Thursday, May 20, 2010

His own personal Michael Lohan






Scott Brown is a junior US senator, just elected in January. Does he know that he stopped a very important conversation from taking place today? Does he know that the American people almost got some truth but he cut off the Veterans Affairs official? I have no idea. I don't know Brown. But I do know that the White House wants to put Social Security on the chopping block ("trims" is their codeword that no one in the press wants to report on but everyone in the DC press knows). Last week, US House Rep Susan Davis chaired a Subcommittee hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. I like Davis, she's a great Chair. But I ignored the hearing because I really didn't want to unpack all this. Today we have to. The White House wants to cut Social Security benefits (again "trim" is their word). To sell that, the current plan is to spin that "we" "all" "have to sacrifice." That means "all." And "all" means everyone not independently wealthy. (That's not sour grapes on my part. I'll be sitting pretty regardless of what happens.) That would include veterans. And, for a brief second, before Scott Brown cut the witness off, Americans almost learned what the White House might have in store.
Senator Scott Brown: I'm wondering if you could just tell me what benefits might be at risk at this point and time? Any specific issues that we need to focus on that we're missing or falling through the cracks?

Thomas Pamperin: Benefits that are currently being delivered that might be taken away?

Senator Scott Brown: Right. Things that we -- that you're saying, "You know what? We got to keep our eye on this."

Thomas Pamperin: Uh - uh, we'd be glad to - to give you a more extensive response in - in the future. Uh . . . My - my concern is that the nation clearly --

Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second?
He clearly could because he did and he then rephrased the question so that it was about benefits that are in place that aren't being worked in full. (Wally is covering Brown's testimony at Rebecca's site tonight.)
What benefits, Brown asked, might be at risk. And Pamerin was clearly frustrated -- taking long pauses in responding (in the above excerpt), stumbling over his words and uh-uh-ing. "Benefits," he asked Brown, "that are currently being delivered that might be taken away?" And then continuing down that line, he started talking about a "concern" "that the nation clearly" when he was cut off.
The US "clearly" had what "concern" at present? That would be the economy, that would be the debt. Brown should not have cut off the witness, he should not have rephrased the question. DC talk is all about the cuts that the White House is dreaming of pushing through. And there was the VA's Thomas Pamperin stating -- before he was cut off -- what everyone's talking about on the social circuit in DC while they avoid reporting on it at their papers and on their broadcasts.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is Chaired by Daniel Akaka and today's hearing was on pending legislation. Not on the lengthy list of pending legislation? The national list that Senator Evan Bayh presented to the Committee in October of last year. The first panel is our focus -- both for the Brown exchange and another. But we need to pick up one aspect of the second panel first. Vietnam Veterans of America's Richard Weidman was among those testifying on the second panel. In his opening testimony, he commented on each proposed piece of legislation. Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member on the Committee. On Burr's proposed Multifamily Transitional Housing Loan Program legislation, Weidman testified:
In regards to possible improvements in the multifamily transitional housing loan program, VVA favors signficant expansion of this program beyond five loans. We have been stuck at no more than five loans since this program was first enacted as a loan guaranty progrm in 1998. The animus of the permanent bureaucracy at the Office of Management and Budget to this program from the outset continues to be a classic study in the irrationality of a runaway and virtually unaccountable fourth branch of government. Initially the OMB opposition was because it was a loan guaranty program and therefore less subject to tight control by the OMB bureaucracy. Whether this move to change this from a loan guaranty program to a direct loan program is due to finally acceding to bureaucratic wishes, or simply a reflection fo a vry different reality in the private capital markets due to financial problmes of the last few years, we do not know. However, we do know that if this program is worth doing, and we believe it is, then after being in existence for more than a decade it must be expanded beyond something that can and is used for the benefit of only one or two private investors. This program in an expanded form is very much needed if we are to virtually eliminate, or at least to dramatically reduce, homelessness among veterans with the next five or six years.
His prepared remarks will be noted (ahead of time) in this exchange during the first panel.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Mr. Jefferson, I'll show you the same love today OMB provided you to come to this hearing. [C.I. note: OMB did not clear the prepared remarks by the Dept of Labor's Raymond Jefferson in time for them to be included in the record. ] Mr. Pamperin, in your testimony, it indicated VA would be submitting a legislative proposal in the near future. Now I didn't see anything in your description of it relating to homelessness so let me turn to Dr. Jesse. Does the administration require legislative changes as part of its overall homelessness program?
Dr. Robert Jesse: Uhm, I don't think so at this point. Right now as you know homelessness is one of uhm -uhm Secretary Schinzeki's major initatives. It's his top initiative. Not just to reduce homelessness but to eliminate it. And there are, uh, significant forces being martialed towards that end -- both at very high levels within his office as well as in uh, uhm, the VHA to address homelessness not just from providing housing but trying to address the fundamental issues related to that.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Were those the FY011, 012 advance funding requests anticipate or require changes in the law to release funding for homeless veterans programs?
Dr. Robert Jesse: Uhm -- from my perspective, I don't see that it does at this point but I don't think we should preclude asking for that.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: Can anybody tell me when the Committee would be wise to expect legislation to come from the VA?
Richard Hipolit: Uh, I was in touch with the Office of Management and Budget yesterday and they're assuring us they're going to clear our bill for submission.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: I hope they do better than they did with Mr. Jefferson's testimony today.
Richard Hipolit: Yeah, they're telling me they hope to clear it today in fact. So hopefully we'll be getting it up very shortly.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Well Dr. Jesse, our second panel, Mr. Weidman, testifies, will testify in support of my bill but he had some criticism of the Office of Management and Budget -- arguing that OMB's permanent bureacracy has been opposed to the program from the onset. What's been your experience as it relates to the oversight of the program?
Dr. Robert Jesse: Uhm -- I apologize but I don't think I can really speak to that.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Have you had an opportunity to look through the bill that I've introduced with Senator Akaka, with Senator [Roland] Burris, with Senator [Dick] Durbin?
Dr. Robert Jesse: Uh, we -- we -- we're -- we don't have comments cleared for - for that, sir.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Well, I -- Do you have any personal comments that you'd like to make? Other than the comments of the Office of Management and Budget? Now let me say, I whole heartedly endorse the Secretary's committement to homelessness. Let me tell you, OMB doesn't give a s**t about homelessness. If they did, this problem would be solved. The Secretary is genuine and passionate about ending it. But if OMB is going to design the program, it's not going to get solved. I'm not soliciting an answer. I'm not asking a question. I'm making a statement that I hope all of you let it penetrate. If we're going to solve this problem, we can't wait for somebody down the street to come up with another bureaucratic solution to a problem that keeps veterans on the streets. We can go home and feel good about the fact that we put a shelter over their head. But if OMB is not willing to release the program to work where the wrap around services provide that veteran everything they need to end permanent homelessness, it isn't going to happen. So let's quit fooling ourselves. And you might say to the Secretary, he's the only one who can have a conversation with OMB. If OMB is the one that we need to pull up here and not VA, then for goodness sake, tell the Chairman and we'll start pulling OMB up. Mr. Pamperin, in a recent opinion, Posey v. Shinseki, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for Veterans [Judge Lawrence B. Hagel] provided this observation [concurring opinion] about what happens when an individual tries to appeal to the court but mistakenly sends his or her notice of appeal to a VA office: "It has become clear to me that VA somewhat routinely holds correspondence from claimants that it determines, sometime after receipt, are Notices of Appeal to this Court. As a result, in far too many cases, the Court receives the Notice of Appeal from VA only after the 120-day appeal period has expired, permitting the Secretary to then move to dismiss the appeals for lack of jurisidiction." First of all, can you give us an idea of how frequently a Notice of Appeal mistakenly is sent to the VA rather than the court?
Thomas Pamperin: Uh, no - no, sir. I - I am aware that it does happen periodically. But in terms of a hard number, I don't have such a number.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: What policies are in place for dealing with a Notice of Appeal that's mistakenly been sent to the VA?
Thomas Pamperin: The letter is sup -- is to be returned to the veteran and advised as to where he should file it.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Has a written guidance been provided to VA staff on these policies and, if so, can the Committee have a copy of that written policy?
Thomas Pamperin: Uh -- Sir -- I don't know specifically that but if -- I will bring that back and we will provide you with the instructions that have been provided.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Do you know if VA staff is following these policies?
Thomas Pamperin: [Long inhale] The VA routinely conducts site surveys of its regional offices. Each regional office, once every three years. And an assessment of the performance of the office in terms of compliance with instruction is included in that. I do not recall, in the last couple three years, a specific reference that that has been idenfitied as an issue.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Last question, Mr. Chairman, do you think that more could be done to protect the appeal rights of veterans who mistakenly send their Notice to the VA instead of to the court?
Thomas Pamperin: Yes, sir. I think that there are legitimate uh occasions when the 120 day, hard and fast rule needs to be adjusted.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Well given - given that you can't cite an instance lately, I'll be more than happy to supply you with some instances that you can look back at. I thank the Chair.
Again, Senator Daniel Akaka is the Chair of the Committee and his office notes:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) held a hearing today to review pending veterans' benefits and health care legislation. The Committee questioned witnesses and reviewed 20 bills in preparation for later legislative action.

