WASHINGTON, D.C. – After traveling the state and hearing from Iowans firsthand on her second 99 county tour as Iowa’s U.S. Senator, Joni Ernst (R-IA) has worked to turn that feedback into results, wrapping up the year with a series of legislative initiatives and victories on behalf of Iowans, including five of her bills signed into law in 2016.
“Throughout the year, I have seen firsthand the effects reckless government intrusions have on the lives of Iowans, and I have worked to make sure that Iowans’ voices are heard in Washington, D.C.,” said Senator Ernst. “This year, out of my seven bills that made it to the president’s desk, five were signed into law. The legislation I put forward focuses on Iowans’ priorities: honoring the service and benefits of our nation’s veterans and ways to improve their mental health care, cutting wasteful spending, keeping our nation safe, getting burdensome regulations out of the way, as well as finding solutions to make our government run more efficiently. I am pleased with the progress we have made, but there is a lot more work to do. I look forward to more improvements as we head into the next Congress.”
In November, Senator Ernst completed her second 99 county tour as a U.S. Senator, traveling across the state and visiting farms, agribusinesses, hospitals, schools, manufacturers, small businesses and more. Ernst also met and visited with thousands of Iowans to hear their questions and ideas at town meetings and roundtable discussions. Click here to view the 2016 tour.
In the 114th Congress, Ernst served on four Senate committees: Armed Services; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Throughout 2016, Senator Ernst took on an active role within her committees. In addition to her committee work, Senator Ernst this year joined the Whistleblower Protection Caucus and the Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus.
Additionally, Senator Ernst led and worked on a number of initiatives on behalf of Iowans:
- SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, Ernst held a hearing on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rural development programs and their economic impact across America. This marked the only subcommittee hearing held in the committee this year.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:Senator Ernst and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced theAgriculture Students Encourage, Acknowledge, Reward, Nurture (EARN) Act (S. 2774). The legislation amends the tax code to exclude from gross income the first $5,000 earned by students who are 18 years old or younger on agricultural projects completed under the supervision of 4-H or FFA.
- AG TOUR:In October, Senator Ernst visited over a dozen ag businesses, including family farms, to hear about the true state of the agriculture economy in Iowa. She visited with crop and livestock farmers, equipment dealers, farmer cooperatives, fertilizer manufacturers, processing plants and research facilities to listen to their concerns.
- Senator Ernst led a letterwith Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to Treasury asking that USDA and FDA be included in the CFIUS review of the ChemChina – Syngenta deal. On May 17 they announced they would do so.
- During a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestryhearing on “The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Current State of the Farm Economy,” Senator Ernst highlighted concerns with the USDA’s proposed Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) Rule that would inflict high costs on the livestock industry, and erect a barrier to young, beginning and small farmers’ ability to get into livestock production. Importantly, during Senator Ernst’s questioning, Secretary Vilsack agreed to provide a public comment period for stakeholders to express their updated concerns for the proposed GIPSA Rule if implemented by the administration.
- Senator Ernst (R-IA) supported the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which is bipartisan legislation that creates a national standard for labeling of food containing biotechnology ingredients.
- Senator Ernst supported the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016which included meaningful reforms that scale back some of the burdensome federal requirements for school lunches, return broad program oversight to local and state authorities, and safeguard taxpayer dollars.
- SIGNED INTO LAW:Senators Ernst and Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-ND) bipartisan legislation, the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act, was signed into law by President Obama. This bill takes an important step forward in making the federal government more productive and cost-effective by streamlining management procedures to increase accountability, and preventing cost overruns and lax oversight. In fact, this legislation has the potential to save billions of dollars that could otherwise have been wasted on large government programs that failed to meet their objectives.
- SENT TO PRESIDENT’S DESK (VETOED):The Presidential Allowance Modernization Actpassed both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate with bipartisan support this year. This legislation would cut the perks and spending that subsidize wealthy former presidents’ lives to the tune of millions of dollars. However, President Obama vetoed this legislation, choosing to cost taxpayers money and benefit wealthy former presidents’ personal careers and post-presidency life.
