August 1, 2014

VA compromise bill receives Sen. Fischer’s support

A compromise measure to address the crisis at Veterans Administration hospitals has the support of Sen. Deb Fischer.

Senate and House negotiators have agreed on legislation that would provide $5 billion to hire additional doctors, nurses, and other staff members at VA hospitals throughout the country.

The VA has been roiled by questions of its competence to give care to the country’s military veterans as well as allegations that staff members at its hospitals routinely falsified records to hide the fact that some veterans languished on extremely long waiting lists.

Fischer says new legislation also provides additional powers to new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble.

“And part of this new legislation that’s coming out, a big part of it that came out of conference committee, will give him the ability to fire people if they aren’t doing their job,” Fischer tells Nebraska reporters during a conference call. “That’s really important to me. People need to be accountable. And now, he’s going to be able to do that.”

The legislation also will allow veterans on long waiting lines as well as veterans who live far from a VA hospital to seek treatment outside the VA system, as long as the physicians participate in the Medicare system.

“So this is going to open it up so they will be able to use physicians in their own communities,” Fischer says. “It’s going to help them in their care, but it’s important to realize this is also going to help their families and their care givers as well.”

Fischer says there is a lot of optimism in Congress that McDonald will implement the reforms needed at the VA.

Nebraska soldier dies in IED attack in Afghanistan

A Nebraska soldier has died from wounds suffered in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on his vehicle in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department reports 30-year-old Staff Sergeant Benjamin Prange of Hickman died Thursday. The IED attack occurred in Mirugol Kalay in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, according to Defense Department.

A soldier from California also died in the attack, 19-year-old Pfc. Keith Williams.

Both men were part of the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division based at Ft. Carson, CO.

Prange is the first Nebraska soldier to die in Afghanistan since June of 2012, when Hunter Hogan of York died. He was 21.

Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Armed Serve Committee, released a statement in wake of Prange’s death:

“My thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies are with the family and loved ones of Staff Sgt. Prange during this difficult time. His ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his country is a solemn reminder to us all of the high price of freedom. I join all Nebraskans in honoring the memory of this brave American. We are forever indebted to Staff Sgt. Prange for his selfless service.”

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.