatories are provided will be required to have one lavatory of sufficient size / design to permit a passenger with a disability to perform a seated independent and dependent transfer from the onboard wheelchair to and from the toilet within a closed space that affords to persons using the onboard wheelchair privacy equal to that afforded by ambulatory passengers. To ensure these new lavatories meet the performance specifications they will be designed/modeled with the 95 percent male (6’2, 246lbs) and 5 percent female (4’11,125lbs) range to meet the required transfers, including the use of a 95 percent male to assist a dependent 95 percent male with a transfer from the onboard wheelchair to and from to toilet within the closed lavatory space.

The committee reached a consensus vote of 17 for the agreement, 1 no vote and 3 abstentions. PVA supported this agreement as first tier accessibility will provide increased access to lavatories in the short-term and ensure full-access at a time-certain in the future.

Service Animals

Despite good faith negotiations, the ACCESS Committee reached an impasse in its efforts to come to a consensus on revising the definition of a service animal and the requirements for access for those animals under the ACAA.

The impasse resulted due to an inability to find a suitable alternative to current regulations which allow airlines to request as a condition of access that users of psychiatric and emotional support animals provide current documentation from a mental health professional stating that they have a mental or emotional disability for which they need the animal. Airlines and advocates considered imposition of a requirement for all service animal and emotional support animal users to complete an attestation confirming that they were a person with a disability and that the animal was needed either in flight or at the destination due to the disability. The proposed attestation would also have alerted the individual to the possibility that attempting to pass a pet as a service animal or emotional support animal could result in penalties. Ultimately, we were unable to find a solution that would free psychiatric and emotional support animal users from the burdens of medical documentation without imposing new, unacceptable burdens on all service animal users.

Another issue that remains unresolved is the types of species of service animals that should be allowed under the ACAA. Currently, domestic carriers are never required to permit access for unusual service animals such as snakes, rodents, and spiders, but must otherwise permit access for service animals unless the carrier determines that there are factors that preclude the animal from traveling in the cabin. Foreign carriers do not have to provide access to service animal species other than dogs. Stakeholders generally agreed that dogs, miniature horses, and capuchin monkeys should be classified as service animals. An unresolved question remained whether cats should also be included.
In addition, stakeholders were unable to resolve whether emotional support animals should continue to have access. Under the ACAA, the definition of service animal includes emotional supports animals. Stakeholders considered removing emotional support animals from the definition and reclassifying those and other similar animals as “support animals.” Species considered for support animals included dogs, cats, and rabbits. Those animals would have had more limited access than service animals as in many cases they would have been required to travel in a pet-carrier but still able to perform disability mitigation, if needed.

In light of the failure of these negotiations to reach consensus, DOT will now be charged with developing a proposed rule on this issue. The efforts of disability advocates, including PVA, have provided DOT with significant insight. We look forward to weighing in with DOT to ensure that any proposed rule preserves the access rights of all service animal users.

Inflight Entertainment

The ACCESS Committee still has work to do in trying to reach consensus on the issue of accessible inflight entertainment and communication. Currently, airlines are not providing captioning for the deaf or audio description for the blind on movies or television shows packaged by the airlines for inflight entertainment. The problem revolves around technical hardware and software mechanical issues of the seatback display systems that in service airplanes use. The work group on inflight entertainment and communication will meet November 2, 2016 to finish their negotiation in hopes of reaching a consensus.

The DOT Facilitators’ report is due in early December. The report will reflect the entire work of the ACCESS Committee in the three areas they were charged to reach agreement on and all public documents that were sent to the Committee in support of the issues. The DOT onboard wheelchair standards are due in February 2017 and the Department hopes to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register by the end of June 2017.

PVA Participates in Suicide Roundtable Discussion
On September 23, 2016, VA gathered a large group of veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) to discuss opportunities for collaboration and some of the salient issues with regard to confronting veteran suicide. The primary issues discussed related to both identifying at risk veterans and getting those veterans to engage in VA-provided services. An additional challenge is that even if veterans are identified, not all are eligible for care.