- Beginning this year, every month, Senator Ernst gives out her “Squeal Award,” which highlights a Washington expense, program or concept that has proven to be wasteful and must be acted upon in an effort to hold Washington more accountable for their reckless actions. Click hereto take a look at the award recipients.
- PASSED SENATE:Senators Ernst and Grassley’s Iowa Community Colleges Resolution passed the Senate. The resolution offers congratulations to the community colleges of Iowa for 50 years of outstanding service to the state of Iowa, the United States, and the world.
- Throughoutthe year, Senator Ernst continued to stress at events the need to combat sexual assault on college campuses, urging passage of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. This bipartisan legislation would protect students, professionalize the response to and reporting of sexual assault cases, and provide colleges and universities with incentives to solve the problem of sexual assault on their campuses.
- PROVISION INCLUDED:In December, President Obama signed Congress’ water infrastructure bill into law, which includes Senator Ernst’s provision to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to complete the Cedar Rapids flood control project. Senator Ernst also secured a commitment for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the benefit-cost ratios for flood mitigation projects.
- Additionally, at her request, Senator Ernst met with the head of the United States Army Corps of Engineers to discuss and urgethe prioritization for funding the Cedar Rapids flood mitigation project, as well as the outstanding Cedar Falls 408 permitting request for levee and floodwall system improvements.
o Senators Ernst and Grassley sent letters to the Army Corps of Engineers demanding answers on why they have neglected to complete flood mitigation projects in the Cedar Rapids region. The letters can be viewed here and here.
- Senator Ernst has also sentletters in support of requests for a federal major disaster declaration for eight northeast Iowa counties following the severe storms, heavy rain, and flooding that took place in Iowa.
- Throughout the year, Senator Ernst has been calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose 2017 ethanol and 2018 biodiesel Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) consistent with enacted law.
o Earlier this year, the Iowa Senator called for the EPA to follow Congressional intent when the proposed rule was initially released earlier this year. In addition, Ernst joined a bipartisan group of 39 senators in June, and sent a letter to the EPA encouraging the agency to set the RVO at the level directed by Congress.
o In November, after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their final Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) renewable volume obligations (RVO) for 2017 at 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuel, meeting the requirements Congress approved in 2007, Ernst said, in part that she was “pleased the EPA has finally listened to the American people as well as the comments my colleagues and I have pushed forward, and set the final volume requirements for conventional biofuels for 2017 at appropriate and congressionally approved levels. The RFS is critical in reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and provides consumers with choices at the pump. Most importantly, it spurs investment and research in renewable fuels and supports our rural economy in Iowa.”
- PROVISION INCLUDED:The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) was signed into law this year. The bipartisan law focuses on equipping local law enforcement, health care stakeholders, and community groups with the tools they need to fight the opioid epidemic. As part of the debate on this issue, Senator Ernst raised the issue of barriers to the existing federal prescription drug take back program. Thanks to her efforts, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will conduct a thorough review of the program and report to Congress with recommendations to address the barriers to participation that local pharmacies face. The request for the review was based on feedback from Iowa pharmacists, and these recommendations will help Congress to find appropriate ways to maximize participation in the program and ensure that this important service to the community is widely available.
- Senator Ernst supported the 21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan law that provides additional critical resources to support medical research and includes important reforms that will help patients and their families access new and innovative medicines and devices more quickly.
o The 21st Century Cures Act also marks important progress in addressing the need to improve access to mental health and substance use disorder services. By promoting more strategic planning among federal programs and improving grant programs that provide community based services, this law will help ensure folks can get the care they need.
o Senator Ernst also supported a number of bills this Congress focused on ensuring access to health care services for rural America. Several of these bills were included in the 21st Century Cures Act, including an extension of the rural hospital demonstration program, regulatory relief for critical access hospitals, and temporary relief for medical suppliers from Medicare reimbursement cuts.
