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Begich Earns Critical Position on Veterans Reform Conference Committee, Increases Alaska’s Clout on Veterans Issues

Brings Experience and Success from Reforming Alaska VA

Today U.S. Senator Mark Begich earned a key position on the Conference Committee for the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, further increasing Alaska’s clout and influence on veterans’ issues in Washington. The House of Representatives passed a different bill reforming the Veterans Administration, setting up the need for a Conference Committee so the two sides can work out differences and approve a bill for final passage by both chambers.

“I’m anxious to get down to business with House members and senators of both parties to resolve our differences quickly so that all our nation’s veterans can get the benefits they have earned and deserve,” Begich said. “Since day one in the Senate I’ve been working to solve the gaps in service and access to care for veterans.  As a member of the Conference Committee, I will push for the same kind of innovative solutions that have achieved real results in Alaska – I look forward to using my experience working with the Alaska Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand access to care for all our veterans. We’ve made great progress, but there is more work to do and that is why I will fight for quick passage of the Veterans Reform Act so that veterans across the nation can have the same kind of access to care.”

The bill passed the Senate last week by a strong bipartisan vote of 93-3 and includes several provisions already being implemented successfully in Alaska.

Recently, Begich took to the Senate floor to discuss the bill which includes reforms that:

  • Provides the VA Secretary with the authority to dismiss Senior Executive Service employees for underperformance, with the right to an appeals process without pay that would last no more than 30 days;
  • Requires VA to establish disciplinary procedures for employees who knowingly falsify data pertaining to wait times and quality measures;
  • Enhances collaboration between the VA and Indian Health Service (IHS) so that VA can expand outreach to IHS tribal health programs to negotiate reimbursement agreements and is        modeled after the aggressive work Begich did to expand VA access in Alaska;
  • Expands choices for health care providers to enable veterans to choose a provider at Federally Qualified Health Centers, Department of Defense or Indian Health Service facilities—similar to the system currently in place in Alaska;
  • Provides expedited hiring authority for VA doctors and nurses and additional authority to hire new providers;
  • Require extensive reviews to identify staffing shortages at each VA Medical Center;
  • Extends counseling and treatment to service members who suffered sexual trauma while on inactive duty;
  • Expands eligibility for care and services for military sexual trauma at a VA facility to active duty service members;
  • Provides in-state tuition rates to new veterans eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill;
  • Expands Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship to include surviving spouses of service members who were killed in the line of duty.
  • Extends counseling and treatment to service members who suffered sexual trauma while serving on inactive duty training.

Begich, a member of both the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, has pushed for increased funding for the VA and for innovative programs to provide better access to care and to attract more qualified providers to work in VA health facilities in Alaska and across the nation. 

For more details and examples on Begich’s work on veterans affairs visit his Senate website.

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