VA discussed briefly the mental health summits that it is holding throughout all VAMCs. The American Legion mentioned that many of their NSOs were not made aware of these summits, and the opportunity for VSOs to reach out to their local members was lost. VA will reevaluate its communications with VSOs for the summits, and they provided the upcoming schedule of all summits so that VSOs can alert their field offices.

VA also explained briefly some of their efforts to assist families of veterans who are contemplating suicide and community providers handling veteran patients contemplating suicide.

Ultimately, the forum was a chance for VA to ask PVA and our fellow VSOs as individual organizations to decide how we can partner with VA to reach veterans who are struggling. Suicide prevention materials being shared publicly by the VA can be viewed at the video links below:

• Newest Suicide Prevention PSA “Be There: Help Save a Life”: https://youtube/MCSZ7FjTq5I
• Suicide Prevention PSA “I’m good. But are you ready to listen?”: https://youtu.be/YPFo9EvUUvA
• Suicide Prevention PSA “The Power of 1”: https://youtu.be/WSx11Kmnmrg
• Veterans Crisis Line – After the Call: https://youtu.be/l8cQHTzZTIs

Deadline for Claims in Department of Justice’s Historic Settlement with Greyhound for ADA Violations Approaching

On February 8, 2016, the Department of Justice announced a consent decree resolving a complaint against Greyhound for alleged violations under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA). Allegations against Greyhound included failing to maintain accessibility features on buses, failing to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities, and failing to allow passengers using wheelchairs to complete reservations online. As a result of the consent decree, Greyhound will be required to compensate travelers with disabilities who experienced disability discrimination while traveling or attempting to travel on Greyhound.

The deadline for passengers with disabilities who encountered disability-related discrimination on Greyhound to submit a claim for compensation is November 10, 2016.
To be eligible for compensation, an individual must have a disability; have traveled or attempted to travel on Greyhound between February 8, 2013, and February 8, 2016; and have experienced a disability-related incident during travel or while attempting to travel. Examples of incidents include lack of accessible transportation and failure to make disability-related accommodations.

Individuals who believe they meet these requirements must submit a claim online, by email, or mail to Greyhound’s appointed claims administrator by November 10, 2016. Instructions regarding the claims process are available at: http://www.dojvgreyhoundsettlement.com. To contact the Claims Administrator, please call 1-844-502-5953 or by email at GRYsettlement@classactionadmin.com.

ADA Notification Act Legislation Introduced in the Senate

On September 28, 2016, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced S. 3446, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2016.” This legislation would require a person with a disability to give notice to a public accommodation of an architectural barrier under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prior to filing a lawsuit. Sen. Flake’s legislation is a companion bill to H.R. 3765, which was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and passed by the House Judiciary Committee in July. Despite concerns that H.R. 3765 might be brought to the House floor for a vote in September, no further action on this legislation has occurred.
PVA strongly opposes proposed ADA notification requirements. Notification laws put the onus on the person with a disability to find ADA violations and notify a public accommodation of those violations. No other civil rights group is forced to shoulder the burden of triggering compliance with the law and, once they have done so, to wait to enforce their civil rights. Accessibility standards, such as those the ADA includes, are extremely important. Covered entities should continuously evaluate their businesses for appropriate access under the ADA and not wait to receive a notification before acting to make them fully accessible.

OFCCP Hosts Business Roundtable for National Disability Employment Awareness Month

On October 6, 2016, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) hosted a forum highlighting successful business strategies for outreach to and recruitment of people with disabilities into the nation’s workforce. OFCCP is the agency within the Department of Labor (DOL) responsible for enforcing government contractors’ compliance with Section 503 and VEVRAA. Those regulations require federal contractors to take affirmative steps to recruit and hire people with disabilities and certain targeted veterans, including those with disabilities. The roundtable was part of OFCCP’s observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and brought together representatives of companies that have excelled in making disability inclusion a vital part of their workforce diversity efforts.

