VCS Calls on Education Secretary for For-Profit School Reforms

(Washington, May 4, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense today joined with more than two dozen veterans service organizations and other education coalition allies in calling on U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to provide openness, transparency, and an opportunity for public comment regarding for-profit school transactions.

For-profit schools frequently target current and former (veterans) military service members for their federal G.I. Bill benefits.  Many also receive large amounts of their funding from taxpayer-financed federal financial aid, including federally-backed student loans.  Some poorly regulated for-profit schools have left their students — including countless thousands of veterans — with coursework that isn’t transferrable to other schools, unaccredited degrees, worthless transcripts, G.I. Bill benefits that can not be recouped, and mountains of student loan debt to repay.

Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans education and advocacy organization, is an active participant in the Education Coalition, an ongoing coordinated effort between numerous veterans service organizations, education advocacy groups, and other non-profit organizations focused on protecting students, particularly student veterans.

The full text of today’s letter is as follows:

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May 4, 2017

The Honorable Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

We write regarding a proposal from the Education Management Corporation (EDMC) for a change of ownership involving campuses of Argosy University, South University, and the Art Institutes. EDMC proposes to sell these schools to the Dream Center Foundation, which intends to place them in a newly-created subsidiary, Dream Center Education Holdings, LLC. The CEO of the new subsidiary, Brent Richardson, would provide a portion of the financing for the transaction through a family trust, as would Najafi Companies, the current co-owners of the University of Phoenix.

Congress has vested authority in you, as the Secretary of Education, to approve changes in ownership and control for institutions of higher education that wish to continue to participate in federal student loan and grant programs. Given the deeply troubling past performance of EDMC, the proposed transaction should not be rubber stamped behind closed doors. To ensure that the ultimate decision and conditions are in the public interest, we request that you solicit written comment on any proposed provisional program participation agreement and hold a public hearing prior to any final determination. Public hearings and comment periods are standard practice for other federal agencies when considering changes in ownership of regulated entities such as federal bank charters and telecommunications licenses.

While it is questionable that approval is warranted given the lack of demonstrated administrative capability of the new owners, your approval should be conditioned on a favorable determination on three separate questions: (1) whether the operations of the schools going forward are likely to avoid the predatory practices that plagued the company previously, (2) whether the claim of a nonprofit control structure is justified and will set and maintain a path for the schools that is in the best interests of students and taxpayers, and (3) whether taxpayers are adequately protected against financial insolvency that could trigger immense public costs.

The Schools Need to Break from Their Problematic Past

Over a decade or more, EDMC engaged in practices that provided low value for students and taxpayers, including:

Emphasizing rapid growth over serving students. In just the four years between 2006 and 2010, enrollment at EDMC schools nearly doubled from 80,000 to 158,000. In 2010, the company employed 5,669 recruiters but only 321 career services employees and 1,187 student services employees. The U.S. Department of Justice 1 accused EDMC of running a “high pressure sales business” rather than a school. In announcing a $95.5 million settlement of a federal lawsuit alleging that EDMC defrauded taxpayers, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: “Operating essentially as a recruitment mill, EDMC’s actions were not only a violation of federal law but also a violation of the trust placed in them by their students – including veterans and working parents – all at taxpayer expense.”

Targeting inexperienced customers. Company recruiters, by focusing on high-need students with little or no family experience with paying for college, could minimize serious consideration of price or value by the customer. Internal documents show that EDMC recruiters were trained to avoid answering questions about tuition by focusing instead on the “out of pocket expense,” which could be zero with federal aid. As a result, some EDMC schools received upwards of 90 percent of their revenue from federal aid.2

Shortchanging teaching and learning. Data from 2009 indicates EDMC spent less than a quarter of its revenue on instruction, less than the amount spent on marketing. Most of the revenue came from tuition paid by taxpayer-financed grants and loans.3

Gaming the student loan default rate. Rather than educate students well and place them in jobs so that they could repay their loans, EDMC hired firms to cajole former students into “forbearance” status on their federal loans, reducing the school’s default rate but not addressing the real problem.4

Encouraging additional debts that students would not be able to repay. EDMC arranged for students to take out institutional loans in addition to federal loans, even though an estimated 42 percent were expected to default. After a coalition of state attorneys general cited the company for unfair and deceptive recruitment and enrollment practices, EDMC agreed to forgive debts totaling $102.8 million for more than 80,000 borrowers.

