President Signs VA Bill into Law

https://i2.wp.com/www.smartcitymemphis.com/wp-content/uploads/va.jpg

On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed a VA reform bill into law that will allow tens of thousands of military veterans to receive long awaited care from private doctors almost immediately, according to Matthew Daly and Darlene Superville, Boost for vets’ health: Obama signs new law. Other changes will take awhile under the $16.3 billion law marking the government’s most comprehensive response to the Veterans Affairs scandals that led to the ousting of Eric Shinseki as VA Secretary. Veterans who waited at least a month for a medical appointment or live 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs hospital or clinic will now be able to see a private doctor at a cost to the government. VA officials said the law will also allow the expansion of VA staff by hiring thousands of doctors, nurses and mental health counselors to alleviate the long wait periods, however, this will take months to years to complete as the VA will also open 27 new clinics across the country taking two years. Obama signed the bill at Fort Belvoir, an army base in Virgina just outside Washington where service members, veterans groups and military leaders attended the ceremony with lawmakers from both parties. Obama, during the ceremony, said: “This will not and cannot be the end of our effort. And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our service members and our veterans.” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “Anybody who thinks this is going to fix the problem is not being honest about this” citing a host of issues the bill leaves unaddressed, from veterans’ suicides and homelessness to a stubborn backlog in disability claims. Daniel Dellinger, national commander for the America Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said: “But it is only one step and only a beginning.” Under the new law, employment rules will be revised to make it easier to fire senior VA executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly, according to the article. The former Proctor and Gamble CEO turned VA Secretary on July 30, McDonald, travels to Phoenix Friday to visit the VA hospital where the scandal began amid reports of secret waiting lists and patients dying before they could receive care. The VA reported in mid-July that 35,000 vets had a waiting period of 90 days for initial appoints, down from 57,000 mid-May, and last week announced its plan to fire two supervisors and discipline four other employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health care data. According to AOL’s report, Major provisions of veterans health care bill, congressional budget analyst put the cost of the bill at $16.3 billion over three years and estimates it will add $10 billion to federal deficits over the next 10 years. Here’s a summary of the legislation provided by AOL:

-Devotes $10 billion to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live far from them. Only veterans who enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away are eligible for outside care.

-Devotes $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical and mental health professionals.

-Authorizes $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA outpatient clinics and other medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

-Grants the VA secretary authority to fire immediately poor-performing senior executives. They would have seven days to appeal, with a final resolution 21 days later.

-Expands a scholarship program for children of veterans killed in the line of duty to include surviving spouses.

-Allows all returning veterans and eligible dependents to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

-Cuts funding for annual bonuses for VA employees to $360 million, $40 million less than last year.

Relief for the VA, Paul Ryan Rants, Saving Chicago, DC Gun Laws and Fast Food Worker’s Rights

https://i2.wp.com/www.momoneyblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Monopoly-cartoon-749301.jpg

After six weeks of negotiations, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a compromise to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays and deaths. Matthew Daly reports, After 6 weeks, finally a deal on VA health care, the chairman of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees will hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to unveil a plan to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. An agreement Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House panel, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate veterans panel chair, was reached after many private meetings, no shows and public spats with only days left until Congress goes on a five week recess. A partisan impasse loomed which both sides hoped to avoid what Miller called the “sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous.” Three days later, via telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page. The tentative deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators and a full vote in the House and Senate. The plan announced Monday, according to Miller and Sanders, is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.” Luis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said on Sunday: “There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about.” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job.” An updated audit by the VA this month shows 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still wait 30 days for an appointment with 46,000 veterans waiting at least three months for an initial appointment and an additional 7,00 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade that never got them. The Senate and House are set to adjourn at the end of the week until September and lawmakers from both parties see the VA bill as a top priority. Meanwhile, the Senate is also expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

