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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.”

“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.”

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“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.

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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).

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Jones applaudes inclusion of his anti-money laundering legislation in defense bill

The bill aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks during a live-streamed press briefing. (VIA SEN. DOUG JONES'S OFFICE)

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and a bipartisan group of three other senators applauded the inclusion of their anti-money laundering legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Jones and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, in September 2019 introduced their Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act which aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals. 

“For too long, our anti-money laundering laws haven’t kept up with the rapidly evolving methods that criminals and terrorists use for illicit financial activities,” Jones said in a statement Thursday. “Our bipartisan bill is the largest comprehensive effort in decades to improve transparency and will give prosecutors, national security officials, law enforcement, and financial institutions the modern tools they need to crack down on money laundering and terrorist financing. Its inclusion in the annual defense bill is a great step forward for the rule of law and for the security of all Americans.” 

If approved as part of the NDAA, the ILLICIT CASH Act will require shell companies, which are often used to launder money from criminal enterprises, to disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury. It would also improve communication between law enforcement, financial institutions and regulators, according to a press release from Jones’s office.

According to research from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University, the U.S. remains one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous shell company. A recent report by Global Financial Integrity found that in every state in the U.S. more information is currently required to obtain a library card than to register a company. 

“To form a company in any state in the U.S., it is not necessary to identify or provide any information about the person(s) who will ultimately be controlling the company. In some cases it isn’t even necessary to provide information about who will be managing the company and, where some information about managers (i.e. officers or directors) is required, it is very limited,” the report states. 

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“Human traffickers, terrorist groups, arms dealers, transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, drug cartels, and rogue regimes have all used U.S.-registered shell companies to hide their identities and facilitate illicit activities,” the press release reads. “Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies find it increasingly difficult to investigate these illicit financial networks without access to information about the beneficial ownership of corporate entities involved.” 

The ILLICIT CASH Act includes the following elements: 

  • Setting national exam and supervision priorities to improve AML-CFT outcomes and better target federal resources in the effort to identify evolving criminal and national security threats.
  • Establishing federal disclosure requirements of beneficial ownership information that will be maintained in a comprehensive federal registry, with strict privacy protections, accessible by federal and local law enforcement.
  • Improving the recruitment and retention of top talent to combat money laundering and terrorism by providing special hiring authority at the Department of Treasury and FinCEN.  
  • Prioritizing innovation and technology in AML-CFT monitoring and reporting through the establishment of a new Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology, updated guidance on financial technology risk assessments, and a Financial Crimes Tech Symposium.
  • Facilitating communication and information sharing between FinCEN, national security agencies, law enforcement and financial institutions through the establishment of new programs and reporting mechanisms.  
  • Requiring law enforcement agencies and regulators to formally review regulations within the Bank Secrecy Act to ensure regulations, guidance, reports and records are highly useful in countering financial crime. 
  • Requiring streamlined data and real time reporting of suspicious activity reports, and requiring law enforcement to coordinate with financial regulators to provide periodic feedback to financial institutions on their suspicious activity reporting.
  • Prioritizing the protection of personally identifying information while establishing a clear path for financial institutions to share AML-CFT information for the purposes of identifying suspicious activity.
  • Preventing foreign banks from obstructing money laundering or terrorist financing investigations by requiring these banks to produce records in a manner that establishes their authenticity and reliability for evidentiary purposes, and compelling them to comply with subpoenas. This legislation also authorizes contempt sanctions for banks that fail to comply and increase penalties on repeat BSA violators. 
  • Ensuring the inclusion of current and future payment systems in the AML-CFT regime by updating the definition of “coins and currency” to include digital currency.

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Congress

Mike Rogers will be most powerful Republican in the House on national defense

Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, has been elected the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee by the House GOP Steering Committee for the next Congress.

Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. Rogers defeated Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the ranking member of the House Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, in the race.

The full House GOP conference is expected to ratify the Steering Committee’s decision in the coming days.

Current ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is retiring.

The House Armed Services Committee is tasked with crafting the National Defense Authorization Act. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, recently named Rogers a conferee on the conference committee tasked with preparing the 2021 NDAA.

“I am honored to once again be named an NDAA Conferee,” Rogers said. “Being at the table to negotiate the NDAA is more important than ever. With more threats to our great nation every day, I will continue to advocate for a strong National Defense.”