The EDMC schools need to change, revamping their entire approach to recruitment, pricing and instruction. A transfer of ownership could, theoretically, shift the schools’ focus to become positive forces in their communities. Inexplicably, however, the purchaser seems unaware of the need for change, declaring that “the Dream Center will continue to operate these institutions as they have operated.” That is alarming and unacceptable.

Even if the Dream Center were aware, or becomes aware, of the need for a serious change in the operational model, its options may be severely limited by financing arrangements that require ongoing payments to financiers, including the CEO. The Dream Center could discover that it has acquired a predatory model of operations, but be bound by its financing to continue it, while the CEO of the schools, meanwhile, has a financial conflict of interest due to his partial financing of the purchase.

If the change of ownership is approved, it should be only on a provisional basis. The Secretary has wide latitude to condition provisional participation on conduct and outcome standards. To ensure that the EDMC schools operate in the best interest of students and taxpayers following their acquisition, any proposed provisional program participation agreement should include the following conditions:

1. No provisions in enrollment agreements forcing students to bring any disputes to private arbitration or banning class action lawsuits.

2. All marketing calls should be recorded and subject to federal and state monitoring.

3. Continue gainful employment regulation standards, disclosures and consequences to all programs for the duration of any financing arrangements for the transaction, plus two years. More than 150 EDMC programs failed the gainful employment standards.

4. Prevent unchecked federally-funded enrollment increases in programs that are not demonstrating value and market viability through the enrollment of students funded by employers, family earnings or savings, and private scholarship programs. For example, in programs offered online or in multiple locations (making rapid enrollment increases possible), federal aid to additional students could be dependent on enrolling at least 15 percent of students who are not using federal aid of any type.

5. If in the first three years the new owner wants Title IV funds to be disbursed by the “advanced payment” (rather than “reimbursement” method), require the new owner to demonstrate that it has set aside enough funds to cover refunds equal to at least 50% of Title IV receipts for the applicable schools in the prior fiscal year.

The Nonprofit Control Structure Must Be Real, Without Conflicts

The Dream Center is asking that the colleges it is purchasing be treated as nonprofit after the sale. The principle underlying the use of a nonprofit control structure is to change the enterprise’s behavior by altering the financial incentives. Eliminating financiers from institutional governance and requiring all revenue to be re-invested is what generally causes nonprofit institutions to be less focused on rapid growth and more inclined to spend resources on instruction and student support. That model would help shift EDMC schools from their past problematic behaviors. Indeed, EDMC web sites currently say “We’re going non-profit…Invest in minds, not profits.”5

The method of financing this purchase, however, combined with the planned governance structure, could negate the intended effect of the nonprofit control structure. The Dream Center plans to operate the schools through a partnership run by one of the financiers, with an employment contract that has not been disclosed, answerable to seven board members who have not been disclosed. The arrangement may well violate the Department’s requirement that nonprofit schools be “owned and operated by one or more nonprofit corporations or associations, no part of the net earnings of which benefits any private shareholder or individual” (emphasis added).

“Nonprofit” tells consumers that an institution has a control structure that, without a conflict of interest, can balance the school’s need for money with its educational or charitable goals. If it allows schools with financial conflicts built into their governance to be treated as nonprofit institutions for purposes of federal higher education laws, the Department would be facilitating a deception of consumers and exposing taxpayers to heightened risk.

