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U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Reforms and Investments to Improve Veterans’ Care Move Forward in the Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin announced that reforms and investments that she has fought for to improve veterans’ care, have passed the United States Senate as a part of the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill.

“One profound thing that I have learned about problems at the VA is that veterans, their families, and whistleblowers all want the same thing: accountability and solutions," said Senator Baldwin.As Congress continues to work together to move these reforms forward, I will continue to keep my focus on putting solutions in place that keep our promise to our veterans and their families.”

Reforms and investments that Baldwin fought to include in the funding bill includes:

Empower Whistleblowers and Hold VA Managers Accountable 

We must work to build a VA that embraces, rather than retaliates against, whistleblowers who want to improve the system. This bipartisan reform that will enhance whistleblower rights and ensure that they are empowered. It also holds VA managers accountable for unacceptable retaliation and intimidation. 

Improved VA Hiring and Reporting Practices 

Baldwin has fought for reforms to improve background checks as part of VA hiring practices. These key reforms are taken from Baldwin’s Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, and would provide more thorough reporting on health care provider violations to state medical licensing boards.

Increase Transparency at the VA Office of Inspector General

Baldwin continues to support reforms that improve transparency at the VA Office of Inspector General. As the VA Inspector General executes its oversight responsibility, it should make considerable efforts to increase its transparency, accountability, and collaboration with key stakeholders including Congress, other Federal agencies, and the Veteran community.

Stronger Oversight of the VA’s Prescribing Practices

More must be done to address the problem of improper prescribing practices of opioids at the VA. That is why Senator Baldwin has worked to pass reforms that improve the VA’s Opioid Safety Initiative and overall VA pain management and prescribing practices. Furthermore, to ensure transparency and accountability, Baldwin has fought to ensure that the VA makes public the findings of the Office of Accountability Review’s investigation of the Tomah VA Medical Center.   

More Affordable and Accessible Rescue Kits for Our Veterans

Baldwin championed a bipartisan reform that makes naloxone rescue kits more affordable and accessible to our nation’s veterans. Veterans deserve affordable access to lifesaving therapies like naloxone in an emergency, particularly those at high-risk of overdose and those struggling with ongoing opioid use disorders. Providing at-risk veterans with free naloxone kits—without requiring a copayment—removes a key barrier to care and will significantly improve patient safety by helping veterans, their families and their doctor appropriately protect against the unpredictable risk associated with opioid use. 

Reducing the VA Claims and Appeals Backlog 

More must be done to reduce the claims and appeals backlog in the VA. That is why Senator Baldwin pushed for more funding for the Veterans Benefits Administration to help them more effectively serve our veterans and their families in a timely manner. This legislation increases our investment in the VA and directs the Veterans Benefits Administration to increase staffing and allocate additional resources to reduce the backlogs to help our veterans receive timely responses. 

Better Treatment for Veterans Suffering from Gulf War Illness 

Far too many of our veterans are suffering from Gulf War Illness. Baldwin’s provisions would improve the approval rates of veterans’ disability claims; enhance ongoing studies and research into the causes of and treatments for Gulf War Illness; and strengthen the membership and work of the Research Advisory Committee, which oversees the government’s research agenda.

Review and Reassess VA Domiciliary Program

The death of a Wisconsin veteran in November 2015 has made it clear that we must reassess the domiciliary program nationwide. Baldwin’s provision directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to address security concerns and assess whether the current domiciliary program can meet the needs of veterans who are at heightened risk for overdose or suicide. The VA’s assessment should also include alternatives to the domiciliary program if it finds the current program cannot meet the needs of these at-risk veterans.