Following Senator Hassan’s Advocacy, VA to Halt Removal of NH Veterans from VA Caregivers Program; Senator Hassan Continues Push to Keep Veterans in the Program; Senator Hassan Also Continues to Push Back Against the VA’s Proposed Closure of Clinics in Littleton and Conway
MANCHESTER – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today led a field hearing at Saint Anselm College to discuss ways to strengthen support for service members and veterans as they transition out of military service. Senator Hassan discussed a number of challenges facing New Hampshire veterans, including VA recommendations that could threaten Granite State veterans’ access to VA services and her push to halt the removal of NH veterans from the VA Caregivers Program.
Senator Hassan was joined by Representative Chris Pappas, a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The hearing witnesses included Ryan Lilly, Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network 1 in the VA New England Healthcare System; Kevin Forrest, Director of the Manchester VA Medical Center; Amy Cook, Administrator of the Division of Community Based Military Programs at the New Hampshire Department of Military and Veteran Affairs; Paul Lloyd, Chairman of the New Hampshire State Veterans Advisory Committee and State Adjutant of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; and Cheryl Rawls, Executive Director of Outreach, Transition and Economic Development Service at the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Keeping NH VA Clinics Open
Senator Hassan discussed the VA’s recently released recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, which could risk moving the VA towards privatization and decrease access to VA care for veterans.
“I am concerned that the recommendations could reduce access to care for veterans in New Hampshire, including rural veterans given the VA’s proposed closure of clinics in Littleton and Conway,” said Senator Hassan. “Furthermore, the proposal to move outpatient surgical care from Manchester to community providers is a top concern of mine. VA services should be bolstered, not moved outside of the VA.”
Senator Hassan then went on to ask Ryan Lilly, Director of the Veterans Integrated Service Network 1 at the VA New England Healthcare System whether he could commit to working with her office based on these concerns. Director Lilly responded with “certainly.”
“Pushing veterans out into the community might sound like a good idea, but you know the community care program, we have a veteran, one of our members, he lives in Lancaster, needed a podiatry appointment, and they were going to send him to Albany, New York for an appointment,” Chairman Lloyd also added. “That’s not an ideal situation at all.”
Last month, Senator Hassan led New Hampshire and Vermont Senators in calling on the VA to protect veterans’ access to care in their states following the concerning VA recommendations.
Supporting VA Caregivers
Senator Hassan also spoke about hearing from Granite Staters who have lost access to the VA Caregivers Program, which supports family members caring for veterans severely injured in the line of duty, and her efforts to halt removals from the program.
“Iraq war veteran, Eric, who is here today, and his wife Jennifer McNail of Littleton were kicked out of the VA Caregivers Program after eligibility requirements were narrowed by the previous administration,” said Senator Hassan. “After hearing how those changes impacted Granite State veterans and their families, I led a bipartisan effort with my colleagues, asking the VA to reverse the previous administration’s changes. I was glad to see the VA announce in March that it will not remove anyone from the program before they reexamine the eligibility criteria for the program.”
During the hearing, Senator Hassan asked witness Kevin Forrest, Director of the Manchester VA Medical Center, to ensure that New Hampshire veterans know that removals from the VA Caregivers Program are now on hold. In addition, Senator Hassan will keep pushing to ensure that veterans can stay in the program permanently.
“You absolutely have my commitment to be transparent and to continue providing information on the future state of the caregiver support program, and how we will deploy that through New Hampshire, and really make sure that veterans are being taken care of,” said Forrest. “I will also add that it's so, so important with a program like this, as you look at providing care to veterans, and actually keeping them out of institutionalized care in a time when long-term care is a challenge… Whatever we can do that allows a veteran to stay in a home at a significantly less cost than a long-term care facility, it is great for quality of life and for the veterans.”
Hiring Veterans & Supporting Their Transition to Civilian Life
“Both as senator and as a former governor, I have focused on bolstering employment opportunities for service members transitioning to civilian life and veterans,” said Senator Hassan.
Last year, the President signed into law Senator Hassan’s bill to help recruit military medical personnel who have less than one year left in their service to work in federal health care occupations at the VA. In addition, Senator Hassan has introduced a bill to provide cybersecurity training for veterans, with a focus on employing veterans in the federal government.
Senator Hassan asked Amy Cook, Administrator of the Division of Community Based Military Programs at the New Hampshire Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, about other ways to strengthen veteran employment. Cook spoke about the importance of educating employers on recognizing relevant skills on veterans’ resumes, and also getting the word out on programs that are available as veterans transition to civilian life.
Throughout the hearing, Senator Hassan also highlighted legislation that she is working to get passed into law to support veterans’ transition to civilian life, including to strengthen the Solid Start program, which was created by the VA during the last administration to contact every veteran three times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty service to check in and help connect them to VA programs and benefits; her bipartisan bill to designate a “Buddy Check Week” to combat veteran suicide; and her bipartisan efforts to strengthen health care for post-9/11 veterans exposed to toxic substances.