From the Hill – March 2022

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of joining Chapter President Michael Negrete and NEPVA members Debra Freed and Chuck Houle to participate in PVA’s annual Pushing Access Forward seminar. Though the seminar and corresponding congressional meetings were held virtually again this year due to the pandemic, it was a very successful week spent learning of the issues affecting members across the country and of PVA’s compelling legislative solutions to address them. 

Our NEPVA delegation had an opportunity to meet with staff of many of our New England Congressional offices. Over the course of three days, we briefed the staff of Senator Sanders, Senator Murphy, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Shaheen, Senator Collins, Congressman McGovern, Congressman Moulton, Congresswoman Pingree, and Congressman Golden. We also had the honor to speak directly with Congressman Larson and Senator Whitehouse, and are thrilled to announce that both Members agreed to cosponsor the legislative issues that we discussed. 

In large part due to Michael, Debra, and Chuck’s willingness to share their personal experiences and take the time to serve our Chapter, we received very positive and promising feedback during our discussions.  I look forward to keeping you informed of the New England Delegation’s official pledges of support for these issues and continuing our conversations with staff in the district offices.

As always, if you would like to join our growing advocacy team, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected]. In the meantime, please review the issues below and reach out to your Representatives if you don’t see their names listed as a cosponsor to our critical pieces of legislation.

PVA’s 2022 Legislative Priorities

I’m thrilled to announce Paralyzed Veterans of America’s 2022 legislative priorities. These issues reflect areas of concern for our members, as both veterans with spinal cord injury or disease and people living with disabilities. However, as an organization and a Chapter, we remain a steadfast advocate for all veterans and all people with disabilities. 

While the complete list of our 2022 priorities can be found on our website, I’d like to share a few of the issues that we discussed in great detail with the New England Congressional Delegation. 

Improve Access to Transportation for Catastrophically Disabled Veterans

We continued our advocacy on the AUTO for Veterans Act, which would allow eligible veterans to receive an Automobile Allowance Grant every ten years for the purchase of an adapted vehicle.

During our congressional briefings, we emphasized that access to an adapted vehicle is essential to the mobility and health of catastrophically disabled veterans who need a reliable means of transportation in order to work, attend medical appointments, and maintain independence. We also discussed how the substantial costs of modified vehicles, coupled with inflation, present a very significant financial hardship for our members who need to replace their primary mode of transportation once it reaches its lifespan. Finally, we raised the needs of our members with non-service-connected injuries, and advocated that they should receive the same type of adaptive automobile equipment as veterans with service-connected injuries.

Current New England Congressional Delegation Cosponsors of the AUTO Act: Senator Susan Collins (lead Senate sponsor); Senator Hassan; Senator King; Senator Whitehouse; Senator Blumenthal; Congresswoman Pingree; Congressman Golden; Congressman Moulton; Congresswoman Pressley; Congresswoman Hayes; Congressman Himes; Congresswoman Kuster; and Congressman Larson.

Strengthen the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

We also discussed our Chapter’s support for the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act. This legislation would: 1) strengthen ACAA administrative enforcement and establish a private right to action; as well as, 2) ensure new airplanes are designed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities by requiring airlines to meet defined accessibility standards. These standards will ensure safe and effective boarding and deplaning, visually accessible announcements, seating accommodations, restrooms, and better stowage options for assistive devices. They would also require the removal of access barriers on existing airplanes to the extent that it is readily achievable and may be done without much difficulty or expense.

We shared experiences of PVA members being injured while boarding planes, of wheelchairs being damaged while stored, and of airline staff not being properly trained to understand the difficulties that a wheelchair-bound person experiences while flying. The personal stories seemed to really resonate with congressional staff, and we hope that our conversations will translate into more members of our New England Congressional Delegation cosponsoring this important piece of legislation.