- FIELD HEARING:In addition, Senator Ernst led a field hearing with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) entitled “From Crop to Craft Beer: Federal Regulation’s Impact on America’s Food and Agriculture” in Dubuque. Throughout the hearing, the senators heard from Iowa and Wisconsin farmers and businessmen that regulations often have unintended consequences that harm Americans in unforeseen ways.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:Senator Ernst introduced Sarah’s Law along with Senators Grassley, Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Ben Sasse (R-NE). This legislation honors Sarah Root, an Iowan who was killed earlier this year by a drunk driver in the country illegally. Sarah’s Law would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take custody of an individual who is in the country illegally and is charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:Joining Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), Senator Ernst helped introduced the Fair Chance Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would give formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance at securing employment by prohibiting federal contractors and federal agencies from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:A bipartisan bill, the Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act of 2016,introduced by Senators Ernst, Johnson (R-WI), and Booker (D-NJ) aimed at combating the use of social media by terrorists was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. A version of the bill was included in the FY 2017 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, which the President signed into law this month.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:Senator Ernst introduced the Federal Information Systems Safeguards Act which passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. This legislation aims to help reduce the risk of another breach like the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach and protects the personal information of American citizens. This bill ensures that federal government agency heads have the tools they need to secure their IT networks through restricting access to certain websites on government computers without first having to engage in collective bargaining with federal employee unions.
- PASSED COMMITTEE: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passedtwo measuresintroduced by Senators Ernst and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to strengthen security against foreign fighters traveling into and out of the United States.
- Senator Ernst supported theBackpage.com Civil Contempt Resolution, legislation that directs the Senate Legal Counsel to bring a civil action to enforce the subpoena issued by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (“PSI”) to the CEO of Backpage.com, a website that has been under investigation for nearly a year due to its reported links to human trafficking.
- Senator Ernst also backed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, legislation that requires the FBI, working with DHS and the intelligence community, to ensure that any refugee seeking to enter the United States does not pose a security threat to American citizens.
Jobs, Economy, and Regulations:
- SENT TO PRESIDENT’S DESK (VETOED):Senator Ernst’s resolution of disapproval (S.J. Res. 22) to end the expanded definition of the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule passed the House with bipartisan support. This legislation would scrap the expanded WOTUS rule and would stop this blatant EPA power grab. Ultimately, President Obama sided with an unchecked federal agency over the livelihoods of those in rural communities who say this rule must be stopped, and vetoed the legislation.
o Iowa’s U.S. Senators Ernst and Chuck Grassley, along with Representatives Rod Blum (R-01), David Young (R-03) and Steve King (R-04) recently sent President-elect Donald J. Trump a letter urging him to scrap the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in the first few days of his presidency.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:In a bicameral effort, Senators Ernst and Ron Johnson (R-WI) joined Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI) in introducing legislation to prevent a surge in costly federal regulations as a United States President’s term comes to a close. The Midnight Rule Relief Act would protect hard working families and small businesses from significant regulations that are often politically motivated and imposed between Election Day and Inauguration Day.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:The Prove It Act of 2016 passed out of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee. This legislation introduced by Senator Ernst increases transparency within the federal rulemaking process, especially when there is a disagreement between agencies over the economic impact of a rule on small businesses. In particular, this proposal designates a third party to review the facts and issue a publicly available objective assessment. If it is determined that the proposed rule would have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities, the bill requires the federal agency to go back and complete additional regulatory analyses.
- Senator Ernst supported the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Actas well as a congressional resolution of disapproval (S.J.Res.34) to reverse the Department of Labor’s one size fits all overtime regulatory rule. Implementation of the regulation has since been temporarily halted by the courts.
