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Ranking Member Roe Statement on House Passage of Nine Veterans' Bills

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Washington, November 12, 2019 | Samantha Gonzalez (202-225-3527) | comments

This evening, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), the Ranking Member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, issued the following statement after the House passed nine veteran bills:

“Tonight, the House passed nine bills to improve healthcare, compensation, memorial, and education benefits for our nation’s veterans. Our work this evening was a fitting tribute to them, the day after our country paused in recognition of and gratitude for their brave service. One of the bills that we passed tonight by a bipartisan vote of 399 to 11 was the Deborah Sampson Act, which is legislation to honor our country’s two million women veterans. As a doctor who spent three decades caring for women in private practice, I was proud to join my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in supporting this bill today. However, I continue to be troubled by the partisan manner in which Chairman Takano brought it to the House Floor and by the egregious claims he has made, even tonight about my and my fellow Republicans support for this bill and for the women it would serve. Cutting off debate during Committee meetings and making baseless claims about the intentions of Committee Members is not business-as-usual for what has been, under the previous eight years of Republican leadership, the most bipartisan Committee in Congress. I look forward to working with Chairman Takano, who I am glad to call a friend, to move forward in a manner more befitting of the men and women we are here to serve.” 

Ranking Member Roe’s remarks with regard to H.R. 3224, The Deborah Sampson Act, can be watched here or read below:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 3224, as amended, the Deborah Sampson Act.

“For as long as the United States has been a reality, brave women have been stepping up to serve on her behalf and defend her from her enemies.

“This bill is named after one of those women – Deborah Sampson – who so believed in the ideals of the American Revolution that she disguised herself as a man so that she could join in the fight for freedom and independence.

“Deborah Sampson’s spirit of bravery, patriotism, and commitment to service are still very much alive in the approximately two million women veterans in the United States today and the almost 400 thousand women serving on active duty or in the Guard and Reserve.

“Those women have fought in defense of the American dream - on the front lines, in the Pentagon, and everywhere in between - in every branch of the Armed Forces.

 “And, once they leave the military, they are increasingly seeking care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“In fact, the number of women using the VA healthcare system has more than tripled since 2001 and is expected to continue rising significantly in the years ahead.

 “VA leaders have been working to make the Department more welcoming to women veterans but the fact remains that the VA healthcare system was designed for men.

“That is perhaps most upsettingly evidenced by the VA study published last December that found that a full quarter of the women veterans who seek care from VA are subjected to inappropriate or unwanted comments from male veterans on VA grounds.

“That is tragic and unacceptable – just like it is anytime that VA falls short of providing the high-quality care, benefits, and services that women veterans have earned and certainly deserve, which still, sadly, happens all too often.

“The Deborah Sampson Act is legislation introduced by Congresswoman Julia Brownley from California – the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Health and the Bipartisan Women Veterans Task Force – that would help put an end to that.

“The bill would create an Office of Women’s Health within VA; require VA to establish environment of care standards for women veterans and ensure that VA medical facilities are retrofitted to meet those standards; require and fund programs to train providers in VA medical facilities and in the community on women’s health; and improve access to care for women veterans and their newborn children.

“It also includes provisions that would help all veterans – women and men – who experience military sexual trauma, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or sexual harassment to get the support and the care that they need.

“Mr. Speaker, there have been a lot of allegations made by Chairman Takano and others in the two weeks since the Deborah Sampson Act was marked up by the Committee about how I and my Republican colleagues feel about this legislation and about the women that it is intended to serve.

“So, let me be crystal clear – I stand here in strong support of the Deborah Sampson Act and all the good that it would do for the millions of women veterans that it would serve.

“I intend to call for a recorded vote on this bill and I fully expect that vote to prove that there is overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation.

“Mr. Speaker, when I left the Army in the early 1970’s, I returned home to Tennessee to finish my residency in obstetrics and gynecology and spent the better part of my life caring for women in private practice.