We ask that you examine the proposed EDMC transaction carefully to ensure that, if the former EDMC schools are to be treated as nonprofit institutions, they in fact have a control structure without financial conflicts of interest. No tentative or final approval of the change of ownership should be approved until the details of the proposed transaction, governance, and plan of operation are reviewed, including:

1. The governance structure of the Dream Center and the proposed governance of Dream Center Education Holdings, LLC.

2. The details of the employment agreement with Brent Richardson.

3. The terms and conditions of the financing arrangement with the Richardson Family Trust and the Najafi Companies.

4. The details of any other financing for the transaction.

5. Any existing, or plans for, real property purchases or lease agreements involving the EDMC campuses and people associated with the Dream Center.

Nonprofit institutions are awarded certain freedoms under the Higher Education Act because of the significant governance and spending restrictions by which they must legally abide as nonprofit entities. The Department must ensure that institutions seeking the benefits of the nonprofit label actually have the accountability of a valid nonprofit control structure. As you gather more information regarding the Dream Center’s plans and the contents of the agreements, we ask that you make the information public, and hold a public hearing, so that we and others can provide input based on a more complete record. There is no reason to conduct these reviews behind closed doors, denying the agency the benefit of outside expertise and analysis.

This proposed transaction presents an opportunity for the Department to prevent another repeat of scandalous mistreatment of students and taxpayers. Thank you in advance for your careful attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Americans for Financial Reform
AMVETS
Association of the United States Navy
Blue Star Families
Center for Responsible Lending
Children’s Advocacy Institute
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of America
Consumer Federation of California
Consumers Union
David Halperin, Attorney
East Bay Community Law Center
Generation Progress
Higher Ed Not Debt
Ivy League Veterans Council
League of United Latin American Citizens
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)
Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law     School
Public Counsel
Public Law Center
Robert Shireman, The Century Foundation Senior Fellow
The Institute for College Access and Success
U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association & Enlisted Association
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Veterans Education Success
Veterans for Common Sense
Veterans Student Loan Relief Fund
Vietnam Veterans of America
Young Invincibles

cc: Relevant accreditors, state agencies, Congressional committees, and federal officials

 

NOTES:

1  United States Senate, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success, 2012 (hereafter, Senate HELP). EDMC section available at: https://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/for_profit_report/PartII/EDMC.pdf

2  In 2012, South University had an estimated 94 percent federal funds (Defense, Education, and Veterans combined) and the Art Institute of Phoenix 91 percent, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education.

3  Senate HELP.

4  Senate HELP.

5  See, for example, https://www.artinstitutes.edu/orange-county

Posted in Legislative News, Veteran Education Issues, Veterans for Common Sense News | 1 Comment

BOSTON HERALD: “VA errors ‘an absolute travesty’”

(Washington, April 30, 2017) — The first of a Boston Herald two-part series published today highlighted ongoing errors in processing of veterans’ service-connected disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office in Boston, Mass.

According to the Herald’s chief investigative reporter, Jack Encarnacao, the Boston VARO, “has bungled traumatic brain injury claims at an alarming rate, flunking inspections and cutting inaccurate disability checks — shortchanging some local war heroes out of thousands of dollars,” and, “…a 2015 inspection of the Boston VA Regional Office, the most recent one conducted, found an “unacceptable” error rate in assessing the degree of disability in traumatic brain injury claims — one in six of the cases the VA inspector general reviewed that year — despite a warning four years earlier to add more oversight and safeguards.”

Veterans for Common Sense assisted with and was quoted in the story:

Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, called the bungled benefits “an absolute travesty.”

“Unfortunately, the veterans who are worst off — the veterans who are the most disabled, who have the most complex claims — they’re the ones that suffer the most when claims staff are not properly trained,” Hardie said. “They’re truly suffering and they’re dependent on VA to get it right quickly, accurately and compassionately.”

In 2011, the Boston VA Regional Office was found to have incorrectly processed 11 of 30 TBI claims randomly selected for review, or 37 percent. The rate had improved to 5 of 30 reviewed cases in 2015, but was still condemned by the VA’s inspector general.

“Despite refresher training and implementation of a second-level review for TBI claims, the current inspection still showed an unacceptable TBI claims processing error rate,” reads the 2015 inspection.