- SIGNED INTO LAW:Several of Senator Ernst’s provisions were included in the final Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Summary of Ernst Measures Included in the NDAA:
o Seeks to end retaliation against sexual assault survivors by making retaliation its own crime in the military.
o Creates a pilot program for military lawyers to enhance criminal justice within the military and provide more effective defense and prosecution for servicemembers.
o Implements a delay in requiring the National Guard to convert some of its Dual Status Military Technicians to federal civilian status.
o Makes permanent the National Guard State Partnership Program which enhances our military and diplomatic efforts around the world.
o Requires the Secretary of Defense to submit to Congress a report on the career progression track for female servicemembers.
o Requires the DoD to report on its acquisition of contracts which would enhance congressional oversight to ensure the DoD is getting the best value for taxpayer dollars.
o Seeks to reduce drunk driving and provide employment opportunities to military families by requiring the DoD to develop a policy to afford base access to transportation companies.
o Enhances whistleblower protections for those servicemembers and DoD employees who report wrongdoing at the DoD.
o Requires the DoD to report on the progress of women in previously closed combat positions.
o Provides funds for much needed renovations at the Women in Military Service for American Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
o Provides funds to the Army and Marine Corps to enhance the small arms and ammunition capabilities of our Soldiers and Marines.
o Requires a review of the Defense Intelligence Enterprise and seeks to eliminate unnecessary overhead, waste, and mismanagement, as well as to enhance intelligence support to our warfighters.
o Maintains suicide prevention programs in the Army Reserves and National Guard.
o Improves federal government program and project management practices by requiring the development of government wide standards, policies, and guidelines for program management.
- SIGNED INTO LAW IN NDAA:Bipartisan legislation, Military Retaliation Prevention Act, introduced earlier this year by Senators Ernst and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to build on historic reforms to curb sexual assaults in the military and better protect survivors from retaliation cleared a key hurdle with its inclusion in the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
- PASSED SENATE: Senator Ernst led a bipartisan bill to reauthorize leasing authority at arsenals passed the Senate. Additionally, Senators Grassley , Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also supported the Arsenal Installation Reutilization Authoritywhich would reauthorize the leasing authority at Department of Defense arsenals and military instillations for unused office space to outside tenants.
- PASSED SENATE: Senators Ernst, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) resolution expressing the need for U.S. support and assistance to arm the Kurdish Peshmergapassed the Senate.
- PASSED SENATE:Senator Ernst introduced a resolution to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), which passed the Senate unanimously.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION: Senator Ernst joined Kirk(R-IL), Grassley and Durbin (D-IL) in introducing legislation to expand manufacturing opportunities for Army arsenals. The Army Arsenal Revitalization Act, S. 2516, would provide Army arsenals, such as Rock Island Arsenal, the tools they needed to be more competitive, including the ability to adjust their own labor rates and to better seek new opportunities to compete for manufacturing contracts within the Department of Defense (DoD).
- Senator Ernst, along with Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), David Perdue (R-GA), and Mike Rounds (R-SD), raised serious concernsabout the need for support of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) continued care and shelter for hundreds of thousands of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) as they fight to combat ISIS on the ground. The senators called on the State Department to enhance its efforts to engage American allies in Baghdad and the broader Middle East to secure appropriate resources for the KRG.
- Through her position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Ernst raised questions and discussedthe military’s implementation timetable of their gender integration policy.
- INTRODUCED RESOLUTION: Following the announcement that U.S. special operations forces conducted a raid which resulted in the capture of an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) leader, Senator Joni Ernst joined several of her fellow senators in introducing a resolutionto detain ISIS fighters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION: Senator Ernst joined her senate colleagues in introducing the Detainee Transfer Transparency Act, legislation that would require the Secretary of Defense to make available to the public the intended transfer or release of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at least 21 days in advance.
- Senator Ernst (R-IA) supportedthe bipartisan North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, which expands sanctions.
- Senator Joni Ernst supportedthe Iran Sanctions Extension Act, which would extend for 10 years sanctions authorities against Iran before they expire at the end of the year.
- Over the last several months Senator Ernst has been raising serious concerns to the Obama administration over the growing influence of ISIS in Latin America, and Southeast Asia, urging him to take action.
