By: Thomas (Tom) Waters, Lt. Colonel, USAF (Ret), Ed.D. / firstname.lastname@example.org
Why is this position so important and why do we keep talking about it? Well, for Veterans, it is a crucial position. That is because “The United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the head of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the department concerned with veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and national veterans’ memorials and cemeteries.”
The person who fills this position reports to the President of the United States, is a member of the President’s Cabinet, and is 17th in line of succession to the office of President. All Cabinet positions are required to be confirmed by the US Senate.
In my previous article I stated that on May 18, 2018, the President made a surprise announcement when he announced that he would nominate the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Robert Wilkie, for the position as the permanent VA Secretary. With that announcement, the Senatorial Confirmation Hearings are set up again to see if we can get a VA Secretary that can remain in place long enough to be of value to the nation’s Veteran population. We are still awaiting those Confirmation Hearings.
Because of the ‘surprise’ announcement by the President, two advocacy groups sent out a news release that threatened legal action if Wilkie doesn’t step down as Acting Secretary while the Senate considers his nomination. That is because Federal Statue states that a person cannot serve in an “Acting” role for a position that must be confirmed by the Senate unless the person previously served as Assistant to that office for 90 days. Wilkie did not meet that requirement so the President, to avoid violating a Federal Statue, selected “longtime Veterans Affairs official Peter O’Rourke as the VA’s Acting Secretary” while the Senate considers Wilkie’s nomination.
Of course, the President doesn’t “get a free ride” and, according to Will Fisher, Director of Government Relations for VoteVets who said, “To say that Donald Trump’s handling of the VA has been a chaotic disaster would be an understatement, but he now has the chance to do one thing right. The law is clear, and the law, in this instance, actually prescribes that the best person to take over for Robert Wilkie.” Regardless, the President continues to make unprecedented decisions for the VA that has been plagued by controversy and reshuffling of the leadership.
I’ll let you know as soon as the US Senate is ready to question Mr. Wilkie during his Confirmation Hearing. I’ll follow it closely to see if he is ready to serve the Veteran Community or to follow an agenda that ignores the needs and desires of the Veterans he is asked to serve.
Another situation occurred while we were napping that affects all veterans (and active duty personnel) who use TRICARE for their medical needs. Why should I care? Well, I use the VA for my healthcare needs and my wife uses TRICARE since I am a retired military member. We have many retired military members in Southern Nevada who will be negatively impacted by some of the decisions Congress makes regarding TRICARE.
I want to thank Major Callahan (USMC-Ret) for keeping me up to date on changes to TRICARE and some of the problems we’ll face. Here are some ‘samples’ of Congressional actions.
1. We had a very disappointing Senate action concerning TRICARE in the approved 2019 NDAA Senate version of the bill; please understand that the House version of the bill did not have the repeal of grandfathering for TRICARE. Both Nevada Senators (Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez-Masto) voted for this bill.
2. While the House held the position of “No New Fees”, the Senate chose to Repeal the Grandfathering provision. This is the most controversial provision in the Senate bill because it unwinds an important TRICARE grandfathering provision from last year’s defense bill. The move repeals protections for health care beneficiaries who entered into the service prior to January 1st from a new cost share structure, one with higher fees and pharmacy co-pays.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the higher out-of-pocket costs will push 20,000 beneficiaries out of TRICARE.
Last week, the administration issued a tepid statement on the bill saying, given the short time between the bill’s release and when it was voted on, it was not providing feedback at this time. The statement said the White House would continue to work with Congress as the defense bill goes through the legislative process.
The bill now moves to conference committee for House and Senate lawmakers to iron out differences between the two bills. Lawmakers say they expect to complete their work on the bill by the end of July.
Let’s “keep an eye” on what is done by the Senate and the House because when actions by Congress have a negative impact on ANY Veterans, that impact then affects ALL Veterans. Don’t forget the CHOICE Program while we closely watch Congressional and VA actions.
If you missed any of my earlier articles you can go to the Veterans Reporter-News webpage at <https://www.veteransreporternews.com/> to review any Back Issues.
I hear from MANY readers about my articles (most are positive) and I thank you for your positive or challenging “constructive” comments. Feel free to contact me if you believe any of the information provided is inaccurate or if you have additional information that I can share with our readers.