In a keynote address, Robert J. O’Hara, Vice President with United Technologies Corp., expressed support for the regulations that require companies to document their progress in bringing more people with disabilities into their operations. He also described challenges they encountered in broadening their disability outreach including appropriate ways to encourage people to identify as someone with a disability and connecting with talent pipelines to find qualified applicants. Among the strategies that worked for UT and for others at the forum were participation in networking conferences sponsored by organizations such as U.S. Business Leadership Network and National Organization on Disability, creating partnerships with universities to reach students with disabilities, and involvement of top corporate leadership in disability inclusion efforts.

For more information about DOL initiatives undertaken for National Disability Employment Awareness Month go to https://www.dol.g

August Washington Update

 

August 19, 2016                                                               Volume 22, No. 8

***PRIORITY***

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. 

Presidential Campaigns Wrap-up Nominating Conventions

The House and Senate recessed in mid-July to accommodate the Republican and Democratic National Conventions held over the last two weeks of July.  The Republican National Convention (RNC) was held the first week after recess in Cleveland, OH.  During the convention, Donald Trump and Mike Pence were formally nominated as the Republican candidates for the President and Vice President.  The Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held the following week in Philadelphia, PA.  During the DNC, Hillary Clinton and Senator Tim Kaine were formally nominated as the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President.

The conventions also included approval of the official party platforms for the Republican and Democratic parties.  Both platforms recommit to America’s sacred trust to veterans, they expound at length the heroic character of our service members, and regrettable consequences that befall them and their families.  Where their similarities diverge is in each party’s perception of primary problems and the corresponding plans to address them.  The full RNC platform can be accessed at:  https://gop.com/platform/.  The full DNC platform can be accessed at:  https://www.demconvention.com/platform/.

The RNC platform denounces the wait-time scandals concerning VA.  In response to these controversies, Republicans seek accountability of senior leadership and fundamental changes to their structure.  Regarding veterans’ health care, Republicans will seek to consolidate VA’s existing community care authorities to make a single program.  In order to combat bureaucratic stagnancy, they encourage VA partnerships with private enterprises, VSOs and competitive bidding, predicting such work will allow for high quality VA care, reduce backlogs, and save resources.  Additionally, Republicans will retain veterans’ preference, support a broader range of options for health care, including faith-based programs to respond to the opioid crisis, and encourage private sector and public school hiring of veterans.

The Democrats, equally enraged by VA scandals, propose fully resourcing VA to meet the needs of all veterans and reject attempts at privatization.  The platform emphasizes the need for more education benefits and job training, preservation of the post-9/11 GI Bill, and fair treatment of reservists and Guard members.  They recommit to ending chronic homelessness and suicide.  Regarding veterans’ health care, they emphasize veteran-centric care, resources for military sexual trauma (MST), the growth of mental health programs, treatment of invisible and toxic wounds and the expansion of the VA Caregiver Program to veterans of all eras. They seek to provide women with full and equal treatment, including reproductive health services. The DNC platform also proposes workplace policies that are more equitable for caregivers, as well as the expansion of a well-paid home care workforce and increased access to long-term care. They disfavor the deportation of immigrants who are veterans, while also highlighting the housing crisis for veterans in Indian Country.

The only identical policy proposal from both parties, aside from vaguely ensuring high quality health care and benefits for veterans (achieved differently), is a commitment to veterans treatment courts to prioritize rehabilitation over incarceration.

The respective platforms also offer views on some disability policy, albeit with slightly different inflections. The Republican platform highlighted the GOP’s historic support of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the role of Republican leadership in the enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), ABLE Act and the Steve Gleason Act.  WIOA was the first major overhaul of the nation’s workforce system in almost 20 years while the ABLE Act was a measure that lets people with disabilities maintain access to services while saving to develop assets.  The Gleason law bears the name of former NFL player Steve Gleason who developed ALS.  The law provides access to speech-generating devices. To encourage entrepreneurship, the platform endorsed opening the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) certification program to people with disabilities, something that PVA has long supported.  The platform continued the party’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Social Security was addressed largely from the perspective of reforms needed to the retirement system with Republicans calling for “all options,” other than tax increases, to be considered for modernizing this important social insurance program.