While one problem may potentially be resolved this week, on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) condemned the federal government’s approach to poverty reduction claiming the Obama administration is responsible for the system that “perpetuates poverty” in America, according to Ashley Alman’s article Paul Ryan Accuses Obama Administration Of System That ‘Perpetuates Poverty.’ On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Ryan came to discuss his new poverty proposal involving consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs including food stamps and housing vouchers into one program coordinated by each state. Host David Gregory commented that Ryan sounded like he had little “sympathy” for impoverished Americans. Ryan responded by saying: “We don’t want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty. The federal government’s approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work. Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential.” Ryan announced his poverty proposal Thursday saying it is an opportunity for reform that would be “budget neutral.” However, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) disagrees: “The core idea of the Ryan proposal is not a new idea at all: it’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles. If you look at the block grant proposal in the context of the Ryan-Republican budget, it would dramatically slash the resources available to help struggling families.”

As families to continue to struggle to keep their heads above water, cities are not only struggling to keep people working, but keep gun violence to a minimum. Glenn Minnis reports, Can Noah’s Arc save streets of Chicago?, Joakim Noah, an NBA All Star Center, on Friday spoke to a room full of teens and adolescents at a Major Adams Community Center room about gun and gang violence culture so out of control it has brought his hometown of Chicago to its knees. Noah spoke of his motivation to start his “Stand up Chicago” campaign: “It’s very important that we understand that this is not just a problem that’s going on on the South Side, the violence is not a problem that’s going on on the West Side. This is a Chicago problem.” Noah also enlisted the help of teammate and Chi-town native Derrick Rose who appeared on a 60 second PSA for his initiative. Join by rapper and Chicago native Common, he states in the PSA: “I stand for my city.” In a statement on his Noah’s Arc Foundation site, Noah and his mom, Cecilia Rodhe, called on all Chicagoans to “take a stand against violence and become ambassadors for peace and positivity.” Over the first seven months of the year, 207 homicides have taken place in Chicago with the most recent incident on July 4 weekend where the L.A. Times reported at least 16 people killed and 82 injured over three and half days. In response, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has added seven more ATF agents to its former roster of 45 in hopes of somehow of corralling all the madness, according to Minnis. Noah summed up the goal of his organization by saying: “As somebody who plays for the Bulls, I feel like I’m somebody who represents the city, and I think that helping our youth is important. The summer months bring a lot of violence, and we felt it was urgent to get a public service announcement out now in order to bring some hope, change and support to the community. We have to find a way together, whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever you are, to come together and solve this together. To me personally, this is just as important as winning a championship.”

Meanwhile, gun advocates in Washington, D.C. this weekend celebrate following a federal judge ruling that struck down the city’s ban on handguns in public, the AOL article, D.C.’s gun laws take another hit in handgun carry ruling, explains. District Judge Frederick Scullin reached the conclusion many other district courts reached in similar cases: “The Second Amendment secures an individual right … to carry a common weapon outside the home for self-defense.” The ruling prevents D.C. officials from enforcing public gun bans until licensing regulations are put in place. In 2008 a Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, overturned the city’s total ban on handguns ruling the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons for self-defense, AOL reports. The latest decision comes from an Aug. 2009 lawsuit that, according to SCOTUSblog notes, got tangled up in the D.C. district’s legal red tape for five years frustrating the plaintiffs. “The challengers to the D.C. law tried repeatedly to get a ruling, even asking a federal appeals court to step in to command that the case be decided.” In addition, Congress is challenging gun control in D.C. House Republicans approved an amendment to the district’s funding bill that would prevent D.C. from enforcing their gun laws. However, it will still be illegal to bring to a gun into a federal building. D.C. officials have yet to announce plans to appeal the ruling, but a spokesman told reporters the city is looking into options.

