VA MISSION BILL; Congressional Record Vol. 164, No. 85
(Senate - May 23, 2018)

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[Pages S2871-S2872]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                            VA MISSION BILL

  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, the Senate today passed the VA MISSION 
Act, a long overdue piece legislation of that would finally provide an 
overhaul of the healthcare system at the Department of Veterans Affairs 
that is desperately needed. The bill would

[[Page S2872]]

streamline and consolidate community care into a single comprehensive 
program, standardizing eligibility for this program and repealing the 
Choice program after 1 year.
  The MISSION Act also includes a phasing in of an expanded Caregiver 
program, so that veterans of all eras can access this important 
benefit. This is an issue I have long worked on, having helped create 
the original Caregivers program at the VA. This expansion will likely 
help thousands of family caregivers.
  In addition, the MISSION Act will help the VA better recruit quality 
healthcare professionals with academic and financial incentives, as 
well as help ensure access to care in rural and underserved areas.
  I understand that there are some concerns about this legislation.
  The asset and infrastructure review provision, which has been 
compared to the BRAC review of DOD facilities, is contentious. I joined 
Senator Manchin in efforts to pass a version of this without the AIR 
provision. I am disappointed that effort was blocked by our Republican 
colleagues, but I also appreciate the efforts of my Democratic 
colleagues in helping ensure safeguards in the bill around the AIR 
provision, so that any process includes coordination with and review by 
Congress, veterans service organizations, the public, and other 
stakeholders every step of the way.
  I also recognize that there is a serious concern about privatization 
at the VA, a concern that is especially acute under this administration 
and given the fact that the VA lacks senior leadership.
  Congress will need to ensure continued strong funding for the VA so 
that we are not sacrificing investments in VA infrastructure, direct 
patient care, medical research, and more in exchange for community 
care--which will be costly--under the MISSION Act.
  We will need to continue to provide oversight during the process of 
selecting a VA Secretary, one who will balance the need of some 
veterans to access authorized private care with protecting the VA 
system. I look forward to meeting with the VA Secretary nominee to 
assess his qualifications on this and other matters soon.
  It is easy for us Members of Congress to speak about this bill on the 
floor--to thank our veterans and their families for their service--but 
it is more meaningful, more important to do what we can through action.
  Some of my proudest moments in Congress have included efforts to 
recognize, honor, and thank our veterans, but the very least we can do 
for our veterans is to ensure they get the care they need.
  I have been working with my colleague, Senator Duckworth, to help 
ensure that veterans and their spouses at the Illinois Veterans Home at 
Quincy receive high quality care, because, for the past 3 years, IVH 
Quincy has been dealing with several Legionnaires' outbreaks, outbreaks 
that have sickened more than 65 and, sadly, killed 13.
  It is unacceptable that 13 veterans died from contracting the 
Legionella bacteria before this Governor finally produced a 
comprehensive plan of action.
  I have worked with and will continue to work with State and Federal 
officials to ensure that IVH Quincy has the technical and financial 
support it needs.
  Let me close with this: The VA MISSION Act reflects this sentiment as 
well--too often, our servicemembers return home only to find themselves 
facing challenge after challenge, suffering from the physical and 
mental wounds of war. This bill will help ensure that we uphold the 
promise we have made, to provide the care, support, and respect our 
veterans have earned and deserve.
  I want to thank my colleagues Senators Isakson and Tester for their 
good-faith efforts on this bill. I am pleased to join them and others 
in the Senate in supporting this legislation.
  (At the request of Mr. Durbin, the following statement was ordered to 
be printed in the Record.)