"The bills before us represent a sincere effort to improve the care and benefits veterans receive. I will work with my colleagues on developing a package of legislation that can move forward," said Akaka.

The Committee heard from the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL), as well as representatives from leading veterans service organizations, on legislation to improve veteran employment, telehealth services, and VA outreach. Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training Ray Jefferson described several veterans' employment initiatives currently underway at DOL. The Committee also reviewed four technical bills Akaka introduced to help veterans and their survivors, based on Committee oversight of the VA disability compensation system.

Chairman Akaka's full statement, as well as written testimony from today's witnesses, and a webcast, is available at To view the agenda, including a list of the bills reviewed today, please click here: LINK.

In addition, Chair Akaka's office notes:

The U.S. Senate passed legislation last night to clarify that VA health care programs can meet the minimum coverage standard required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This includes the health care VA provides to children with spina bifida born to veterans of the Vietnam War, to some veterans who served in Korea during specified times, and to children of women Vietnam veterans with certain birth defects. The bill passed the House of Representatives last week, and now awaits the President's consideration.

"This bill gives the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to ensure that veterans' family members who receive health care from VA will meet the health insurance reform law's minimum health care coverage requirement," said Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), author of the Senate bill.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, individuals must hold a minimum level of health care coverage. The bill passed last night, H.R. 5014, would provide the VA Secretary with the authority to designate VA health care programs as meeting the minimum standard.

The original clarification bill authored by Akaka, S. 3162, was approved in the Senate on March 26. H.R. 5014 is the House companion to Akaka's bill.

Repeating, Wally is covering Brown's testimony at Rebecca's site tonight. Also noting, Memorial Day (May 31st) will not have a snapshot unless the news of the day demands one. But there will be an entry re: veterans that a number of community members and visitors are helping with. Reminder on that, you need to weigh in (including responses) no later than May 27th to ensure that you're heard on that. Rural veterans (community members and visitors) are weighing in (and thank you for that) and if that remains where the bulk of responses are, that will be the focus of that Memorial Day entry.

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