As the gun fight rages on, on Saturday, fast food workers across the nation voted to escalate efforts for $15 an hour pay and union membership using nonviolent civil disobedience. More than 1,300 workers came together at a convention center in Chicago to discuss the future of a campaign to spread to dozens of cities in less than two years, Tammy Webber reports, Fast Food Workers Vow Civil Disobedience. The Service Employee International Union provides financial and organizational support to fast food protests. They began in 2012 in New York City including daylong strikes and peaceful demonstrations outside this year’s McDonald’s Corp. shareholder meeting where 130 protestors were arrested for stepping onto company property. Saturday’s convention in Villa Park, Illinois, included session on civil disobedience and leadership training. Rev.William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, said: “People should not work and be willing to work and then be denied living wages and be denied health care because of greed. This movement is saying that America is less than she promises to be, morally and constitutionally, by denying living wages. If you raise wages for workers, you buoy the whole economy.” The movement comes as President Barack Obama and many other Democrats try to make a campaign issue out of their call to increase the federal and state minimum wage which stands at $7.25 an hour for federal wages or about $15,000 per year for40 hours a week. Obama and others want to increase it to $10.10. The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage would lead to business closing and job cuts. According to Webber: “The National Restaurant Association said last week that increasing wages to $15 will not solve income inequality and that the campaign was an attempt by unions to boost dwindling membership.” Scott DeFife, the association;s executive vice president of policy and government affairs, said protesters are “demonizing” an industry that employs all ages, backgrounds and skill levels instead of focusing on policies to increase education and job training. Unfortunately, many workers say that people stay in these jobs for years because they are the only ones available. Barber believes that “this movement is intensifying and it is going to shake the moral consciousness of this country.”

Repubs Fight Obamacare, Botched Executions, Firing Squads, Obama Limits Business Mergers, Failed VA Reform and the End of a Dream

https://craftymcclever.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/3bdb3-corporate-america-cartoon.jpg

According to federal data released Wednesday to ProPublica, nearly one million transactions on the federal exchange have occurred following more than 5 million people who signed up using Healthcare.gov before April 19, the end of the open enrollment period, according to Charles Ornstein, Obamacare Website Getting So Much Traffic It’s Surprising Experts. All told, between federal exchange and 14 state exchanges, more than 8 million signed up fro coverage. The data covers the 36 states using the exchange including Texas, Florida, Illinois, Georgia and Michigan. Charles Gaba, who runs the site acasignups.net tracks enrollment numbers estimating that between 6,000 and 7,000 people sign up for coverage reach day on the exchange after the official enrollment period ended. About 86 percent of those sign ups are eligible for government subsidies to help lower their monthly payments, whole those subsidies are being challenge by lawsuits in federal court contenting that they aren’t allowed by the Affordable Care Act. Two federal appeals courts came to conflicting decisions Tuesday on the permissibility of subsidies with one saying no and one saying yes. The Obama administration said they will remain in effect as the cases proceed in court. The next time that the general public can sign up fro coverage through the exchanges is November 15 to February 15, 2015. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters: “You know, the discussions about Obamacare and what the replacement bill would look like continue. We’re trying to build consensus around one plan. Not there yet.” According to Igor Bobic, Don’t Worry, Republicans Are Still Working On A Plan To Replace Obamacare, the remarks were made following an April decision by the party to delay a promised alternative to the exchange. However, Boehner is intent on keeping his focus on Obamacare by trying to sue the Obama administration for failing to implement a portion of the law in a timely manner.

While healthcare seems to continue to be a hot button issue, another issue has taken the spotlight recently due to botched executions. An influential federal appeal court judge on Thursday said that the nation’s third botched lethal injection in six months reinforces his call to bring back firing squads, according to the Associated Press, Judge argues for return of firing squad executions. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. circuit Court of Appeals, said lethal injection was a dishonest way to disguise the brutal nature of capital punishment, the AP reported. Kozinski wrote unfavorably about lethal injection in his decision Monday and while arguing against delaying the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III in Phoenix, who gasped for more than 90 minutes for breath taking nearly two hours to die Wednesday. According to Kozinski, a properly trained firing squad would be foolproof and quick in executing an inmate and avoid complications surrounding lethal injection. He told the AP: “I’ve always thought executions should be executions not medical procedures.” Kozinski said he supports capital punishment but states and federal government should stop lethal injections for a foolproof plan such as firing squads or the guillotine, however, he doubted that the public would accept the latter form.

