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Doug Jones wants to make VA nursing home ratings public

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) filed an amendment that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to submit an annual report on or before November 11 (Veteran’s Day) to the U.S. Congress on the ratings given to VA-run nursing homes.

Senator Jones proposed the amendment to H.R. 5895, the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, Military Construction, and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that is currently being considered on the Senate floor.
Jones introduced the amendment after a story published in USA Today and the Boston Globe which showed very poor ratings for the VA nursing facilities in Tuscaloosa and Tuskegee. The reporting was based on secret VA ratings that were formally requested by the two reporters working on the story.

Alabama. Senator Jones’ amendment is cosponsored by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

“Our veterans deserve better than this. As the son of an elderly veteran, learning that out of 133 VA nursing homes nationwide, Tuscaloosa and Tuskegee both rated well below standards our veterans deserve was quite frankly shocking and we need to get to the bottom of this issue,” said Senator Jones. “Alabama prides itself on being as veteran-friendly as any state in the nation, but our veterans and their families need full transparency about these facilities so they can make the best health care decisions for themselves. That’s why I’m proposing this annual report requirement for the VA, which will help meet the President’s stated goal of greater transparency for the agency and better care for our nation’s veterans.”

“The VA must be transparent about the quality of its nursing homes and the care they provide,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This legislation will help assure that VA nursing homes are offering the highest quality of care to veterans and hold the VA accountable to the veterans and family members it serves.”

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“These rankings are appalling,” said Senator Brown. “VA must release this data so we know where these homes are failing and how to improve care for our veterans.”

“When our veterans return home they deserve the absolute best care from the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It is deeply troubling that the VA does not share the evaluations of their nursing home facilities with veterans, their families, and Congress. I am proud to support this amendment to create an annual report that would ensure veterans have full access to information on the quality of VA nursing home facilities. Transparency is critical to ensuring our veterans and their families can feel confident when enrolling in nursing home care. We need to make sure that veterans and their families have a standard of care that is worthy of their sacrifice.”

“Our veterans have dedicated their lives to serving our country and deserve the very best care we have to offer, and this legislation will help ensure that’s exactly what they get,” said Senator Nelson.

According to the VA’s records: 32.64 percent of VA nursing home residents have experienced serious pain in the last five day versus just 5.59 percent of residents in private sector nursing homes. 20.89 percent of VA nursing home residents are being given anti-psychotic drugs versus just 15.48 percent of private sector residents. 16.7 percent have seen marked reductions in their abilities to perform that activities of daily living versus 14.99 percent in private sector nursing homes. 11.96 percent of VA residents have a catheter inserted versus just 1.88 of residents in the private sector. Catheters can increase the chances of dangerous urinary tract infections. 8.51 percent of VA residents have bed sores versus just 5.57 percent of residents in the private sector nursing homes. Bed sores can largely be avoided by attentive staff moving and repositioning the residents. Residents with bed sores are very high risk for infections and premature death.

The VA ranks their nursing home on a five star system with five being the highest and one star being the lowest. Tuskegee and Tuscaloosa are among the lowest rated nursing homes according to the VA’s own grading system.
The amendment would require detailed data sets to be shared about short-term and long-term care furnished by VA nursing homes, specifically addressing: pain, ulcers, use of anti-psychotic medication, use of catheters, patient well-being (fall or major injury), ability to perform daily activities (eating, bathing, using the restroom), physically restrained patients, and patients with urinary tract infections.

This data is not currently available to the public.

The full original reporting by Andrea Estes and Donovan Slack is available here.

Jones was elected on December 12 in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions (R).

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Elections

Roby thanks Trump, Pence for helping her defeat Bright

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) won a resounding victory over former Congressman Bobby Bright. The two had faced off before in 2010 when the Republican Montgomery City Council woman Roby unseated the Democratic incumbent in Bright. Roby won the first contest in a hard fought general election. Eight years later, Bright had switched to the Republican Party and Roby was the incumbent U.S.

Representative. Roby won the rematch in a race that was nowhere near as close as polls had anticipated.
A triumphant Roby thanked a crowded room full of supporters at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center.

“I’m honored and humbled that the people of Alabama’s Second District have again placed their trust and confidence in me, and that I will have the opportunity to continue to do this job on their behalf,” Congresswoman Roby said. “On behalf of my family and me, thank you to each person who went out to the polls today to support me.”

“Over the past several months, Team Roby traveled up and down our district to touch as many voters as we possibly could to remind them why I believe I am best positioned to continue to fight for the conservative values we all hold dear,” Roby said. “To all of the people who took the time to talk with me and my team on your doorstep, on your porch, while driving down the road, or enjoying a meal — please know how much the time you spent with us means to our campaign. We didn’t take one vote for granted, and I truly valued visiting with so many great people on the campaign trail.”

Roby thanked God, her campaign team, the Second Congressional District voters and her family who, “I could not have done this without.” Roby also offered her, “Sincere thanks for President Trump and Vice President Pence for their endorsements and support.”

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Both President Donald J. Trump (R) and Vice President Mike Pence (R) had personally endorsed Roby in her bid for re-election.

“I wake up each and every day trying to be the best representative for you,” Roby told her supporters. “and to be in the best position to fight for your conservative values.”

“I am proud of the race we ran,” Roby said. “We ran a campaign based on fact and record and not on one of character assassination. As your representative I will always try to campaign with civility and grace.”