These errors led to mistaken calculations that were used to determine how much a veteran receives in monthly disability benefits

In one case, Boston staff evaluated a veteran’s TBI-related symptoms as only 70 percent disabling, when a review of exams showed they should have been deemed 100 percent disabling. The vet was underpaid by $31,797 over two years.

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Read the full Boston Herald story here:  

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_coverage/2017/04/va_errors_an_absolute_travesty

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Coming tomorrow: A local Marine’s struggle to get the VA to correctly diagnose his TBI-related seizures.

Do you have a story to tell about your dealings with the Boston VA Regional Office?  Email the Boston Herald at vatips@bostonherald.com

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Read the actual Inspector General reports here:  

1)  2009 IG Report.  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the Inspector General, Office of Audits and Evaluations, VAOIG-09-00189-81:  “Review of VA Regional Office Compensation and Pension Benefit Claim Receipt Dates,” February 27, 2009, https://www.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2009/VAOIG-09-00189-81.pdf.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • “We initiated the review after an investigation by Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) concluded that VARO New York had intentionally reported inaccurate claim receipt dates for 220 (56 percent) of 390 claims reviewed. The objectives of our review were to determine if: (1) other VAROs reported inaccurate claim receipt dates; (2) inaccurate claim receipt dates caused veterans or their beneficiaries to receive incorrect benefit payments; and (3) inaccurate claim receipt dates caused VBA to report incorrect claim-processing times to stakeholders, such as veterans or members of Congress.” (p.i)
  • VARO Boston had an inaccuracy rate of 10 percent, which was significantly higher than the other three VAROs’ rates.” (p.i)
  • “…because VARO Boston had a higher inaccuracy rate, the reliability of its receipt date data needs additional management attention.” (p.10)

2) 2011 IG Report.  VAOIG 10-03564-86:  “Inspection of the VA Regional Office Boston, Massachusetts,” February 11, 2011, https://www.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2011/VAOIG-10-03564-86.pdf.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • “VARO Boston management concurs with the VAOIG finding that 25 claims from the sample of 30 claims reviewed during the audit were processed in error.” (p.20)

  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed 11 (37 percent) of 30 TBI claims. Five of the 11 processing inaccuracies affected veterans’ benefits—2 involved underpayments totaling $41,283 and 3 involved overpayments totaling $30,946.” (p.4)
  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed …20 percentof … herbicide [Agent Orange] exposure-related claims reviewed.” (p.5)
  • “…mailroom staff did not always date stamp mail the same day it arrived in the mailroom as required. This delay occurred because the Support Service Division management and mailroom staff were unaware of VBA’s policy. As a result, beneficiaries may not have received accurate benefit payments.”  (p.12)”
  • …staff did not always manage search mail according to VBA policy. For …13 percent… staff did not properly … ensure timely processing and adequate control of it…. As a result, beneficiaries may not receive accurate payments.” (p.14)
  • “…staff did not always handle original Service Treatment Records (STRs) according to VBA policy.  …27 percent… had claims for benefits either pending or decided without the RVSR reviewing the original STRs. VBA policy requires review of original STRs as part of claims processing. In one example, an RVSR denied service connection for all of the veteran’s claimed conditions without considering the original STRs which were improperly stored.” (p.14)
  • “We recommend the Boston VA Regional Office Director conduct refresher training to ensure Rating Veterans Service Representatives properly evaluate disabilities related to traumatic brain injuries and herbicide exposure-related claims.” (p.21)
  • “We recommend the Boston VA Regional Office Director implement a plan to provide an additional level of review prior to finalizing decisions on traumatic brain injury and herbicide exposure-related claims to ensure accurate benefit payments.” (p.21)

3) 2015 BIG Report.  VAOIG 14-02689-122: “Inspection of the VA Regional Office Boston, Massachusetts,” February 24, 2015, https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-14-02689-122.pdf

KEY FINDINGS:

  • “Overall, VARO staff did not accurately process 21 (23 percent) of 90 disability claims we reviewed.” (p.i)
  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed 10 of 30 temporary 100 percent disability evaluations we reviewed.” (p.3)

  • “…the veteran was underpaid approximately $6,399 over a period of 1 year and 7 months.” (p.3)
  • “We determined VARO staff incorrectly processed 5 of 30 TBI claims—1 of the errors affected a veteran’s benefits. In that case, an RVSR used an incorrect date to establish benefits for a headache condition associated with TBI. As a result, the veteran was underpaid $7,440 over a period of 1 year and 4 months. The remaining four cases had the potential to affect veterans’ benefits.” (p.5)
  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed 6 of 30 veterans’ claims involving SMC and ancillary benefits—5 errors affected veterans’ benefits and resulted in 100 improper monthly payments totaling approximately $253,379 from May 2010 through May 2014. VARO management agreed with our assessments in all six of the cases.” (p.8)

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VCS Supports the Veterans Back to Work Act

(Washington – April 25, 2017)  — Veterans for Common Sense today authored the following letter in support of legislation to help reduce veteran unemployment.   The bill is authored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.).

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April 25, 2017

The Honorable Ted Poe
2132 Rayburn House Office Building
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC  20515

SUBJECT:  VCS Supports The Veterans Back to Work Act (H.R. 1600)

Dear Representative Poe,

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) stands in strong support of your legislation, The Veterans Back to Work Act (H.R. 1600), which makes key changes to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) pilot program for businesses that hire qualified unemployed and underemployed veterans.

Not only would this legislation make permanent the WOTC incentive for hiring qualified veterans, but it would also simplify the process and improve the incentives for employers hiring qualified veterans.  These changes will undoubtedly make it more likely for employers to hire qualified unemployed and underemployed veterans.

As you know, recent data on veteran employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show some concerning trends.  In 2016, the unemployment rate for younger male recent veterans aged 25 to 34 was substantially higher than among similarly aged nonveterans: 6.6 versus 4.9 percent.  And, women veterans overall (5.0 vs. 4.6%) and some older Hispanic and Latino veterans (6.6 vs. 5.6%) have higher unemployment rates than their nonveteran counterparts, among other areas of concern.

And, according to a VCS analysis of 2016 BLS data, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have veteran unemployment rates that exceed their nonveteran unemployment rates – some far exceeding, by as much as 57 percent.

We are sincerely grateful for your support for our veterans. We deeply appreciate your leadership in working to ensure the permanency and enhancement of the WOTC that is an important part of reducing veteran unemployment and underemployment.  We are pleased to express our strong support for this bill and your efforts to enact it.

Sincerely,

/s/

Anthony Hardie
Director,
Veterans for Common Sense

Cc:
Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., Chair, HVAC
Rep. Tim Walz, Ranking Member, HVAC

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VCS Praises Passage of VA Choice Program Extension

(Washington – April 5, 2017) — Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans education and advocacy organization, today praised the Congressional passage of The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act.

“We thank the leaders and members in both houses of Congress for extending the VA Choice Program in a thoughtful, bipartisan, veteran-focused manner.  Continuing the Choice Program — while retaining and modernizing VA’s healthcare infrastructure — is part of the long-term solution to meeting veterans’ healthcare needs,” said Veterans for Common Sense in a statement posted today on the organization’s website.

The bill passed today by the U.S. House of Representatives is the the Senate companion to a bill authored by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) to eliminate the sunset date of the VA’s Choice program.  The Senate bill, led by Senators Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), eliminates the impending sunset date for the VA Choice Program until the original funding has been expended.

“By eliminating the sunset date of the Choice Act, Congress is ensuring veterans have certainty and continuity of care while we work with the Trump administration to develop a strategic plan that addresses the need for a veteran-centric, coordinated network of care that utilizes the strengths of both VA and community health providers. I am proud of the bipartisan, bicameral support for this effort and look forward to seeing President Trump sign this important bill into law,” said Roe in a statement.

