Political briefs – Sept. 24

Staff report



BROWN CALLS ON ADMINISTRATION TO PREVENT THE MISUSE OF VULNERABLE VETERANS’ BENEFITS – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) called on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald to address significant inadequacies in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Fiduciary Program identified in two recent reports conducted by the VA’s Office of Inspector General. The VBA’s Fiduciary Program appoints and oversees individuals or entities (fiduciaries) to manage VA benefits for VA beneficiaries who are unable to do so themselves because of injury, disease, or age.

“By failing to fulfill its legally required oversight responsibilities, VBA is placing the health and financial well-being of our most vulnerable veterans – and their hard earned benefits – at intolerable risk,” the senators wrote. “It is unconscionable that VBA has been repeatedly warned of these risks and has yet to effectively implement oversight measures to prevent unscrupulous actors from exploiting veterans.”

In two audits, the VA’s Office of the Inspector General found that the VBA failed to complete field examinations in a timely manner, contributing to fiduciary fraud, the wrongful appointment of fiduciaries, and temporary termination of benefit payments. The audits also revealed that the VBA did not adequately respond to allegations and indications that beneficiaries’ funds were being misused and, in cases where misuses of funds were proven to have occurred, did not take action in a timely manner. Brown’s letter urged Secretary McDonald to clarify VBA policies regarding collection of misused funds and to ensure that all funds misused by abusive fiduciaries are recouped.

FOLLOWING BROWN’S URGING AND INTRODUCTION OF BILL, FEDS MOVE TO INCREASE ACCESS TO MEDICATION-ASSISTED THERAPY TO TREAT OPIOID ADDICTION – Following the urging of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) and the introduction of legislation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would revise regulations to expand the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence. With a record 2,110 fatal drug overdoses in Ohio in 2013 alone, Brown called on HHS to increase access to medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for patients struggling with opioid addiction.

“This is an important step for the alarming number of Americans facing opioid addiction,” Brown said. “When used in combination with counseling and therapy, medication-assisted treatment of opioid abuse can help individuals overcome addition. Today’s announcement is a relief for communities in Ohio and across the country where opioid abuse has ruined lives and torn apart families. This revision will save lives and give the health community access to more effective treatment options.”

Today during a meeting of all 50 states and the District of Columbus on preventing opioid overdose and abuse, HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell announced that HHS will revise its regulations related to the prescribing of products containing buprenorphine, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of opioid dependence.

WITH COOLER WEATHER APPROACHING, SEN. BROWN OUTLINES NEW LEGISLATION TO IMPROVE PROGRAMS FOR HOMELESS VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES – With cooler temperatures approaching, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, outlined legislation to improve programs for homeless veterans and their families. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, about 12 percent of the adult homeless population is comprised of veterans.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home,” Brown said. “That’s why I’m working to pass the Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015 – which would make meaningful improvements to services for homeless veterans and give more veterans access to permanent housing. Even one veteran on the street means Congress isn’t doing enough to tackle this problem.”

The Obama Administration has made tackling veterans homelessness a priority. And while homelessness among veterans has declined 33 percent since 2010, too many veterans remain on the streets. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 49,933 veterans were homeless during a “point-in-time” survey conducted on a single night in January 2014.


Staff report