- A group of conservative Senators this year launched the Senate Opportunity Coalition, a new initiative aiming to ensure every family across our nation has access to the American Dream. Senator Ernst and a group of senators who have joined together in an effort to relieve poverty and ensure opportunity by sharing first hand experiences from their constituents, highlighting the issues facing low-income families, and working towards conservative solutions to make sure every American has the chance to succeed.
- Senator Ernst led a bipartisan, bicameral letterto U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell expressing opposition to the Department’s new proposed rule to amend regulations implementing the Title X Family Planning Program. The letter questioned HHS’ assertion that providers with a reproductive health focus are more “effective” than other health care providers which offer more comprehensive care for women and men. This dubious claim, if pushed through, would all but establish a nationwide mandate that these more narrow providers receive priority for the receipt of Title X subawards – at the expense of other entities like comprehensive primary care providers and community health centers. In its final rule, HHS acknowledged its inability to measure the “effectiveness” of providers.
- Following Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s decision to refer the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, its affiliates, and fetal tissue procurement organizations to the FBI and the Department of Justice for an investigation into whether they engaged in the buying and selling of harvested organs of unborn babies in violation of federal law, Senator Ernst reiteratedthe critical need for federal funding to be redirected to other eligible providers of women’s health care, such as community health centers and hospitals which provide greater preventative and primary health care services.
- Senator Ernst addressedtens of thousands of people from across the country at this year’s March for Life rally. At the rally, Senator Ernst discussed this year’s theme: “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand-In-Hand.”
- From the start of the year, Senator Ernst pushed back against President Obama’s executive actions that would restrict law-abiding Iowans’ Second Amendment rights. Ernst stated her opposition to the president’s overreaching and unilateral actions and stressed that the American people must have a voice through their elected representatives in Congress.
- CO-SPONSORED LEGISLATION:Senator Ernst co-sponsored the Social Security Beneficiary 2ndAmendment Rights Protection Act
- CO-SPONSORED LEGISLATION:Senator Ernst also co-sponsored the Export Control Reform Act of 2016.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION:Senators Ernst, Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Credit for Caring Act, which would provide up to a $3,000 nonrefundable tax credit to working family caregivers for qualified expenses. According to AARP, there are an estimated 40 million family caregivers in the United States, and 317,000 in Iowa. Most of these caregivers spend approximately 18 hours per week providing critical support to a family member.
o This bipartisan legislation ended the year with 11 Senate cosponsors (eight Democrats and three Republicans). The Credit for Caring Act has also earned the support from: AARP, Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), Autism Speaks, Autism Society, American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Caregiver Action Network, Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness – Altarum Institute, Family Caregiver Alliance – National Center on Caregiving, Family Voices, Home Care Association of America, Lutheran Services in America, Lutheran Services in America Disability Network, National Alliance for Caregiving, National Association for Home Care & Hospice, National Council on Aging, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and The Arc.
- Following the outbreak of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), Senators Ernst and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) led a bipartisan letter along with Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Richard Burr (R-NC), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Al Franken (D-MN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Thune (R-SD), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) to United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for increased effortsto end discrimination against American turkey exports by addressing unscientific import requirements imposed by two U.S. trading partners.
o In December, the USDA responded, and was grateful for the advice and support, and noted that they will continue to work on removing the unscientific barriers during future discussions with these trading partners.
- In a recent column, Senator Ernst stressed the important need for expanded trade opportunities for the state.
- The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, which reauthorizes Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs, passed with Senator Ernst’s support.
- CO-SPONSORED LEGISLATION: Senator Ernst signed on as an original co-sponsor of Senator Gary Peter’s (D-MI) Remotely Piloted Aircraft Mission Protection Act. This bipartisan legislation prevents the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from disqualifying an airport for an Airport Improvement Project grant solely because the airport provides a nominal lease to a military component. Ultimately, part of this legislation was included in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill. Additionally, the House version of this legislation was signed into law.