“Over the last year and a half, it’s been a great privilege to be a part of the conservative momentum and to work alongside my colleagues in Congress and the Trump Administration to push some very important priorities over the finish line,” Roby added. “We are in a unique position to accomplish even more, and I’m eager to continue the fight.”

Roby acknowledged that not everyone in this room is in total agreement on policy; but that is a good thing.

Roby was elected in the 2010 Republican wave election that swept Republicans into control of the House of Representatives after four years of Democratic control. Some conservatives in the district have criticized Roby in the past for being too willing to work with Speakers of the House Paul Ryan and John Boehner before that. Some of those conservatives supported a challenger against Roby in 2016, Wetumpka Tea Party founder Becky Gerritson. GOP voters chose Roby; but then became angry with the Congresswoman over some angry comments that Roby had for Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and her withdrawing her endorsement of Trump.

Conservatives were incensed and Roby faced four primary challengers in the GOP primary. Roby had less than forty percent of the vote in the primary with Bright besting three more conservative challengers.

Between the primary and the primary runoff, the Republican Party however coalesced behind Roby, and are poised to move on to the general election on November 6 with momentum.

At press time, with 82 percent of the vote in Martha Roby had 41,386 votes, 68.2 percent versus Bobby Bright who had just 19,322 votes, 31.8 percent.

Bobby Bright is a former Mayor of Montgomery.

Roby will face Tabitha Isner (D) in the November 6 general election.

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Sewell, LaHood introduce bipartisan bill to strengthen ambulance services, combat fraud

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-Selma) and Congressman Darin LaHood (R-Illinois) have introduced H.R. 6269, a bipartisan bill to prevent upcoming Medicare cuts to reimbursements for ambulance service providers.

In order to pay for better reimbursement rates, the legislation reduces reimbursements for fraudulent ambulance service providers, specifically targeting providers who primarily provide non-emergency transportation.

Rep. Sewell said that the, “Bill ensures that good actors in the ambulance industry don’t have to pay for the crimes of bad actors.”

“It is vital that we support emergency services providers in our rural areas, yet upcoming modifications to Medicare payments threaten to unfairly impact 24-7 emergency ambulance services in rural America,” Rep. LaHood said. “These changes will disrupt providers’ ability to plan and offer comprehensive services around the clock to rural patients, like many of my constituents throughout Central & West Central IL. Our bill would correct this by reforming the program to reflect the reality of the work these providers do in our communities, while continuing to assist all ambulance services to assure they meet the needs of Medicare patients in the 18th District.”

“When emergency strikes, our communities depend on a network of reliable ambulance providers, and today’s bill supports that network by preventing Medicare cuts to ambulance reimbursement,” Rep. Sewell said. “In order to strengthen Medicare, our bill also cracks down on fraud within the ambulance industry, weeding out deceptive providers who take advantage of fragile dialysis patients and drain Medicare of funds with unnecessary ambulance transports. Today’s legislation finds a commonsense solution to the challenge of providing all Americans with access to emergency transportation which Members on both sides of the aisle can support.”

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“I want to thank my colleague Congresswoman Sewell for co-authoring this bipartisan legislation with me, as well as the stakeholders throughout the 18th District, and I look forward to working together to get this vital legislation passed,” Rep. LaHood said.

The bill has been referred Committee on Energy and Commerce, and in addition to the Committee on Ways and Means, for a period to be subsequently determined by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).
The legislation is anticipated to have a bipartisan Senate companion introduced in the coming weeks.

On February 9, 2018, the House passed a government funding bill which included a proposal by Rep. Sewell to increase ambulance reimbursements for providers in rural areas.

Rep. Terri A. Sewell represents the Seventh Congressional District.

Sewell is seeking a fifth term. She has no Republican opponent.

She sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was recently appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Sewell is a Chief Deputy Whip and serves on the Democratic Caucus’s Steering and Policy Committee. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, and Vice Chair of Outreach for the New Democrat Coalition. She is the only Black woman to have ever represented the State of Alabama in the United States Congress.

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After Trump-Putin Summit, Byrne says Russia is an adversary

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald J. Trump (R) held his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.  The two world leaders met alone for two hours and then held a news conference.

President Trump has been widely criticized for his comments at the meeting; by analysts who thought he was not tough enough in his comments to the Russian President.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said, “I applaud President Trump’s decision to start a dialogue with President Putin and I’m glad he is making it a priority. However, we must remember that Russia is not an ally – economically or militarily.”

Byrne stately bluntly, “They are an adversary. The United States should not tolerate actions by the Russians that intervene in our domestic affairs or pose a threat to our national security.”

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) was even more critical of President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Putin in Helsinki.

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“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” Sen. McCain said in a statement. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin,” Sen. McCain continued. “He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world. It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.“
McCain is chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee but has been sidelined recently for most of the last year due to advanced brain cancer.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” McCain stated.

American intelligence sources have claimed that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election. Pres. Putin strongly denied interfering in the 2016 Presidential election.

Pres. Putin said, “The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including election process.”

Pres. Trump appeared to accept Putin’s denial.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said. “Dan Coats [the director of national intelligence] came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) disagreed with that assessment.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” Speaker Ryan said. “That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”

Trump continues to deny that his campaign colluded with the Russian government on the campaign. “I didn’t know the President. There was nobody to collude with.”

(Original reporting by Fox News and the Washington Post contributed to this report.)

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

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Doug Jones wants to make VA nursing home ratings public

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 4 min
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