“My dedication to ensuring that women – whether they be civilian or veteran - have the care that they need is personal, deeply felt, and informed by three decades of direct action on behalf of the women who were my patients, my friends, my family, my neighbors, my colleagues, and my fellow veterans. 

“That is why it is so disappointing that - when my Republican colleagues and I walked out of the Committee markup where this bill was being considered in protest of the Chairman’s actions surrounding it - he decided to launch a baseless, identity-politics fueled attack on me and on the other Republican Members of our Committee by alleging that we were walking out on veteran women.

“The Chairman knows full well that our decision to leave that markup had nothing to do with our support for the Deborah Sampson Act – much less our support for women veterans - and everything to do with the unprecedented partisanship that he displayed when this bill was being considered by our Committee.

“So, I would like to take the opportunity this afternoon to correct the record.

“Chairman Takano has called this bill historic and monumental.

 “Yet during the Committee’s consideration of it, he allowed one Democrat Member – Congresswoman Brownley – exactly four minutes to talk about it before cutting off debate for every other Member in the room by invoking a procedural tactic that hasn’t been used by our Committee in more than a decade.

“He did that to avoid debate on certain Republican amendments – amendments he erroneously characterized as “toxic” and “partisan” – that were offered in good faith to address barriers to care for veteran women and men across the country that we have been requesting the Chairman act on for the better part of a year.

“One of the amendments that the Chairman refused to debate or vote on was offered by Congressman Andy Barr from Kentucky to prevent those charged with a serious crime – including violent or sexual crimes against children – from caring for children while their veteran parent is receiving care from VA until their case has been favorably resolved.

“The lack of child care services is a serious barrier to care for veterans, - including many women veterans, as the Chairman himself has mentioned many times.

“Our Committee rightly acted on a bill – H.R. 840, which passed the House in February - to break down that barrier by authorizing VA to provide child care for veterans who are engaged in VA treatment.

“But, if veterans cannot rest assured that their children are safe in VA child care programs, they won’t use VA child care programs and the lack of child care services will continue to prevent veterans from getting the care that they need.

“Congressman Barr’s amendment would close a loophole in that bill that would allow an individual charged with a serious offense – like child molestation– but who is awaiting his or her day in court to be responsible for caring for a veteran’s child in a VA child care program while their case is pending before the courts.

“Mr. Speaker, I know that there are a lot of things that we cannot agree on.

“But protecting vulnerable children should never be one of those things.

“Yet, Chairman Takano has repeatedly refused to address this issue and employed a rarely-used procedural tactic in our Committee to disallow debate and votes on it twice in recent months.

“He has also failed to even respond to the eleven Committee Members who wrote to him in July asking for a legislative hearing on Congressman Barr’s legislation.

“It defies understanding.

“Another amendment that the Chairman has repeatedly refused to allow our Committee to debate was offered by Congressman Chip Roy from Texas to prohibit VA from sending the name of a veteran or other beneficiary to the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ (FBI’s) National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) solely because VA has determined that a person has a service-connected disability or solely because a fiduciary has been appointed on their behalf without the order or finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority that the person is a danger to themselves or others.

“Infringing on a law-abiding American citizen’s constitutionally protected rights should never occur in a free society unless a very high bar has been met.

 “For example, criminals must be convicted in a court of law before their names are provided to NICS. But, under current practice, VA sends veterans’ names to NICS if they have been appointed a fiduciary to help manage their compensation benefits.

“This is because, once VA decides that an individual needs help with their finances – even though there may be no evidence that the individual is a danger to themselves or to anyone else – a VA bureaucrat sends that person’s name to the FBI to be added to the NICS list and the veteran loses their Second Amendment right to own a firearm.

“Legislation that the House passed on a party line vote earlier this year - H.R. 1112 - would compound this injustice by requiring VA to also report a veteran or beneficiary to NICS if they are adjudicated by VA as having a mental illness when the veteran files for a disability claim for, for example, PTSD or depression.

