WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took to the Senate floor to highlight the critical provisions for veterans in the COVID-19 rescue plan. In January, Brown pressed Denis McDonough, President Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, on a number of key priorities for Ohio veterans during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.
Brown pushed the nominee to ensure VA has the resources and personnel to treat veterans at VA facilities, and work with him to protect veterans’ GI Bill benefits by rooting out misrepresentation at predatory for-profit institutions and address veteran homelessness.
“Veterans care about when they can get a vaccine, and when they can get an appointment with their mental health professional, and whether their VA providers have enough PPE, so they can continue to do their jobs. So I ask my colleagues of both parties – let’s get this done,” said Brown on the Senate floor.
Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery can be found below:
Yesterday, I joined some of my colleagues at the White House to talk with President Biden about what it will take to make real progress against the pandemic, and make a real difference in people’s lives.
Our country is in the middle of a once-in-a-generation crisis and this is our opportunity to deliver for them.
Yesterday, I came to the floor to talk about the need for direct stimulus checks and rental assistance and tax cuts for working families, and using the Defense Production Act to get more people vaccinated, more quickly.
Today, I am here to talk about the critical help in this plan for our nation’s veterans and their families.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 9,300 veterans have died of COVID-19. Right now, at least 9,500 veterans are sick with this virus.
Our plan would ensure that front line VA employees have the PPE they need to continue to do their job everyday caring for our veterans. And it would help us get more veterans and VA workers vaccinated.
We know that nothing is more critical right now than getting vaccines into people’s arms, especially as we face new, more contagious variants.
So far, VA has provided about 884,000 initial doses of vaccine to veterans and employees. Additional funding would ramp up both vaccine distribution and COVID treatments for those who answered the call to serve us.
In order to continue to meet our veteran’s medical needs, VA has shifted to new methods of care – including expanded telehealth. And we know the need for expanded capabilities will only continue to grow.
VA will need additional funding to meet veterans needs where they are, so they can stay home and stay safe whenever possible, and provide them with the healthcare they’ve earned. VA has paused bills to veterans who accrued co-payment and fees for care during the pandemic.
That was the right move, and in discussions with VA Medical Center Directors in Ohio, I said we should use as much flexibility as possible to waive these debts.
Some of these co-payments and fees amounted to $2,000 dollars for some veterans, and for them to have the bill come due right around the holidays was cruel, as we were seeing cases spike and uncertainty continue.
We know that any large medical bill can be a shock and during these uncertain times, we should work to lessen the burden and take away that stress on our veterans.
That’s why our plan would provide co-payment relief to all veterans, as this pandemic continues. If a veteran was charged a VA co-payment – regardless of whether the care was COVID related – that co-payment would be waived. And it would also reimburse veterans who have already paid their bills to VA.
I thank Chairman Tester and Chairman Schatz for their work on this plan.
Many of our nation’s veterans are on a fixed income, and it will mean so much to them to not have to worry about another medical bill.
Last week, we had Denis McDonough before the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and I asked him about a proposed program that would require military borrowers who are coming out of COVID-19 mortgage forbearance to pay back their missed payments – with interest – within 10 years.
This VA program would be more expensive than what other federal mortgage programs are offering. That makes no sense, and it would make it more likely that VA borrowers will fall behind on these new, higher monthly payments.
He gave me his word that he would look into the program and work with me to ensure no VA homeowner is left with worse options than borrowers in other federally-backed loan programs.
We’re about to have new leadership at VA – leadership that understands that decisions made in Washington impact veterans lives in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Chillicothe.
Veterans in Cleveland and Toledo don’t care how the Senate passes this. Veterans care about when they can get a vaccine, and when they can get an appointment with their mental health professional, and whether their VA providers have enough PPE, so they can continue to do their jobs.
So I ask my colleagues of both parties – let’s get this done. There’s no time for quibbling over Senate procedure.
The Senate has used these fast-tracking budget measures over and over, in times far less dire than the ones we face now.
Minority Leader McConnell had no problem doing this in 2017 to pour money into corporations’ coffers with their tax cut. But now he claims we can’t afford to help everyone else.
We didn’t win WWII by worrying about whether or not we could afford it. Our veterans know that.
We were in a global crisis, and we marshalled all of our vast resources and talent to rise to meet it – and then we grew the economy from the middle class out, and we paid down the debt with rising wages.
Americans elected new leaders because they were tired of a president and a majority leader who refused to treat this war with the same urgency.
People are tired of being told: “we can’t do it, we can’t afford it, we’ve done enough.” Let’s aim higher. Let’s deliver for the people we serve.
Let’s come together, let’s pass this, and let’s make a real difference in people’s lives.