The Democratic platform addressed a number of issues important to individuals with disabilities including affirmation of support for the ADA and promises to expand access to appropriate accommodations and supports people with disabilities need to live in integrated community settings. The party endorsed policies that would bring to an end sub-minimum wage work, improve the lives of caregivers of people with disabilities, increase federal funding for affordable housing for low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans and the elderly, improve access to meaningful and gainful employment for people with disabilities and vowed to continue to fight for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In sections of the platform concerning restoration of the full protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Democrats highlight support for full funding of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to ensure that all registration materials, voting materials, polling places, and voting machines are fully accessible to seniors and Americans with disabilities.  With regard to Social Security, the platform opposes efforts to cut or privatize the program or raise the retirement age and supports improvements to the cost-of-living formula that better reflects the fixed expenses of seniors and people with disabilities. The party also proposes measures to ensure the long term solvency of Social Security by asking those earning above $250,000, a year to contribute more to the system and to provide sufficient financial support to the Social Security Administration to ensure it can provide timely benefits and high quality services to all beneficiaries.

Ultimately, the platforms only serve as a guide for the two parties during the course of the political campaigns with the goal to influence the policy positions of the major party candidates.  However, the presidential candidates are not obligated to adopt the platform proposals.  During next month’s Washington Update, we will highlight the individual candidates’ policies directed towards veterans and people with disabilities.

PVA Attends VA Joint Symposium: Safeguarding the Integrity of GI Bill Benefit

On August 3, 2016, VA and the Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Curtis Coy, hosted a joint symposium to address VA’s enforcement of its consumer protection authorities to protect veterans from dishonest schools.  VA has faced considerable criticism for failing to take action against predatory for-profit colleges targeting veterans and service members.  Current law calls for VA to cease distribution of federal funds when it finds that a school is employing aggressive, deceptive or fraudulent recruiting practices in order to get access to the lucrative GI Bill and Defense Department Tuition Assistance.  So far, however, VA has taken relatively few enforcement steps despite numerous reports of deceptive behavior.

PVA and its VSO partners discussed the various legal authorities VA has at its disposal and advocated for greater enforcement efforts against such schools.  We also encouraged VA to develop a support structure for veterans who have already been harmed by these schools or are otherwise forced to try and transfer into a different school to continue their education.

PVA Conducts Survey to Support Access Committee Work

In May, PVA was notified that Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, was selected to be a member of the Access Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation overseen by the Department of Transportation (DOT).  The Committee is comprised of representatives from the disability community as well as the airline industry.  During its first meeting, the ACCESS Committee selected PVA to chair the workgroup evaluating the need for accessible lavatories on board aircraft.

In order to assist the ACCESS Committee, PVA recently conducted a survey/poll to disability stakeholders addressing seven questions that gauge their expectations for an accessible lavatory on a new single aisle aircraft. The poll was conducted over a three week period, with final results being collected on August 1, 2016. During that time period, 931 total respondents and 515 PVA members registered their opinions.  We were particularly pleased with the response rate—8 percent—to the survey (industry standards consider 3 percent response rate to any survey to be good).

The overall results show that current lavatories are too small and more space is needed. The other significant take away was the lack of ability to get to the lavatory.  Many respondents indicated that they were not aware of on board wheelchairs and had trouble getting the assistance needed to obtain them or their personal assistive devices.  Additionally, airline personnel need more training in order to assist passengers throughout the process.

Review of AirAccess30.org Website

With the www.AirAccess30.org website now having been live for six months, we have analyzed visitor traffic on the site.  In the first six months, there have been approximately 3,200 total visits to the website and approximately 2,700, unique visits.  While visits to the website decreased during April and May, there was a significant increase in June and July.  Some of this can be attributed to more awareness from PVA members as they traveled to our Annual Convention in May and to the significant number of athletes who traveled to the National Veterans’ Wheelchair Games in June and July.  Additionally, the time spent on the website during each visit increased significantly during June and July.  The website currently includes 39 individual stories with additional stories that will be posted soon.  We will continue to promote the website widely leading up to the 30th anniversary of the Air Carrier Access Act signing in October and carrying into the new Congress next year.