From botched executions to bad business practices, President Obama is addressing misgivings about tax driven overseas mergers of U.S. corporations by issuing a new call to end the practice now and questions the patriotism and citizenship of those companies, the Associated Press explains, Obama wants limits on US company mergers abroad. The push comes as many companies try to reorganize with foreign entities partly to reduce their tax payments to the U.S. Though Obama did include a proposal to rein in such mergers and acquisitions in his 2015 budget, his administration brought more attention to these transactions last week with a letter from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to House and Senate leaders saying such deals known as inversion “hollow out the U.S. corporate income tax base.” Obama is urging Congress to enact legislation retroactive to May in order to stop companies from rushing into deals to avoid the law. However, Republicans and some Democrats prefer to make these changes as part of a comprehensive overhaul of corporate tax code that would also lower corporate tax rates and reduce incentives for companies to seek out countries with lower taxes. Administration officials estimate the deals if continued will cost the U.S. Treasury $17 billion in lost revenue over the next decade. Lew in the letter said: “We should not be providing support for corporations that seek to shift their profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

Meanwhile, while the tax code has failed to regulate the way it should, the VA continues to suffer from fallout of scandals and Congress failing to do its part. In an interview Wednesday night with Larry King, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) criticized President Obama for underestimating the Republican opposition causing them to spin their wheels waiting for a legislative compromise. Sam Stein reports,
How VA Reform Fell Apart In Less Than 4 Days, on Thursday Sanders told reporters he may have also been victimized by the oppositions, announcing that after weeks of negotiations with House Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) over reform legislation aimed at the Department of Veterans Affairs and his Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that negotiations have ground to a halt. The two men spoke on Monday for an hour via phone conference with acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson on the costs of the VA reform bill that the Congressional Budget Office valued at $50 billion for the Senate bill and $54 billion for the House bill. The money was meant to allow vets without a VA facility the option of going outside the system for medical treatment, however, the discussion moved to funding needed to repair facilities, build new ones, hire personnel and update records systems totaling $17.6 billion according to Gibson. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was worried on Tuesday that VA reform would not get done before the recess in August. Sanders said that Gibsons request can be reduced and the cost for veterans to find care outside the VA could be lowered as well in an effort to find middle ground. However, Sanders and miller have not talked again since their Monday phone call. On Wednesday, Sanders upped the public pressure by going to the Senate floor to warn about the possibility of Congress leaving for recess without solving the issue that lawmakers deem a must fix crisis followed by a press conference to brief reporters. On Wednesday, Jessica Eggimann, Chief clerk of Miller’s committee, sent an email to a top staffer on Sanders’ committee, asking her to forward the notice that Miller was hosting an open conference committee meeting the next day to discuss the legislation. However, Sanders’ office took the move as inconsiderate and a political stunt. The worst offense for Democrats was a line asking Sanders to join Miller in convening a conference on July 28 “for a formal vote on this proposal.” Sanders organized a press conference with fellow Senate Democrats criticizing Miller for demanding a vote on a proposal that did not adhere to the outlines of earlier discussion, according to an aide. A Senate Democratic aide said that by ratcheting up the politics of VA reform, the party increased the possibility of passage. By the end of the day Thursday, both Sanders and Miller paved the way to restart talks saying that they would work through the weekend to finalize a deal.

