April 18, 2017

Hirono, Moran, Tester Introduce Bill to Provide Disabled Veteran Employees at VA Additional Paid Leave

Follows Hirono Law Signed in 2016 Ensuring FAA and TSA Veterans Don’t Have To Choose Between A Paycheck And Getting The Care They Need

Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced S. 899, the bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veteran Transition Improvement Act, to ensure veterans with a disability rating of 30% or higher who are hired by the VA in critical medical positions can access additional paid sick leave during their first year on the job for the purposes of receiving medical care related to their service-connected condition.

“As the VA works to fill tens of thousands of vacancies at its medical facilities in Hawaii and across the country, we must ensure that additional paid sick leave mandated by Congress is available to the VA’s disabled veteran employees as it is for other federal agency employees. Disabled veterans have already given so much to serve our country, and those who choose to continue their federal service should not have to choose between getting a paycheck and getting the care they need,” Senator Hirono said. “This common-sense legislation will help ensure there are no barriers for future disabled veterans to continue serving their fellow veterans at this critical agency.”

“I’m pleased to support legislation to assist service-disabled veterans in Kansas and across the country in the transition into the federal workforce and civilian life,” Senator Moran said. “This legislation builds on the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act to ensure veterans who sustained wounds or injuries while defending our nation can take time off to seek medical treatment without affecting their livelihood or paycheck. Providing men and women with service-related disabilities greater flexibility to pursue medical care is a simple way to show our gratitude for protecting our freedoms.”

“This bill will help veterans make the difficult transition back to civilian life, and it will ensure the folks who served this nation aren’t punished for getting the care they have earned,” Senator Tester said. “Veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to defend our freedoms and it is critical that they can access the care they need.” 

One hundred and four hours of additional paid sick leave has been available to newly hired eligible veterans at other federal agencies since the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act became effective in November 2016. The law currently applies to most federal agencies, but as certain federal personnel laws do not automatically apply to certain VA medical positions, the additional sick leave will not apply to these positions without a legislative change.

The Hirono-Moran-Tester legislation will ensure that moving forward, all newly hired VA physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, chiropractors, podiatrists, optometrists, dentists and expanded-function dental auxiliaries who are disabled veterans will have parity with their federal counterparts and will not have to face the financial hardship of taking unpaid leave to receive necessary medical treatment. There are over 18,000 vacancies for these positions across the VA health system including over 60 in Hawaii. Hawaii is home to more than 12,000 veterans with a disability rating of 30% or higher.

“Employment of people with disabilities is a high priority here in Hawaii and around the nation,” said Louis Erteschik, Executive Director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center. “This is particularly true for our veterans with disabilities who have given honorable service to their country. The Hawaii Disability Rights Center has been working closely with the Wounded Warriors Program for years and we are delighted to see Senator Hirono introduce this legislation which will close the gaps in federal law that have prevented our veterans from receiving their full opportunities for  public employment. This will help integrate them back into the community and will greatly improve their lives.”

“It is imperative that our great nation protects veterans seeking medical treatment for service-connected disabilities from discrimination or reprisal,” said Charles E. Schmidt, National Commander, The American Legion.  “Under the current Wounded Warrior Federal Leave Act, disabled veterans employed by the VA do not enjoy the same benefits as other veterans who are federal employees.  Specifically, the law as currently written excludes them from participating in the paid sick leave program available to other veteran federal employees.  On the behalf of our 2.2M members around the world, the American Legion strongly urges our elected officials to pass Senator Hirono’s proposed Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran Transition Improvement Act - enabling all qualified veterans in the federal workforce to participate in this important paid sick leave program.” 

“AFGE commends Senator Hirono for extending wounded warrior leave to all VA medical professionals,” said J. David Cox Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Currently, disabled veterans who work in VA health care positions covered by the Title 38 personnel system – such as physicians, nurses, dentists, and optometrists – receive less sick leave than disabled veterans in Title 5 civilian positions. Sen. Hirono’s bill would close this coverage gap so that newly hired VA clinicians can use additional leave in their first year to attend to any medical issues resulting from their service-connected disability, just as other federal employees can do. This bill honors the service of those who choose to care for veterans in the VA after saving lives on the battlefield, and it also would make the VA a more competitive recruiter – helping the agency fill more than 45,000 vacant positions.”

The VA Veteran Transition Improvement Act is also supported by the National Association of VA Physicians and Dentists (NAVAPD), Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Disabled American Veterans, National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and the Federal Managers Association (FMA).

Last October, President Barack Obama signed into law Senator Hirono’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Veteran Transition Improvement Act which extended rights to additional paid sick leave to new disabled veteran employees of the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Senators Moran and Tester were also cosponsors of the law.