The news of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s pending resignation will have consequences when it comes to committee rosters, most prominently with Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran the next in line to be chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee.
Moran should be a familiar figure to veterans service organizations and other groups involved in policy, since he is a former chairman of the Military Construction-VA subcommittee of Appropriations. Senate Republicans tend to adhere to seniority rules, and Moran is the next lawmaker in line for the job. He also does not have any other full committee chairmanships, meaning there won’t be as much of a domino effect.
Moran was an original co-sponsor of the Veterans Choice Act, which Congress passed in the wake of the secret wait-list scandal at the Phoenix VA in 2014. The legislation allowed veterans to see private doctors if either the distance to a facility or wait times for an appointment exceeded a certain threshold. He subsequently supported last year’s VA MISSION Act to streamline and expand the program.
Moran’s past priorities signal what he could focus on as chairman.
The growing concern around mental health and suicide will certainly be a top priority. In March, Moran teamed up with the committee’s top Democrat, Jon Tester of Montana, to introduce a bill improving the VA’s mental health services. The legislation would increase the number of mental health professionals, expand telehealth and increase access to alternative therapies.
“As our servicemembers transition to civilian life, we can ease this difficult process by removing barriers to mental healthcare that our veterans need. This bipartisan legislation, which complements the president’s PREVENTS initiative, would expand efforts in local communities to provide veterans with mental healthcare, would allow the VA to hire and train more professionals in this field and would develop innovative methods for the delivery of this care,” Moran said in a statement when the bill was introduced.
Rural health will also likely continue to be a focus, considering that roughly a quarter of veterans live in rural areas. Moran has expressed concern at the VA’s ongoing backlog in medical claims processing. As of a September 2017 survey, nearly 200,000 Kansas residents were veterans, according to statistics from the VA. That is a bit over 9 percent of the state’s population.
Moran and Tester also took the lead on the Senate side on a bicameral letter sent Aug. 13 to Secretary Robert L. Wilkie pressing the department over concerns raised in an inspector general’s report about improper rejection of payment of claims for emergency medical services (outside of VA health facilities).
“VA’s culture incentivized meeting unrealistic productivity standards that drove some claims processing staff to simply deny or reject emergency care claims rather than adjudicate them properly because doing so took less time,” wrote a group of senators and House members on the Veterans Affairs’ panels.
A veteran of both the House and Senate VA committees, Moran also helmed the Senate Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee from January 2017 until April 2018. He led a record funding increase for the VA in the department’s 2018 appropriations bill, which authorized $78.4 billion in discretionary funds.