Veterans legislation authored and cosponsored
In the 114th Congress, Senator Johnson is proud to have authored and cosponsored numerous pieces of legislation aimed at bringing accountability to federal agencies, protecting whistleblowers and improving veterans’ health care. Key items include:
- On Sept. 22, 2015, at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ hearing, “Improving VA Accountability: First-Hand Accounts of Department of Veterans Affairs Whistleblowers,” members heard powerful testimony from VA whistleblowers.
- On Oct. 1, 2015, Senator Johnson introduced S. 2127, a bill named after Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a psychologist at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who was fired after he questioned the overmedication of veterans at the facility. This bill’s reforms would enhance whistleblower protections throughout the government, ensure that retaliators are held accountable, and safeguard the medical records of VA employees who are veterans also.
- Ensuring Veteran Safety Through Accountability Act of 2015, S. 1117
- Senator Johnson introduced this bill to give the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs expedited authority to fire a health care professional when necessary for poor performance or misconduct.
- Section 239 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, H.R. 2029
- Senator Johnson worked across the aisle with his colleagues to develop this legislation requiring the VA Inspector General to make reports more readily available to Congress and online.
- Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act of 2015, S. 1082
- Senator Johnson is proud of this Rubio-Johnson bill that would provide expedited firing authority for any VA employee when necessary for poor performance or misconduct.
- VA Patient Protection Act of 2015, S. 2291
- Senator Johnson is an original cosponsor of this bill that directs the VA to punish supervisors found retaliating against whistleblowers.
- Johnson Amendment to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, S. 524
- Senator Johnson introduced an amendment aimed at prioritizing the reform of standards for prescribing painkilling drugs to protect patients suffering from both pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He developed this piece of legislation after learning about the dangers of overprescription faced by veterans receiving care in the federal VA health care system.
- The amendment had the support of former Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Ray Boland, The American Legion Department of Wisconsin, The American Legion National Headquarters, Military Order of the Purple Heart U.S.A., and Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
- Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, S. 1641
- Named after Jason Simcakoski, a veteran who tragically died of a drug overdose at the Tomah VA in Wisconsin in 2014, this bill directs the Department of Defense and the VA to update opioid therapy guidelines.
- Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2015, S. 579
- Senator Johnson is an original cosponsor of this bill that would expand the powers of inspectors general to provide improved oversight.
- Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, S. 167
- Senator Johnson cosponsored and voted in February 2015 to pass this legislation that improves mental health care and suicide prevention resources for veterans.
Situation at the Tomah VA Medical Center
In January 2015, Senator Johnson was troubled to hear allegations that some doctors were “dispensing drugs like candy” at the Tomah VA Medical Center in Wisconsin. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Senator Johnson immediately launched an investigation.
Over the course of the investigation:
- Senator Johnson chaired two hearings related to the tragedies at the Tomah VA, bringing a bipartisan group of House members and senators to a field hearing in Tomah on March 30, 2015 to hear the testimony of whistleblowers, family members, VA officials and VA Inspector General officials.
- Following a letter Senator Johnson wrote on March 17, 2015, the VA Office of Inspector General published 140 previously unreleased reports dating back to 2006.
- Senator Johnson issued a subpoena on April 29, 2015 to the VA Office of Inspector General to compel the release of material gathered and reviewed by the Office of Inspector General during its health care inspection.
- Senator Johnson released an interim report on the Tomah VA investigation on June 25, 2015.
- Following a subpoena from Senator Johnson’s office, Richard Griffin, the acting VA inspector general who previously failed to publish results of the Inspector General’s Tomah investigation, resigned on June 30, 2015. On Oct. 2, 2015, President Obama heeded his calls and nominated a permanent VA inspector general; his committee unanimously approved President Obama’s nominee, Michael Missal, on Jan. 20, 2016. Missal was confirmed by the Senate on April 19, 2016.
- Senator Johnson has requested documents from the VA, the VA Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Wisconsin, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Joint Commission (a health care organization that accredits hospitals).
- Senator Johnson’s staff has spoken with countless whistleblowers and victims of the Tomah tragedies, and has begun to conduct formal interviews of witnesses with knowledge of the tragedies.
Senator Johnson’s team is continuing to investigate what happened at Tomah. If the full truth about Tomah is ever to be known, the VA Office of Inspector General must cooperate with our investigation and, in the interest of transparency and accountability, disclose the entire case file gathered during the office’s three-year Tomah facility inquiry. With so many questions about the conclusions of the VA Office of Inspector General, Senator Johnson will continue to promote reforms that focus on addressing the overwhelming allegations of misconduct, mismanagement and abuse within the VA.
2014 VA Choice Act
On July 31, 2014, Senator Johnson voted in favor of the final version of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (known as the VA Choice Act). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the bill should cost less than $15 billion, a far more sustainable figure than the $435 billion that it projected for the June 2014 version of the bill. The VA Choice Act allows veterans to access care from private doctors and facilities if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or cannot get an appointment at the VA within 30 days. This will help Wisconsin veterans receive the best quality health care possible.