July 24, 2014

Sen. Johanns supports McDonald as next Secretary of Veterans Affairs (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns supports President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Johanns, a Republican member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, says McDonald has the background needed to shake-up the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I really believe in this person. I like him a lot. He’s got an unbelievable resume. I mean, he’s run very large, complex private organizations,” Johanns says. “But I will say this, it is different in a large, complex governmental organization and I speak from experience.”

Johanns served as Secretary of Agriculture under President George W. Bush.

Criticism of the Department of Veterans Affairs became widespread after a former VA employee alleged that the Phoenix VA Health Care System falsified records to make it appear that patients had much shorter wait times than they actually faced. A VA inspector general report disclosed several VA hospitals throughout the country followed the same practice.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the allegations.

Obama has nominated McDonald to take his place.

During testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, McDonald pledged to work hard during the first 90 days as secretary to address the problems plaguing the VA. McDonald, who is a military veteran, stated the mission was personal for him, siting a number of family members who have served.

Johanns has been harshly critical of the VA for falsifying records and providing poor treatment. Johanns says McDonald will have no time to waste.

“He’s got his work cut out for him, but I’m enthusiastically supportive. I like what he says. I like what he stands for; great background, great experience. We can’t get him confirmed fast enough in my opinion and I just pray that he’ll grab ahold of that department, because they really need leadership.”

Johanns worries problem employees at the VA might just try to run the clock on McDonald, knowing that, at most, he has only the two-and-a-half years left in the Obama Administration to overhaul the VA.

AUDIO:  Sen. Mike Johanns comments on Robert McDonald’s nomination as next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. [1:10]

Sen. Johanns proposes competition to improve VA (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns says veterans dissatisfied with the health care provided by the Veterans Administration should be allowed to seek care in the private sector.

Johanns, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, says the committee has been enormously generous to the VA’s budget requests in the past.

“The VA would come in and say, ‘We need more money’ and we would send them out the door with the money they requested,” according to Johanns. “Then, all of these problems develop. We find a federal department that literally is lying to people, creating false waiting lists and people are on a real waiting list and dying before they receive treatments.”

Criticism of the Department of Veterans Affairs became widespread after a former VA employee alleged that the Phoenix VA Health Care System falsified records to make it appear that patients had much shorter wait times than they actually faced. A VA inspector general report disclosed several VA hospitals throughout the country followed the same practice.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the allegations.

Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson recently appeared before the Veterans Affairs Committee to ask for an additional $17.6 billion over a three-year period to add 10,000 doctors, nurses and other staff members.

The VA budget has been on a steady rise. Once at slightly under $80 billion in 2005, it now stands at $152.7 billion. The budget for veteran medical care is $54.6 billion.

Johanns says the solution the VA proposes to fix its problems is more money, more staff, and more time.

“What I think they really need is competition,” Johanns asserts. “If the VA can’t get the job done, when it comes to veterans’ health care needs, in my judgment, our veterans who have fought for our freedoms should have freedoms of their own. They should be free to get the care that they choose from private doctors.”

Johanns supports a measure that would allow veterans to seek health care in the private sector.

“At the end of the day, if the veteran is happy with the care offered by the VA, great, I’m all for that,” Johanns says. “But if the VA fails, then our veterans shouldn’t pay the price.”

Johanns says that if the veterans choose to leave, it will send a real message to the VA.

President Barack Obama has nominated former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald to become the new VA Secretary.

AUDIO:  Sen. Mike Johanns discusses Veterans Administration problems and a proposed solution. [2:45]

Defenders Of Freedom Air Show this weekend at Offutt AFB

A huge crowd is expected at the 2014 Defenders of Freedom Air Show at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue this weekend. One of the events on the ground includes the Air National Guard’s Mobile Experience simulator. Crew member Nikki Verheye it includes five touring vehicles that are designed to educate about the Air Guard’s role in serving our nation. It also gives visitors a hands-on experience of what the Air Guard is like.

Verheye says visitors will be able to test their physical strength and agility. The next step is to use touch-screen TV’s to learn their aptitudes in electronics, mechanical, observational and medical skills. Part three is to learn what an Air Guard training weekend is like.

Verheye says visitors will also be able to step in to a simulator and “try on” the different uniforms worn by Air Guard members. Pictures will be taken for visitors to take home.

This is one of 60 ground and air displays at the event.

The Defenders of Freedom Air Show is Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm both days.

Gov. Heineman hands out special veteran driver’s licenses (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman has presented four military veterans with special driver’s licenses at a ceremony held at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home in Bellevue.

“July 1st of this year marked another milestone for honoring veterans here in Nebraska,” Heineman told the veterans. “This was the very first day Nebraska veterans were able to apply to have a veteran’s designation added to their driver’s license or state ID card.”

Heineman presented the driver’s licenses to World War II veteran Joseph Vocelka, Korea War veteran Richard Aube, Vietnam War veteran Grace Ford and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Kimberly Mahlberg.

“And let me just share with you on a personal basis, I have talked with a number of Nebraskans, they are really excited when they see for whatever reason that on your driver’s license that you’re a veteran, they want to say thank you to you. They want to show their appreciation and this is a way for them to know,” Heineman told the veterans during the ceremony.

Heineman said the special driver’s license was only one of a series of bills approved this past legislative session to aid military veterans. Among them, giving veterans preference in employment, provide in-state tuition for veterans, provide income tax exemption for portions of military retirements, and providing homestead exemptions for disabled veterans.

Veterans interested in the special driver’s license can apply with the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs on-line, in person, via email, or FAX. The website is www.veterans.nebraska.gov, phone number 402-0471-2458, and FAX number 402-471-2491.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman holds news conference at Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home. [3 min.]

Hiring Our Heroes job fair Monday in Omaha

The U-S Chamber of Commerce Foundation is hosting a “Hiring Our Heroes – Omaha” job fair on Monday. Jennifer Hale is the Business Outreach Coordinator with Goodwill Industries and says this event is for veterans, military spouses and their dependents.

Forty-one companies are taking part and range from large employers to dozens of small ones in the region. Hale says open positions include IT, clinical, hospital, warehouse, logistics, office, production and laboratories.

The event includes a free Hiring Our Heroes employment workshop focused on resume writing, tips for successfully navigating hiring fairs, military skill translation and interview skills. That will begin at 8:30 am.

The job fair itself is from 10 am to 1 pm at Goodwill Industries at 4805 N. 72nd Street in Omaha.