Legislators in Washington, DC, tackle issues related to veterans and disability.
PVA TESTIFIES BEFORE THE HOUSE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY ON THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN VA AND THE UNITED STATES OLYMPIC COMMITTEE-PARALYMPICS PROGRAM
On October 5, PVA testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity concerning the partnership between the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC)-Paralympics program. The purpose of the hearing was to review the progress that has been made by the USOC and VA as it relates to promoting adaptive sports for veterans, and ensuring that veterans have access to treatment and rehabilitation through sports and recreation.
During the hearing, PVA testified that the USOC- Paralympics program is an extremely important part of the successful rehabilitation process of severely injured service members and veterans. The USOC-Paralympics program was authorized under Public Law 110-389, the “Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008.” The intent of the law is consistent with the mission of PVA’s Sports and Recreation Program which is to expand the quantity and quality of sports and recreation opportunities, especially those that promote lifetime fitness and a healthy lifestyle, for PVA members and other people with disabilities.
PVA informed the Subcommittee that many veterans have directly benefited from the expansion of activities under the USOC-Paralympics program. With the financial support of the Paralympics, PVA was able to provide sports and recreation opportunities to 805 unique disabled veterans. Ultimately, 4,261 participation opportunities were made available to disabled veterans.
Despite the growth of the USOC-Paralympics program, PVA recommended that the Subcommittee continue its work to remove barriers to participation, as well as create ways to ensure that newly injured veterans have access to education and training regarding sports and recreation opportunities. PVA will continue working with the Subcommittee to ensure that a wide range of sports and recreation activities are available to the men and women who have served and sacrificed.
VETERANS’ AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HOLDS SUMMIT ON EMPLOYMENT
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a Summit to discuss employment opportunities for veterans. More than 25 companies that have created veteran hiring programs attended the Summit to bring attention to the issue, as well as to share ideas regarding veteran hiring practices and discuss new ways to help veterans find employment in today’s job market.
Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, (R-FL) and Ranking Minority member Bob Filner (D-CA) expressed their gratitude to the corporate representatives, many of whom were veterans themselves, for their participation and their future plans to bring veterans into their organizations.
Several of the companies, including GE, noted that veterans feel most comfortable when they are hired by a fellow veteran. Companies also said that CEOs must take a leadership role in hiring veterans into their organizations.
Companies and other entities who participated in the Summit included American Corporate Partners, American Electric Power, Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CINTAS Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation, CSX Corporation, Cubic Applications, Inc., Deloitte, Direct Employers Association, Edison Electric Institute, General Electric Company, GI Jobs Magazine, Inova Health System, ITT Systems Corporation, Intelligent Compensation, LLC, JP Morgan Chase, McKesson, ManTech International, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Prudential Financial, Society of Human Resource Management, Sodexo, Southern Company, URS Corporation, the U.S. Veterans Employment and Training Service, and Walmart.
“It is clear from today’s Summit that the government can best help America’s businesses by creating an environment which allows them to do their work. We can also help by providing our veterans with the tools to help them find employment and allow America’s businesses, especially our small businesses, to capitalize on those tools to give our veterans the homecoming they deserve – a job,” Miller said.
PVA TESTIFIES ON THE PROGRESS OF THE JOINT VA AND DOD FEDERAL RECOVERY COORDINATION PROGRAM
On October 6, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health, held a hearing on the Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP) entitled, “Federal Recovery Coordination Program: Assessing Progress Toward Improvement.” The hearing examined the progress and challenges of the FRCP and identified potential ways in which the program can better fulfill its mission. PVA testified before the subcommittee in support of the program and provided recommendations to further improve FRCP services for veterans.
The FRCP was created as a joint program between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to provide severely injured, ill, or wounded veterans and service members with individualized assistance obtaining health care and benefits. The FRCP was also designed to help veterans and their family members manage rehabilitation and reintegration into civilian life after a disability. Through the program, veterans and service members are assigned a Federal Recovery Coordinator (FRC) and create a Federal Individual Recovery Plan that consists of long-term goals for the veteran and his or her family members.
The Subcommittee held the hearing to address the recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report titled, “Federal Recovery Coordination Program Continues to Expand but Faces Significant Challenges.” In the report, FRCP enrollment, along with Federal Recovery Coordinator (FRC) staffing, placement, and caseload size were identified as the primary areas in need of increased policy guidance from the VA and DOD. During the hearing, PVA testified in support of the GAO recommendations and continued improvements to the FRCP as it is a program that provides veterans with professional guidance and stability during the rehabilitation process.
Specifically, PVA made four main recommendations to improve the FRCP. These recommendations included increasing program awareness efforts to ensure that all veterans are aware of the various services offered through the program, creating a workload assessment tool to monitor and evaluate the FRC caseloads, implementing a staffing methodology to increase veterans’ access to FRCs when needed, and placing FRCs in locations throughout the VA where veterans with disabilities are already seeking services such as spinal cord injury centers or amputation centers of care.
PVA’s legislative staff will continue to monitor the progress of the FRCP to ensure that it fulfills the purpose for which it was created—to provide guidance and support to veterans and service members who have sustained a catastrophic injury or disability.
FY 2013 INDEPENDENT BUDGET CRITICAL ISSUES REPORT IS NOW AVAILABLE
The FY 2013 Independent Budget Critical Issues Report is now available at www.independentbudget.org . Each year The Independent Budget (IB) co-authors—AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars—release the Critical Issues Report as a precursor to the IB to highlight the salient issues involving veterans’ health care and benefits.
The critical issues identified in this year’s report include:
– Protection of all VA programs in the face of the deficit and debt reduction debate
– Reducing the claims’ backlog ;
– Employment, training, and education of veterans;
– The challenge of caring for the broad array of needs of war veterans;
– Transformation of the VA’s health care delivery model; and
– Maintaining VA’s critical infrastructure
The FY 2013 Independent Budget will be published and available in early February 2012.
NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH: PROFIT BY INVESTING IN WORKERS WITH DISABILITIES
Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), issued the following statement in observance of the President’s proclamation declaring October National Disability Employment Awareness Month:
“Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or NDEAM as it has become known, is a time to celebrate the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. This year's theme, "Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities," focuses on improving employment opportunities that lead to good jobs and a secure economic future for people with disabilities — and America. This theme emphasizes the dividend we all gain by increasing employment opportunities for workers with disabilities.
When a workplace is welcoming of people with disabilities, employers gain needed skills and new perspectives on ways to confront challenges and achieve organizational success. Employees with disabilities gain dignity, respect and self-determination. And, most importantly, society as a whole benefits from a more inclusive culture where every person is valued for his or her contributions.
As the theme implies, profits are achieved through investment in all aspects of a person's development. My own life has been profoundly impacted by my blindness, yet, it's merely one of the factors that shape my identity and the person I am today.
From day one, my parents invested their belief in my capability, fighting for me to attend our local public school and be woven into the fabric of our community. They instilled in me a love of learning and an expectation of work. As I grew older, I came to understand the value of their outlay and started reinvesting the dividends in myself, through education and advocacy — and work. Work is fundamental to my life.
NDEAM represents early efforts to affirm the intrinsic value of work for those of us with disabilities. Its roots go back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy assumed responsibility for NDEAM in 2001.
NDEAM's true spirit lies in the many creative observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. Employers, schools and organizations throughout the nation are encouraged to participate and ODEP offers a variety of resources to help. Activities range from simple (such as displaying an NDEAM poster) to comprehensive initiatives such as implementing a school-wide disability history curriculum. Nonetheless, each of us plays an integral part in fostering a more inclusive America, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every single day.”
For more information about federal efforts to promote employment of people with disabilities, go to www.dol.gov/odep.
ADVOCATES PRESS FOR GREATER ATTENTION TO EMPLOYMENT OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
As part of the National Disability Leadership Alliance employment team, Advocacy staff met with Obama administration officials in mid-September to urge attention to the low rate of workforce participation among people with disabilities. Present at the meeting were Kareem Dale and Jeff Crowley, President Obama’s principal advisors on disability policy, as well as representatives from the Social Security Administration, Center on Medicare and Medicaid Services, Rehabilitation Services Administration and Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor. Dale reported on the progress of the President’s executive order issued in 2010 calling for the federal government to hire 100,000 people with disabilities over five years. Federal agencies have been required to submit detailed plans for recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities and the Office of Personnel Management expects to begin posting progress reports on its website later this year. There was considerable discussion surrounding the impact on working people with disabilities of the health care exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are to be fully operational by 2014 and, coupled with the removal of preexisting conditions exclusions in the individual and small group health insurance market, are intended to give those with chronic conditions and disabilities an affordable alternative to health insurance coverage. There is some concern within the disability advocacy community that the benefits packages offered by insurers in the exchanges may not cover items and services needed by people with disabilities. If that should happen, many working people with disabilities could be compelled to leave the labor force in order to obtain necessary health services available only under Medicaid.
WAYS AND MEANS JOINT HEARING ON SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY PROGRAMS WORK DISINCENTIVES
On September 23, the Ways and Means Social Security and Human Resources Subcommittees held a joint hearing to examine work incentives in the Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Particular attention was given to the success of the Ticket to Work program under Social Security (SSA) and the value of work incentives planning assistance programs. Among the witnesses from whom the committee heard testimony were Robert Williams, Associate (SSA) Commissioner in the Office of Employment Support Programs, Dan Bertoni with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Deb Russell, Manager for Outreach with Walgreens, and Cheryl Bates-Harris, Co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Employment Task Force.
The representative from GAO highlighted a new report showing that participation in Ticket to Work has increased. However, an investigation by that agency also revealed several instances of Employment Network (EN) staff coaching SSDI and SSI beneficiaries on ways to use their Ticket but stay on benefits. Since the intent of Ticket to Work is to move individuals off of the benefit rolls into productive employment, this revelation caused significant concern among many members of the two subcommittees. SSA has committed to enhancing its oversight of EN operations and has developed performance measures to determine whether ENs are meeting the needs of SSDI and SSI clients.
Complete statements and testimony can be found at the Ways and Means website as follows: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=260395
ADMINISTRATION ON AGING AWARDS EXPANSION SUPPLEMENT GRANTS UNDER THE 2011 LIFESPAN RESPITE CARE PROGRAM
Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee recently announced Lifespan Respite Care Program Expansion Supplement Grant awards totaling more than $1.1 million to eight states. All of the states initially received grant awards in 2009 or 2010 to provide respite services and expand program development activities.
Grant awards were made to the following states: Delaware, District of Columbia, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
The primary focus of these one-year Expansion Grants will be the provision of respite services to eligible populations. Additionally, grantees may use some of the funds to further enhance volunteer recruitment, training and retention activities and to further enhance outreach and dissemination activities, in order to facilitate the provision of respite services across the state.
For more information about the implementation of the Lifespan Respite Care Program and to learn more about the key activities of each of the grantees, please visit the AOA web site at: http://aoa.gov/AoARoot/AoA_Programs/HCLTC/LRCP/index.aspx
The preceding information is in the October 15, 2011, issue of Washington Update, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America Government Relations Program. Contact: 800-424-8200 / pva.org.
The "Update" provides a regular review of the activities of the two programs in Government Relations; Advocacy and Legislation and status reports on a wide variety of veteran and disability issues on Capitol Hill and within other federal departments and agencies.