May 08, 2018

Ranking Member Walz Statement Following HVAC Markup

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) released the following statement after the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted to advance multiple pieces of legislation to the House floor, among them, the bipartisan VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018, the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act of 2018, and VA Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act of 2017:

“First and foremost, I would like to thank Chairman Roe for including so many great pieces of bipartisan legislation in our markup agenda today,” said Rep. Walz. “I am extremely proud of the work our committee members accomplish on a daily basis to improve the lives of our nation’s veterans and their families, and today is no different. Some of the bills we are advancing today fix issues that have existed for decades, and I consider it a privilege to have had the opportunity to help champion them closer to the finish line.”

“One piece of legislation that stands out is the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act. It has been my pleasure and duty to have been in the group of four members who introduced the first Blue Water Navy Act back in 2011. This legislation is yet another example of the good we can accomplish when we work together on a bipartisan basis with veterans service organizations and reach across the aisle. Just a few months ago, we saw a proposed pay-for fall apart because the veteran community was divided and not brought into the process. I thank Chairman Roe for working with me and my staff, for sitting down with us and the Veteran Service Organizations, and for listening to our calls for a different approach. I am proud we will finally fix this broken promise to veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure.

"I would also like to applaud the committee for voting to advance two of my bills, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 and the VA Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act of 2017. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act answers the call made by over 92% of veterans by authorizing the Department of Veterans Affairs to advance scientific and medical research into the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis usage by veterans with diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain, while the VA Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act ensures Congress is able to conduct proper oversight over the 16 billion dollar electronic health record modernization program. I call on my colleagues in the House to immediately pass these bipartisan pieces of legislation.

"Unfortunately, not every bill passed out of committee today was perfect. I am speaking, of course, about the VA MISSION Act. I've said time and again that if there is going to be a permanent solution to improve VA community care, it must not only empower rural veterans, help hometown doctors cut through federal red tape, increase access to high-quality and timely healthcare, maintain our commitment to preserving VA, and honor the hard work of our dedicated rank and file VA employees who take care of our veterans, it must be done in a fiscally responsible manner. While the VA MISSION Act achieves some of those goals, it falls far short on that latter point. Put simply, the VA MISSION Act, a policy designed to create a permanent solution for VA community care, lacks a sustainable source of funding to ensure that care is provided and protected in the long-term.

“This bill moves the current Choice funding account from mandatory spending to discretionary spending. This is the right thing to do. However, this bill fails to address how VA will be able to fund all of its programs once this transfer occurs. Our current budget caps do not allow for this level of spending without triggering automatic across the board cuts under sequestration when this legislation goes into effect next year. Unless something is done, the current language will force VA community care to burn through all of its funds by the end of FY2019, triggering sequestration and leaving veterans and community care providers in the lurch, and the future of VA health care provided in VA hospitals and in the community in question. I do not find this acceptable.

“The amendments I offered today would have solved this problem by holding us harmless for exceeding those budget caps and would keep the bipartisan budget deal in place. It is regrettable that these critically important and commonsense amendments, which would have helped future-proof the program for years to come, were not agreed to. For that reason, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of the legislation."