The U.S. Capitol at dawn on President Obama's 2012 Inagural Day. Photo by Ramona du Houx
President Obama signed into law today bipartisan legislation that will address many of the immediate systemic problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to finalize the legislation late last month.
The new law takes steps to ensure veterans receive care in a timely fashion, and also strengthens accountability and transparency within the Department. It includes a number of provisions from Michaud to benefit veterans in Maine and across the nation. Michaud, who serves as Ranking Member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, commented:
“Today represents an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The signing of this bipartisan legislation into law is, by no means, the end of this journey. In fact, it’s just the beginning. “Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on implementing a wide range of reforms within the VA. Veterans deserve timely and high-quality benefits and services. We must change the culture at the VA to one where the needs of veterans are met directly and in a timely manner - and where employees are motivated to always do the right thing. A big part of getting there means increasing accountability and transparency across the Department, and having an assessment of whether VA’s current structure allows it to meet the needs of veterans. I look forward to working with Secretary McDonald over the long-term on achieving a stronger, more veteran-focused VA.”
Several of Michaud’s provisions are included in the new law, including a renewal of Project ARCH that Michaud secured. Without Congressional action, ARCH would have expired at the end of next month. Michaud originally included a provision bringing ARCH to Maine in a 2008 bill he helped pass, and Project ARCH went into effect at Cary Medical Center, in Caribou, in 2011.
Through ARCH, Carey has enrolled approximately 1,400 veterans who have had more than 3,000 consults. Kris Doody, CEO of Cary Medical Center, estimated in testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in June that travel costs alone for veterans utilizing ARCH to travel to Togus for appointments would have exceeded $600,000.
The legislation also includes provisions making it easier for the Secretary to take action against senior employees for poor performance and misconduct. The provisions Michaud included in the final bill are based off of previous legislation he introduced, which expands accountability measures to Title 38 employees across the VA. Some of the officials involved in wrongdoing at Phoenix and in other locations were Title 38 employees.
“I’m proud that this legislation addresses the most immediate problems facing the VA, and that it includes a renewal of Project ARCH – which is so critical to veterans, particularly in Northern Maine, getting access to healthcare closer to home. We arrived here today because we set aside our political differences and put the needs of veterans first. That’s how you get things done,” added Michaud. “I know we’ll see that same bipartisan commitment moving forward, as we begin the task of truly reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”