- Senator Ernst questionedTransportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator, Peter V. Neffenger, in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing regarding wasteful spending at TSA and the impact on the agency’s ability to address long security lines while at the same time keeping our nation safe. Following reports exposing the TSA’s expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars on a mobile application called the “randomizer” that simply shows an arrow on the screen of an iPad telling passengers to go to a right or left security line, the Iowa Senator highlighted this irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars in April with her monthly Squeal Award to highlight government waste.
- SIGNED INTO LAW:In an overdue victory for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), President Obama signed bipartisan, bicameral legislation into law to restore the inurnment rights of the WASP at Arlington National Cemetery. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) along with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Congresswomen Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Susan Davis (D-CA) offered this legislation to return the right to these heroic women.
- SIGNED INTO LAW:In June President Obama signed into law the Iowa delegation’s legislation to name a Cedar Rapids post office after Sergeant First Class (SFC) Terryl L. Pasker, an Iowa National Guardsman who was killed in action in Afghanistan. The Iowa Congressional delegation, led by Senator Ernst in the Senate, and Representative Blum (R-IA) in the House, introduced this legislation in March.
- SIGNED INTO LAW:A bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators Ernst and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) which would establish a patient self-scheduling appointment system at Veterans Affairs Medical Facilities was signed into law by the President. A June 2014 internal audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found that more than 120,000 veterans waited at least 90 days for appointments for health care or never received appointments. Other hospitals and health systems are now leveraging technology to eliminate wait times and ensure that every available appointment is used. The bipartisan Faster Care for Veterans Act directs the Secretary of the VA to commence a pilot program under which veterans could use the internet to schedule and confirm appointments for health care at VA medical facilities.
- SIGNED INTO LAW:Bipartisan legislation, introduced by Senators Ernst, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) in the House, known as the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (S. 2487), was signed into law. This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify the most effective programs and approaches in reducing suicide rates among female veterans.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION: Senator Ernst introduced the Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment (SAVE) Act, along with the support of Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The bipartisan Military SAVE Act puts military sexual trauma (MST) survivors in control of their health care by giving them the opportunity, flexibility and discretion to choose treatment options that best suit their needs.
- INTRODUCED LEGISLATION: To reaffirm and revive our nation’s longstanding commitment to Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Families, Senators Ernst and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced legislation to re-issue the “Gold Star” stamprecognizing and honoring families who have lost a child or family member in service to the nation. The U.S. Post Office Department first issued a stamp honoring Gold Star Mothers in 1948.
- OFFERED LEGISLATION:Senator Ernst offered amendments to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs including withholding all bonuses directed to executives of the benefits administration, and redirecting those funds toward reducing the veterans’ disability appeals claims backlog. Another amendment would have prohibited funding for the procurement of art work or art related consulting services, including new construction, until the Secretary of the VA alerts Congress that the appointment backlogs for veterans seeing primary care has been eliminated. She offered this proposal ahead of a report by a non-profit organization which states that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has spent $20 million on costly artwork between 2004 and 2014. Unfortunately, these amendments were ultimately not adopted.
- CO-SPONSORED LEGISLATION:Senator Ernst was a co-sponsor of the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act. Offered by Congressman David Young (R-03), the legislation was signed into law.
- Senator Ernst continues to focus on ensuring Iowa veterans receive the timely quality care they deserve and is pushing for unanswered questions:
o Senator Ernst continues to press for answers over the deaths of Iowa veterans Brandon Ketchum and Mr. Curtis Gearhart.
o Senators Ernst and Grassley sent a letter and are demanding answers over the care given to veteran Alan Meisel.
o Senator Ernst visited the Iowa City VA to tour the facility.
o The Iowa Senator also held five veterans roundtables across the state to hear firsthand from veteran about their experiences and quality of care.
- Senator Ernst is seeking specificanswers on the steps the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Michael Missal is taking to improve their review process of whistleblower complaints made through the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) Hotline.
- Senators Ernst and Jon Tester (D-MT) urged Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to addressthe growing rate of suicide among Guardsmen and women.