 

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VCS Statement on Passage of VA Choice Program Extension

(Washington – April 5, 2017) — Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans education and advocacy organization, today issued the following statement following Congressional passage of The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act.  

““We thank the leaders and members in both houses of Congress for extending the VA Choice Program in a thoughtful, bipartisan, veteran-focused manner.  Continuing the Choice Program — while retaining and modernizing VA’s healthcare infrastructure — is part of the long-term solution to meeting veterans’ healthcare needs.”

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VCS Statement on Veterans Crisis Line VA Inspector General Report

(Washington – March 20, 2017)  – Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans organization, today released the following statement in response to the release of a report regarding a healthcare inspection by the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA-OIG) entitled, “Evaluation of the Veterans Health Administration Veterans Crisis Line” (Report No. 16-03985-181, March 20, 2017).

“In 2007, VCS filed suit against VA on behalf of veterans experiencing impossibly long wait times to access VA healthcare and disability benefits – and the survivors of veterans who committed suicide while waiting.  Within the same year, VA launched the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline, which today is known as the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL).

“It has been disheartening to hear of VA’s Veterans Crisis Line staffing issues, responsiveness, and appropriateness of responses, particularly in light of continued high suicide rates among veterans of all ages. 

“Today’s report release confirms those issues and others.  What’s most concerning is that these serious issues remain unaddressed.

“Veterans for Common Sense calls on the Trump Administration to immediately begin implementing the VA Inspector General’s recommendations for the Veterans Crisis Line. Every day we wait could mean more veterans’ lives are lost through suicide – some might be prevented by ensuring VA’s front-line Veterans Crisis Line is adequately staffed, its workers properly trained, and no veteran’s literal call for help goes unanswered, placed on hold, or sent to voicemail.  Our veterans deserve the care they need at the time it is needed.“

According to the VA OIG report, “Since its launch in 2007, through September 2016, VCL staff have answered over 2.5 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis over 66,000 times.”

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VCS Supports Continuation of Gulf War Illness Treatment Research Program, Expresses Thanks

(Washington – Mar. 16, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), a national veterans advocacy organization and national leader on military toxic exposures and Toxic Wounds, yesterday sent the following letter of support for the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) to the bipartisan House co-authors of the House “Dear Colleague” letter seeking support for adequate continued funding of the program next year (federal fiscal year 2018).

Last year, 74 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed onto the Roe-Walz Dear Colleague letter in support of FY17 Gulf War Illness treatment research funding.  Thirteen (13) members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee were among those cosigners, led by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and Rep. Tim Walz, CSM, ARNG (Ret.) (D-MN), including  then-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Jeff Miller (R-FL), then-Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) , Vice-Chairman Gus Bilirakis (D-FL), and five Subcommittee Chairs or Ranking Members.

This year’s effort is being led in the House by Rep. Jack Bergman, LTG, USMC (Ret.) (R-MI) and Rep. Gregorio Sablan (I-NMI), and supported by Rep.’s Roe and Walz.

Last year’s veterans service organization supporters included: The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America, (PVA) AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), Burn Pits 360, National Gulf War Resource Center, National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, Sergeant Sullivan Circle, Toxic Wounds Task Force, and Veterans for Common Sense.

The continuation of the program for the current year (FY17) is included in the FY17 Defense Appropriations Act passed by the U.S. House on March 8.

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March 15, 2017

The Honorable Jack Bergman               The Honorable Gregorio Sablan
414 Cannon House Office Building       2411 Rayburn House Office Building
U.S House of Representatives                U.S House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515                            Washington, DC  20515


SUBJECT:  Support for FY18 Gulf War Illness Treatment Research

Dear Representatives Bergman and Sablan,

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) stands in strong support of continued Fiscal Year 2018 funding for the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP), part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) health program.

As you know, between one-fourth and one-third of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War are affected by Gulf War Illness, the signature adverse health outcome of that war.  The GWIRP is making great strides forward in its efforts to better understand and develop effective, evidence-based treatments for GWI.