Election Assistance Commission Focused on Security for Elections

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was established by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002.  The EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration.  The EAC is currently working with all levels of government to facilitate the conversation regarding securing the election process and to support election officials’ efforts to provide an accessible and secure voting process. Since the creation of its Voting System Testing and Certification Program, in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the EAC has led in ensuring voting systems brought to the market have been vigorously tested against security standards.  Voting systems certified by the EAC are not connected to the Internet. Further, the EAC has worked with local and state election officials—as well as election stakeholders, from accessibility experts to scientists and academics—to ensure that best practices are shared nationwide.  These best practices include pre-election testing, security, continuity planning, and post-election audits.  Already this year, the EAC has conducted a series of events related to the #BeReady16 initiative, and more are underway and planned, including activities addressing Election Security Preparedness. Voters are encouraged to get involved with their state and local election officials, and ask questions about their election process. The vast majority of election offices offer numerous opportunities for voters to engage in the process, including witnessing pre-election testing of the voting systems.  Election officials welcome voters’ questions and

participation because they want voters to have confidence and to participate in the process. The EAC also encourages voters to work at the polls as election workers. The election process benefits from full engagement from all people, and election administrators across the country are seeking election workers now for November.  With 50 days before the deadline to mail ballots to military and overseas voters, the EAC is working with all stakeholders to lead discussions productively so that voters can have the utmost confidence in the election process.

For more questions about accessible voting, contact PVA Senior Associate Advocacy Director Lee Page.

Washington Updates – February

February 21, 2014                                                       Volume 20,   No. 2

 Major Veterans Legislation Introduced in the Senate
In January, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs introduced one of the most comprehensive veterans bills to ever be considered in the Senate or House—S. 1982 (originally introduced as S. 1950), the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.” If enacted, S. 1982 would accomplish some of the highest priorities for Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and its members.

This comprehensive bill would create, expand, advance, and extend a wide array of VA health care and benefits services and programs that are important to PVA and its members. Specifically, this legislation provides for the expansion of the Comprehensive Caregiver Assistance Program to veterans of all eras (not just those injured after September 11, 2001). This change represents one of the single biggest priorities for PVA.

The legislation also addresses another high priority for PVA. Specifically, the bill provides advance appropriations authority for VA’s mandatory funding accounts (compensation and pension, education benefits, dependency and indemnity compensation, etc.) to ensure that in the event of a future government shutdown, veterans’ benefits payments would not be delayed or put in jeopardy. The need for this change was revealed during the partial government shutdown that occurred in October 2013.

Another high priority for PVA that this legislation addresses is repeal of the reduction in future cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for all military retirees, not just service members who are retired due to disability. The Senate and House shamefully approved a one percent reduction in the COLA for military retirees as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement in December 2013. Currently, it appears that the House and Senate may approve stand-alone legislation to repeal the COLA reduction for all military retirees.

Additionally, the legislation opens the VA health care system up to any veteran who wishes to enroll for care instead of entering into a health care exchange under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, it sets up a mechanism to expand access to dental care for all veterans.

Following a major grassroots effort from the veterans’ service organization (VSO) community to build support for S. 1982, PVA along with many of its VSO partners joined Senator Sanders for a press conference to encourage bipartisan support for the measure. As a part of the press conference, PVA emphasized the importance of the provision to expand the Comprehensive Caregiver Support Program to benefit veterans of all eras.

Subsequent to the introduction of the legislation, Senator John Boozman (R-AR) and Senate Mark Begich (D-AK) offered an amendment to S. 1982 that would make all the programs of the VA advance appropriations, including the discretionary accounts (with the exception of VA health care that is already advance appropriated). PVA strongly supports the Boozman-Begich amendment.