“I have personally heard from veterans across the country who tell me that they don’t seek the care and the benefits that they earned through their hard-fought service to our country because they fear they will lose their Second Amendment rights if they do.

“That is unacceptable at any time but it is particularly unacceptable during a national suicide crisis when we know that 14 of the 20 veteran and servicemember suicide deaths per day already occur among those who are not engaged in VA care prior to their deaths.

“Veterans risk their lives to protect our rights; the least we can do for them in return is to protect theirs.

“But Chairman Takano has once again refused to do that – despite making a public vow eight months ago before The American Legion that he would act, as Chairman, to protect the Second Amendment rights of our nation’s veterans.

“He has also, once again, failed to respond to the 12 Committee Members who wrote to him in July asking for a legislative hearing to discuss veterans’ Second Amendment issues.

“There are precious few avenues available to the Minority party in Congress to influence the legislative agenda of the Majority party.

“Since February, my Republican colleagues and I have been asking Chairman Takano, publicly and privately, to address these issues in our Committee.

“Our requests have been ignored and our letters have gone unanswered.

“The only remaining option we have left is to attempt to amend bills being marked up by the Committee so that we can have an open debate and an up-or-down vote on these issues.

“We attempted to amend the Deborah Sampson Act with these amendments two weeks ago on the advice of the Parliamentarian about the appropriateness of these particular amendments - which address serious issues facing female and male veterans alike in each one of our states and districts - to this particular bill.

“But the Chairman denied us even that opportunity.

“That kind of partisanship has never been how this Committee operates.

“Under the previous eight years of Republican Chairmen, debate was never cut off when Democrat Members offered difficult amendments during Committee markups.

“We allowed our Democrat colleagues the opportunity to have their say and we took tough votes when we needed to.

“Mr. Speaker, I wish that we could be having a much different conversation today – the day after Veterans Day – than this one.

“But I would be remiss in my duty as Ranking Member if I did not call out this behavior and the ways in which it fails our nation’s veterans.

“Chairman Takano has spoken movingly about how he wants to use his Chairmanship to stand up for the rights of minority veterans.

“I commend him for that and have stood alongside him in doing that work – including in May when we stood side-by-side to launch the Bipartisan Women Veterans Task Force.

“Yet I urge him now, in carrying out that commitment, not to spurn the historically bipartisan traditions of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, not to trounce on the rights of the Minority members of that Committee, not to cut corners in favor of expediency over doing our due diligence, and not to cast aspersions against me or any other Member of our Committee when we could be debating the issues at hand like our constituents sent us here to do.

“Despite our deep disagreements here, I consider Chairman Takano a friend and I know him to be a good and fair man who is motivated by a sincere desire to do the right thing for the millions of veterans and their families who have sacrificed for our great nation.

“That desire is shared by me and by every Member of our Committee – Republican and Democrat alike.

“I do not doubt that for a second.

“I also do not doubt our ability - under the Chairman’s leadership - to put this unfortunate recent chapter in the Committee’s history behind us and return to the productive, bipartisan tradition that our Committee is known and respected for throughout the United States Congress.

“In doing so, we will once again live up to the example that our nation’s veterans – including Deborah Sampson herself – has set.

“I thank the Chairman in advance for that; stand ready to assist him however I can – as Ranking Member and as his friend; and reserve the balance of my time.”

The following bills were passed by the House and forwarded to the Senate:

  • H.R. 3224: The Deborah Sampson Act
  • H.R. 4162: GI Bill Planning Act of 2019
  • H.R. 3996: VA Design-Build Construction Enhancement Act of 2019
  • H.R. 4625: Protect the GI Bill Act
  • H.R. 1424: Fallen Warrior Battlefield Cross Memorial Act
  • H.R. 4477: Reducing High Risk to Veterans and Veterans Services Act
  • H.R. 4771: VA Tele-Hearing Modernization Act
  • H.R. 4360: VA Overpayment Accountability Act
  • H.R. 4356: Protecting Families of Fallen Servicemembers Act

 

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