We are sincerely grateful for the continued bipartisan, bicameral Congressional support for our Gulf War veterans and for this treatment research program aimed at improving the health and lives of those afflicted by GWI.

We deeply appreciate your leadership in working to ensure continued FY18 funding for this unique, critically important treatment research program that serves as a model for caring for veterans affected by toxic exposures incurred during their military service.

Again, thank you.  We look forward to working closely with you and your staff to help ensure the continuation appropriations support for this important program.

Sincerely,

Anthony Hardie
Director,
Veterans for Common Sense

Cc:  Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., HVAC Chair
Rep. Tim Walz, HVAC Ranking

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VCS Supports the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act

(Washington – Mar. 15, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans advocacy organization, today sent the following letter of support for the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act to the legislation’s co-authors:

“Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is in strong support of the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act.

“VCS remains an ardent supporter of measures to combat opioid and other prescription drug abuse while ensuring veterans with pain and other medical conditions remain able to get the treatment and relief they need.  VCS also remains strongly supportive of measures to improve, enhance, and modernize the VA, including important new accountability measures such as those included with this legislation.

“Thank you to Ranking Member Kuster, Chairman Wenstrup, Chairman Bergman, and Ranking Member Brownley for your authorship and leadership on this important measure.  Please feel welcome to cite VCS’s for this legislation as you may see fit.

-VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE”

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HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS PRESS RELEASE
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Committee Leaders Introduce VA Prescription Safety Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee Chairmen Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Jack Bergman (R-MI), along with Ranking Members Julia Brownley (D-CA) and Ann Kuster (D-NH) released the following statements following introduction of the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act:

“Keeping pressure on the VA when it comes to combating the national prescription drug abuse epidemic is not a Democrat issue or Republican issue – it is an American issue,” said Wenstrup. “I’m pleased to cosponsor this bipartisan bill to close a loophole in VHA’s ability to effectively communicate with state prescription monitoring programs.”

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It extends beyond cultural, racial, and socio-economic boundaries and impacts every part of our society—even those who have served and fought for this country,” said Bergman. “That’s why transparency and accountability are so essential in the VA’s internal monitoring and information sharing procedures. I’m proud to support this legislation that takes critical steps to improve those processes and protect our Veterans and their loved ones from the effects of opioid addiction.”

“I co-sponsored the VA Prescription Drug Accountability Act because we need to improve VA’s internal monitoring, and information sharing practices, related to opioid prescription drugs,” said Brownley. “Increasing accountability and transparency will improve the quality of care at the VA and help prevent opioid addiction among veterans.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the largest prescribers of narcotics in the country and any effective national prescription drug monitoring program must include the VA,” said Kuster. “Last year, the data for hundreds of thousands of non-Veteran patients seen at the VA were not shared with PDMP programs due to a simple technical oversight, greatly reducing their effectiveness. We are in the grips of a national opioid addiction epidemic and this commonsense reform will help improve the monitoring of opioid prescription drugs, which have helped fuel this crisis.”

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Background: This bill, led by Rep. Kuster, would clarify current law to stipulate that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is required to disclose information to state controlled substance monitoring programs for anyone – veteran or non-veteran – who is prescribed these medications through VA.

Under current law, when VHA providers prescribe a controlled substance, VHA is required to disclose that information to the appropriate state controlled substance monitoring program. Due to VistA’s inability to differentiate between dependents and other non-veterans, VHA is currently only transmitting data for veteran patients, leaving out approximately 10% of VHA’s patient population who are dependents or other non-veterans who meet certain qualifications to receive prescriptions from VHA.

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Posted in Legislative News, VA Healthcare Crisis, Veterans for Common Sense News | Leave a comment

REPOSTING: VCS Statement on Different Organization with Similar Sounding Name

The following is being reposted due to current events after having originally been published to the VCS website in June 2016:

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(Washington – June 11, 2016) –
 Veterans for Common Sense today issued the following statement regarding a new initiative by another organization using a similar sounding name:

“To the best of our understanding, it appears that the leaders of a different organization, “Americans for Responsible Solutions” (www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org), have recently announced a new initiative.  It is unfortunate that they have apparently chosen to name their new initiative, “Veterans Coalition for Common Sense“, which is very similar to and potentially infringing upon the name of our longstanding national organization, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) (www.veteransforcommonsense.org).  

