Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The McCain Update April 2014

Welcome to the first edition of the McCain Update. This monthly e-newsletter will help keep you informed of my work on the important issues facing our state and nation, as well as my activities around Arizona. Whether it’s fighting against Obamacare, supporting our military and veterans or working for economic growth and job creation in Arizona, this is the place for the latest news updates. As always, I appreciate your thoughts and feedback – I look forward to hearing from you!

--John McCain

Phoenix VA Health Care System

My constant battle to improve care and reduce wait times for our veterans took a new and unfortunate turn with the latest reports
of gross mismanagement and neglect in the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS). These allegations are as outrageous as they are heartbreaking. According to reports, PVAHCS officials fraudulently misused the Electronic Waiting List (EWL) system employed by all VA Health Centers and kept a non-official list outside of standard VA procedures. It is unconscionable that officials at the Phoenix VA would allegedly allow a level of systemic failure that resulted in delays linked to the deaths of up to 40 veterans who were awaiting medical care, and would then tamper with documents to cover it up.

Senator Flake and I held a meeting with Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, shortly after the allegations surfaced; she denied any knowledge of these claims based on their own investigation thus far. We need a thorough, complete and impartial investigation – one that can be brought directly to our veterans community in Arizona who can decide whether it’s credible or not. It’s obvious that PVAHCS has lost confidence with the veterans it was established to serve, and we must do everything in our power to restore it.
Last week, I sent a 
letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki demanding answers to help get to the bottom of this mess. In addition, Senator Flake and I requested that the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs investigate and hold a hearing to examine this matter. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman responded, committing to hold a hearing on the issue following the completion of the VA Office of Inspector General's investigation.
The latest allegations against PVAHCS appear to follow broader trends that my office has observed regarding the VA’s increasing failure to provide quality health care to our veterans. Last year, when allegations of delayed care caused by a backlog in disability claims at the Phoenix Regional Office were first raised, I wrote to Secretary Shinseki several times to express my dismay and to seek more information regarding these problems. Despite the delayed feedback to my inquiries, I was able to work with the Regional Office to establish a series of informational forums on the Fully Developed Claims process and provide critical information and assistance to Arizona veterans. However, from those forums and from the increased contact into my office from patients and doctors alike, it became clear that the perpetual problems at PVAHCS were quickly escalating as well. As a result, I dedicated two additional staffers in my Phoenix office and one in my DC office to handle problems with the VA system in Maricopa County, sending inquiries and assisting veterans wherever possible to schedule appointments critical to their health.
As a veteran myself, I have long gone to battle with the VA bureaucracy on behalf of Arizona's veterans. Since 2013, my office has assisted more than 2,000 veterans in need of help, but it's obvious that much more needs to be done to fix the systemic problems plaguing the VA. We will sustain our efforts to ensure that veterans receive the care they deserve.  If you know a veteran encountering problems receiving care please contact my office at 602-952-2410 or Our nation has a duty to provide the best quality of care to those who have served and sacrificed on our behalf, and we must hold to account those responsible for breaking faith with that solemn obligation.

Wildfire Season

With the horror of the 19 brave Granite Mountain Hotshots lost last summer still on our minds, Arizona is preparing for yet another destructive wildfire season. Last year, wildfires scorched over 4.3 million acres across the United States, and experts warn this season could be worse. I continue to work to strengthen our ability to fight wildfires effectively and safely. While some progress has been made, there is more to do in order to protect Arizonans and their property.
Last December, I wrote – and Congress passed – a law as part of the 2013 Defense Act that directs the transfer of seven C-130H military aircraft to the Forest Service to serve as large air tankers to help fight wildfires. This transfer is crucial to our ability to fight wildfires because most of our fixed-wing firefighting aircraft are old, Korean War-era planes that are no longer fit for fire duty. A decade ago, the Forest Service operated 44 large air tankers but today only have about eight left. This large air tanker transfer is an important start, but more must be done to modernize our wildfire fleet in order to support fire crews on the ground.

Of course, the best way to reduce wildfire severity over time is to thin our overgrown forests. I continue to advocate for the White Mountain Stewardship Contract and the Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI), which aims to rebuild Arizona's once robust timber industry and create jobs that will restore our fire-prone ecosystems. I look forward to Forest Service announcing a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the 4FRI program later this year.

In Case You Missed It This Month
  • Senators Ayotte, Chambliss and I made clear our opposition to the Air Force’s proposed premature retirement of the A-10 – a squadron of which is based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson – until an equally effective close air support replacement reaches full operational capability. Just yesterday I confronted senior Air Force leadership on this key issue. 
  • It was gratifying to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion proving that Fort Huachuca is not jeopardizing endangered species along the water-stressed San Pedro River. 
  • Senator Flake and I asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for a prompt review of Governor Jan Brewer’s request that portions of national forests in Arizona be designated as “insect and disease treatment areas,” which would allow for forest management projects to mitigate the increased risk of wildfires. 
  • The city of Yuma celebrated its centennial this month and I am confident that, building on its remarkable history, Yuma will continue to thrive in the next 100 years as it has for the past century. 
  • I sent a letter with other senators seeking information form Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson about recent media reports that the Department of Homeland Security encountered and released 68,000 illegal aliens with criminal convictions in 2013. 
  • The National Park Service opened 14,650 acres of newly-added land at Petrified Forest National Park to the public. 
  • Senator Flake and I requested a delay in any proceedings to reject Arizona’s fall protection standards for residential construction sites or involve federal control of Arizona construction while there is ongoing action in the Arizona legislature to address OSHA’s concerns.
  • While I was glad to see an increase in Customs officers at Arizona ports of entries, there remains a necessity for additional technology and staffing at our ports of entry to help facilitate trade and commerce with our neighbors in Mexico. 
  • Senator Flake and I received the Spirit of Enterprise Award, an annual honor that recognizes Members of Congress for their support of pro-growth, pro-jobs policies, at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry's "Update From Capitol Hill" luncheon in Phoenix. 
  • I attended a briefing and got a first-hand look at the new F-35s at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma.
Event Spotlight: Judge John Roll Courthouse Dedication Ceremony 
Last week I was honored to be a small part of the ceremony dedicating the new federal courthouse in Yuma to the memory of the late Chief Judge John Roll, who was killed in the January 2011 attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. I cannot imagine a greater example of character or selflessness than Judge Roll and it is only fitting the new Yuma courthouse be named in his honor. Judge Roll was known for his fairness to all who appeared before him in his courtroom. He dedicated his life to public service and was admired for his integrity, kindness and love for the law, for the state of Arizona and for our country. Even in his death, Judge Roll put his fellow man before himself, pulling Congresswoman Giffords’ staffer Ron Barber to the ground and protecting Barber’s body with his own, saving his life. That is true bravery and sacrifice. It is my hope that this building serves as a memorial to Chief Judge Roll and his rich legacy, and inspires those who will serve justice there.