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Thursday demanded in a statement that the Obama administration needed to “wind down” a policy helping more than 550,000 undocumented workers who came to the U.S. as children which could restart deportation of young people who lived here for years. Elise Foley reports, Marco Rubio: End Relief For Dreamers, Rubio’s statement outlined suggestions to deal with the crisis of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who cross the U.S. border illegally since October. According to the statement, Rubio believes: “Because the recent wave from Central America spiked after DACA was announced, it is in our interest to wind down this program. If you are not currently in it, you should not be eligible for it.” New immigrants aren’t eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama administration policy that allows undocumented immigrants called Dreamers who enter the country as children before June 15, 2007 to apply for temporary authorization to stay and work legally. Most Republicans have opposed the policy since its introduction in 2012, but the GOP’s calls to end the policy have gotten louder. All 24 Republican House members and both senators in the Texas congressional delegation sent a letter to Obama on Thursday calling for suspension of efforts to expand deportation relief. The letter reads: “Your Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Executive Order has shielded over half a million illegal immigrants from current law. And it has sent the regrettable message that illegal immigration will not be punished in the United States.” Last month, according to Foley, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was joined by 32 House Republicans calling for Obama to end DACA and in a letter Issa accused Obama of selectively enforcing the law. The letter reads: “DACA rewards families and individuals who have broken our laws, further encouraging others to seek similar benefits.” Lawmakers have been vague about what to do with these undocumented young people who are eligible for DACA. Cruz’s bill would apply to future relief, while Rubio said relief should not be given out in the future meaning current DACA recipients could keep their temporary status. However, ending the policy could mean that undocumented young people could risk deportation and those current under the policy would eventually have to reapply. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) explained earlier this month that if the administration ends DACA and similar policies protecting Dreamers from deportation: “They should not be under a process created that the president doesn’t have the authority to do, and they would be in the status that they were in prior to this program being established.”

Allegations of A Continued Cover Up at Phoenix VA

PHOENIX, AZ  - JUNE 5:   New Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson.  (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX, AZ – JUNE 5: New Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)

At the Center of the nationwide scandal, the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix has had an employee, scheduling clerk Pauline DeWenter, come forward claiming that an ongoing cover up of patients death have occurred and she had maintained a private list of veterans who waited months for appointments. According to the Arizona Republic on June 23, 2014 and the interview DeWenter did with CNN, she has spoken to the VA Office of Inspector General investigators about the list, turned over evidence and reported her suspicions of cover up. DeWenter claims someone change entries on the electronic appointment records of veterans who died while waiting for care from “deceased”  which she entered to “entered in error” and “no longer needed” with some being made in recent weeks. DeWenter further describes that a Phoenix VA Medical Center supervisor told her to gather new patient appointment request and put them in her desk due to the overwhelming influx of patients in early 2013. She further claims that more than 1,000 veterans were placed on the private list and remained there for weeks or months because they couldn’t be scheduled within the 14 day goal for wait times. She objected to doing so but was forced to by the Phoenix VA director Sharon Helman in an effort to cut wait times. At a congressional hearing last Monday, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., asked VA officials including assistant deputy undersecretary Thomas Lynch if the VA was aware of these claims during the four visits made to the Phoenix facility. Lynch replied, “I’m not aware of the revelation. I am aware that the OIG is looking carefully at all of the deaths that have occurred. I do not know of any attempts to hide deaths, congresswoman.”

Dr. Sam Foote, the retired VA physician who exposed the practice earlier this year, has kept in communication with DeWenter since December about the waiting list and questions why the VA left the former hospital management in place after the problems were found. While the appointment delay issue was first discovered in Phoenix, it was discovered that the issue is widespread throughout the VA nationwide. The VA, serving 9 million veterans, has struggled to deal with the mounting evidence that workers falsified reports on wait times in an effort to cover up long delays in medical appointments. An internal audit found that more than 57,000 new applicants have had to wait three months for their first appointment, while an additional 64,000 newly enrolled vets never got them. The director of the Phoenix VA, Sharon Helman has gone on administrative leave and the FBI has launched a criminal investigation of the facility. Back in Congress, both the House and Senate have passed legislation requiring the VA to pay private providers to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get a prompt appointment. Each chamber has appointed committees to deal with the differences in the two bills with lawmakers meeting Tuesday.