Current New England Congressional Delegation Cosponsors of the ACAA: Congressman Pingree; Congressman Pappas; Congresswoman Pressley; Congressman Larson; Senator Blumenthal; Senator Markey; Senator Hassan; and Senator Whitehouse.

Improve Access to Fertility Services Through VA

We asked the New England Congressional Delegation to repeal VA’s ban on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and make these services a regular part of the medical benefits package available to veterans by passing the Veteran Families Health Services Act. We are asking Congress to specifically pass legislation to authorize VA to provide assisted reproductive technology, including IVF, surrogacy, and gamete donation at VA for any veterans enrolled in VA health care who are living with infertility, including the authorization of service provision to non-veteran partners. 

We echoed the belief that our country has a moral obligation to restore what has been lost to our service men and women. We reminded congressional staff that our members served this nation well, many sustaining life-changing injuries while doing so, and they deserve the chance to start a family. If you have experienced infertility as a result of your injury, and would be willing to discuss this issue with me either privately or in a meeting with your Representative, please contact me at [email protected]. 

Current New England Congressional Delegation Cosponsors of the Veteran Families Health Services Act: Senator Warren; Senator Markey; Senator Sanders; Senator Blumenthal; Senator Shaheen; Senator Hassan; Senator Whitehouse; Congressman McGovern; Congresswoman Hayes; Congressman Moulton; Congressman Auchincloss; Congresswoman Trahan; Congresswoman Pressley; Congressman Himes; Congresswoman Kuster; and Congressman Larson.

Strengthen and Enhance Social Security for People with Disabilities

More than 9 million veterans and their families receive retirement, disability or survivor benefits from Social Security and, together, they comprise approximately 35 percent of the Social Security beneficiary population.

We asked Members of Congress to cosponsor and favorably vote for the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust Act. This legislation would strengthen and enhance Social Security benefits by ending the five-month wait for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); eliminate the SSDI “cash cliff,” which hinders the ability of beneficiaries to return to work; provide credits under Social Security to ensure that caregivers are not penalized in retirement for leaving the workforce to provide care for children or other dependents; and make other needed improvements and reforms.

Current New England Congressional Delegation Cosponsors to Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust: Senator Blumenthal (lead Senate sponsor); Senator Whitehouse; Congressman Larson (lead House sponsor); Congressman Neal; Congresswoman DeLauro; Congressman Courtney; Congressman Himes; Congresswoman Hayes; Congressman Auchincloss; Congressman Cicilline; Congresswoman Clark; Congressman Keating; Congresswoman Kuster; Congressman Langevin; Congressman Lynch; Congressman McGovern; Congressman Moulton; Congresswoman Pingree; Congresswoman Pressley; Congresswoman Trahan; and, Congressman Welch.

Improve Access to Health Care for Women Veterans

Women veterans and women in uniform are more likely to receive a breast cancer diagnosis than their civilian counterparts but yet mammography services whether in VA or the community are still often not fully accessible for wheelchair users.

We asked Members to cosponsor the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options for Veterans Act which would improve access to breast imaging services for veterans. The bill would also mandate a study on the accessibility of mammography services within VA and require VA to update its policies and directives for community care, ensuring that external sites are accessible and are informed on best practices for screening paralyzed and disabled veterans. If you have faced hurdles in accessing mammography screenings, please consider reaching out to me to share your story.

Current New England Congressional Delegation Cosponsors to the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options for Veterans Act: Senator Collins; Congresswoman Pressley; and, Congressman Keating.

How you can help our advocacy efforts

All of the information you need to respond and take action on any of PVA’s legislative priorities, including those listed above, is available here: https://www.votervoice.net/PVA/campaigns/78011/respond.  Please take a moment to fill in your information so an automated email in support of these issues will be sent directly to your Representatives in Congress. 

If you are interested in participating and joining our growing New England PVA’s advocacy team, please reach out to me at [email protected] or 571-289-8276. I look forward to speaking with you and telling you more about this opportunity!

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