 To clarify, the “Veterans Coalition for Common Sense” initiative is entirely unrelated to, separate, and distinct from our Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) organization, which was founded in 2002 by a group of war veterans, incorporated in Washington, DC in 2003, and has been operating continuously in support of our mission since that time.  VCS has been active in supporting current and former military service members, educating the media and the public, testifying before Congress more than 30 times, and has been frequently quoted in the national press.

It is truly unfortunate that leaders of the other organization chose to use a name so similar to ours, which is already causing confusion.  We have already received numerous communications intended for their organization.

In the best interest of both organizations, and to prevent future confusion by policymakers, the press, and the public, we hope that Americans for Responsible Solutions will modify the name of their new initiative to prevent further confusion.”

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Veterans for Common Sense, Inc. (VCS) was incorporated in 2003 to collect, analyze and disseminate information relevant to U.S. foreign and military policy for the use of the public in better decision making.  VCS works to highlight issues of public interest related to national defense, foreign policy, and current and former military service members.  VCS  is an all-volunteer organization led by U.S. war veterans.

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Thomas Paine Celebration in Southwest Florida Expected to be Largest in the Nation

Event commemorates 280th anniversary of the birth of the Revolutionary War patriot, whose writings remain central to democratic movements worldwide

(Sarasota, Fla. – January 23, 2017) – This year’s southwest Florida commemoration of the 280th anniversary of the birth of Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Paine is expected to easily surpass other similar events held around the country, making it the largest such celebration in the United States.

“With our nation more deeply divided than in recent memory, there’s a renewed interest in our Founders’ democratic principles,” says Gene Jones, a Vietnam era veteran, retired attorney, and president of the southwest Florida veterans group hosting the event.

The hosting group, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, is named for Paine’s most famous work, “Common Sense,” which provided the philosophy underpinning the founding of the United States.  “At the time, they were viewed as radicals and rabble-rousers,” explains Jones about Paine and the Founding Fathers, “but today Paine’s ideas are central to democracies and democracy-building worldwide.

Saturday’s commemorative event will feature a dinner surrounded by Revolutionary War and other historical flags and memorabilia, souvenir photos, music — and of course an “appearance” by Thomas Paine himself.

Paine will be played by amateur actor and Vietnam War veteran Kevin Connelly, experienced at playing Paine.  The costume play is a far reach from Connelly’s daily life, where he serves as the CEO of Apollo Sunguard Systems, a Sarasota business that manufactures outdoor sun shades.

“Paine’s most famous quote is perhaps, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls,’” says Connelly, who is expected to echo those words from the past during his Paine reenactment.

The event also features a note of seriousness – an annual award to exemplify Paine’s philosophy of common sense and “everything which is just, reasonable, and honorable; or the evils that will follow from an inattention to those principles.”  The 2016 Thomas Paine award will be made to national advocate Nancy Parrish for her leadership on military sexual trauma policy change, including through a group she founded, Protect Our Defenders.  The award will be presented by Anthony Hardie, national director of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans’ advocacy organization that has frequently testified before Congress on veterans and military issues.  Parrish will provide comments with updates on her successful advocacy work.

 

The event is being hosted this Saturday, January 28 at Renaissance on 9th in Bradenton, Fla., near Sarasota where the event has been hosted annually by Florida Veterans for Common Sense.  Attendance has continued to grow and a larger space was needed this year to accommodate the greater demand for participation.

Tickets are $60, include a full course dinner, and are available on the group’s website, www.floridaveteransforcommonsense.org. Proceeds go to help FLVCS’s local veteran projects, including a veteran farming therapy program and direct assistance programs for homeless and hospitalized veterans.

Live music will be provided by “Daniel Paul” Fugazzatto.

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