House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee Examines VBA Transformation
On February 5, Representative Jon Runyan (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs conducted a hearing to review the current status and secondary effects of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) technology initiatives. PVA submitted a formal statement for the record for the hearing. Representatives from the veterans service organization community as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Defense Health Agency testified at the hearing.

The hearing focused on a number of issues; however, Chairman Runyan indicated that his primary reason for holding the hearing was because of his interest in improving the efficiencies of the VA benefits systems by streamlining and simplifying services to veterans, their families and survivors. The Chairman indicated he was eager to work with VA to implement reasonable changes and said he was optimistic that many of the actions VA has employed to date have made a positive change. However, he cautioned VA that as they strive to achieve the 125 day goal for claims in 2015, they must not prioritize an “appearance” of success over actual quantitative improvement. Ranking Minority Member Dina Titus (D-NV) echoed the Chairman’s points, remarking that last fiscal year VA completed a record 1.7 million claims, reduced the time veterans had to wait for their claims, and cut the claims backlog by 35 percent. She also thanked the stakeholders present at the hearing for their help in reducing the backlog as well through their efforts and advice to veterans seeking benefits.

PVA outlined a number of concerns in our statement. One particular concern is VA’s recent plan that they have outlined would require electronic forms submission when filing an initial claim. This plan, if enacted, would significantly disadvantage veterans in seeking their earned benefits. If a veteran doesn’t express his intention to secure a benefit on the right form, he or she won’t be recognized as having made a claim. The burden is on the veteran and VA’s duty to assist will be seriously diluted, potentially interfering with a veteran’s access to their rightful benefit. This is a path that PVA is unwilling to endorse.

Additionally, PVA’s major concern at this point is the ability of VBA employees to effectively comprehend and implement the new transformation initiatives as these new programs are rolled out. VA employees are conscientious, hard working individuals; but the ongoing changes have been a challenge for the workforce. PVA has often testified on the lack of good training programs by VA that provide adjudicators with the base of knowledge needed for the complicated job of claims processing. With all the changes going on, there often seems to be difficulty in getting the new policies, procedures or processes down to the lowest staff level. We believe this trend continues despite the transformation.

The changes to VBA systems have been good. However, if the changes are not closely monitored and sufficient time is not taken to ensure the changes are implemented correctly, it could easily lead to greater inaccuracy at the expense of the veteran. As the Chairman implied in his opening statement, numbers success is not the goal for VA; proper services for the veteran, their family and survivors is the true measure of success. PVA will continue to closely monitor VA’s efforts to ensure this remains the goal. To read PVA’s full statement, please visit www.pva.org.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Holds Hearing on VA Accountability and Surgical Implants

On January 15, 2014, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, held a hearing titled, “Vendors in the Operating Room—VA’s Failed Oversight of Surgical Implants.” The purpose of the hearing was to assess the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) ability to manage the procurement of surgical implants for veterans. The Subcommittee focused on the findings of a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of VA policies involving patient safety and surgical implants purchases within VA medical facilities.

Surgical implants purchased by the VA include items such as artificial joints, cardiac pacemakers, and biological implants. During the hearing, the GAO testified that “…VA surgical implant purchase requirements were not always followed at selected VA medical centers, and VA oversight needs improvement.” The GAO further stated that this lack of compliance decreases the VA’s ability to determine if surgical implant purchases are “fair and reasonable.” The investigation also found that VA’s current management system does not have an adequate system to monitor and locate veterans with surgical implants. This finding was of particular concern to the Subcommittee as it has the potential to lead to safety issues for veterans if a surgical implant is recalled. The VA testified that it is updating its policy for the procurement of surgical implants (prosthetics) to ensure consistent administration of purchase procedures and better manage the use of surgical implants. The Subcommittee also called into question the VA’s policy that allows vendors selling surgical implants to be present in VA operating rooms, physically providing care to veterans. The VA testified that while it is accepted practice for vendors to be present in “clinical care settings,” it is VA policy that vendors are only present with the consent of veterans and are not to physically interact with veterans and their care.

The Subcommittee strongly urged the VA to strengthen and strictly enforce patient safety guidelines for prosthetic vendors and its medical centers. The VA stated that it is working to improve patient safety, and will continue to review the findings of the GAO investigation.

The FY 2015 Independent Budget Released

The FY 2015 Independent Budget (IB)was released on February 2, 2014, in advance of the Administrations FY 2015 projected budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This year marks the 28th year that the document has been co-authored by the American Veterans (AMVETS), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW). The IB is published annually as a comprehensive budget and policy document to inform VA leadership and policy makers of veterans’ health care and benefits needs.

For FY 2015, the IB recommends that Congress provide a total of $72.9 billion for veterans’ VA health care and benefits services. In addition to the VA budget recommendation, the document is comprised of five sections that address policy issues involving VA services—Benefits, Medical Care, Construction, Employment and Education, and the National Cemetery Administration. Issues of particular concern to the IB co-authors this year include the underfunding of VA construction accounts, continued reduction of the benefits claims backlog, and expanding advanced appropriations to all VA discretionary and mandatory appropriations accounts. After the Administration proposes a FY 2015 budget, the IB co-authors will testify before Congress to address these issues.

The IB is a highly regarded document that is utilized by members of Congress and federal leaders to determine ways to better serve veterans. More than 50 organizations are listed as endorsers of this year’s IB in support of improving VA services for veterans.

The Independent Budget is available online at www.independentbudget.org.

New VEVRAA and Section 503 Rules Spur Federal Contractor Outreach
In late January, Advocacy staff participated in a conference organized by representatives of the federal contractor community to educate companies doing business with the federal government about new regulations governing recruitment and hiring of veterans and people with disabilities. On March 24, 2014, new rules issued by the Department of Labor Office Of Federal Contract Compliance Programs [OFCCP] go into effect calling for greater accountability by federal contractors in following requirements under the Vietnam Era Veterans Re-adjustment Act [VEVRAA] and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

VEVRAA, which actually covers veterans beyond the Vietnam era, requires contractors and subcontractors with a federal contract or subcontract in the amount of $100,000 to take affirmative steps to employ and advance certain qualified covered veterans. These classes of veterans include those with service-connected disabilities, recently separated veterans (veterans within 3 years of their discharge or release from active duty), veterans who served on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized and Armed Forces service medal veterans. To meet the benchmarks set out under the new VEVRAA rules, OFCCP has projected that federal contractors would need to hire an additional 205,500 veterans in these categories.

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act places nondiscrimination and general affirmative action requirements for qualified people with disabilities on government contractors with contracts or subcontracts in excess of $10,000. OFCCP has estimated that, to meet the goals set out for Section 503, federal contractors will have to hire an additional 594,580 individuals with disabilities, 84,490 of which would be protected veterans with disabilities.

One panel at this OFCCP Institute focused on best practices for contractors to following in recruiting individuals and veterans with disabilities. Advocacy staff highlighted PVA’s Operation PAVE and its successes in placing veterans with the most significant barriers to employment. Other panelists described the key elements of corporate culture that foster a diverse talent pool and outreach efforts to veterans undertaken by one major federal contractor, Lockheed Martin.

The second day of the Institute featured a job fair for veterans and their families from around the Washington, DC area. Staff from PVA’s Operation PAVE took part in this program offering advice and guidance on resume writing, job search techniques and the services provided through the vocational rehabilitation program.

ADA Live – Voting Accessibility
“ADA Live!” is a monthly radio show broadcast free on the Internet. Ask questions and learn about your rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The next episode is “Voting Accessibility”. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). This legislation is aimed at improving the general election process and sets forth new requirements for state election officials to follow. This episode will explain HAVA and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and discuss the requirement to make polling places across the United States accessible to people with disabilities. The show will also discuss accessible registration, effective communication, voting aids and accessible polling places for people with disabilities.

ADA Live – Voting Accessibility
March 5
1:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Listen here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wada-se
Live captioning here: http://adalive.org/captioning
Check out the archive of past episodes here: http://adalive.org/schedule
For questions or more information, contact the Southeast ADA Center here: http://adalive.org/contact