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Rogers was a strong proponent of creating the Space Force as a new military branch.

Democrats were able to narrowly maintain control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 elections. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, leads one of the smallest majorities anyone has had in the House since World War II. That, and if the Republicans can hold onto their majority in the Senate, means that Republicans will have a sizeable influence on defense policy during the Biden presidency.

If Republicans can pick up seats in the 2022 midterms, Rogers presumably would chair the House Armed Services Committee. Under House GOP rules, a member can be a ranking member or a chairman of a committee for just three terms until they are term-limited out of that role.

The popular Rogers easily defeated his Democratic challenger in the 2020 election to win his 10th term representing Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.

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Health

Alabama breaks daily COVID-19 case, hospitalization record again Thursday

Coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.

Eddie Burkhalter

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An aerial view of Huntsville and Huntsville Hospital, where medical staff are treating a record number of COVID-19 patients.

For a second straight day, Alabama’s daily COVID-19 case count was at a record high on Thursday, and coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,531 new cases Thursday, and the state has averaged 2,461 cases each day for the last two weeks, a 28 percent increase over the previous two weeks. 

The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force state report for Alabama, released Sunday, shows that shows 90 percent of Alabama counties had moderate or high levels of community transmission last week, while 64 percent had high transmission levels. The state ranked 19th highest in the percentage of tests that were positive. 

Coronavirus is surging across the country, with cases per day increasing more than seven times the levels seen in the U.S. before the summer surge, and hospitalizations are three times as high now as then, according to the report. The U.S. reported record high cases and deaths Wednesday. 

“It must be made clear that if you are over 65 or have significant health conditions, you should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to your health,” the report states. “You should have groceries and medications delivered.” 

The report warns that for those under 40 “you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period” if you gathered beyond your immediate household. 

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“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others, and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report continues. 

The number of people in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday reached 1,827. That’s nearly 40 percent higher than two weeks ago. Huntsville Hospital had a record-high 338 COVID-19 patients on Thursday, after a string of record-setting daily hospitalizations. UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients Wednesday and 125 on Thursday.

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Testing statewide remains low. The average positivity rate over the last week was 34 percent. Public health experts say it should be below 5 percent to ensure adequate testing is being done to prevent cases from going undetected. 

The state averaged 8,517 tests each day over the last two weeks, down from the two week average of 9,407 recorded on Nov. 26.

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National

U.S. Chamber announces support for a coronavirus aid bill before Christmas

The Chamber is supporting a $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it strongly supports coronavirus relief legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday.

“For pandemic relief to become law, it must be bipartisan,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We are greatly encouraged that a bipartisan group of House and Senate members along with the Problem Solvers Caucus have released an outline that can potentially break the partisan gridlock that has prevented long-overdue pandemic relief. Between this effort and the recent revisions to the Senate Republican proposal — which maintains critical elements especially with respect to liability protection — we believe there is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate a bill that can become law.”

While it is critical that lawmakers get the details right, time is of the essence. American families cannot wait until next year, Bradley said.

“The Chamber urges lawmakers to support bipartisan efforts to enact pandemic relief in the coming weeks,” he said. “We also urge lawmakers to work with the business community to ensure that relief reaches small businesses as soon as possible and that liability reforms provide meaningful protections like in the ‘Safe to Work Act’.”

Before the election, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included stimulus checks for every family in America. That costly package was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate like their earlier $4.4 trillion HEROES Act proposal, which they passed in the early summer. Senate Republicans supported a $500 billion “skinny” package that failed because Senate Democrats filibustered. Senate Democrats also killed a $500 billion extension of the Payroll Protection Program.

The $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal does not mail out a second round of checks to every family like the CARES Act did. To get Democratic support, this bill — unlike the two Republican bills — does include $160 billion in support for state and local governments. Small businesses would receive $288 billion, at least partially through the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP loans would keep people on payrolls through the holiday season and into next year. The unemployed would be paid an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits for four months, totaling $180 billion. There is also $82 billion earmarked for education and $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution.

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The latest bipartisan proposal was put together in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah.

In the House of Representatives, it is supported by Democrats Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Republicans Fred Upton of Michigan, Tom Reed of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota.

In a joint news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said that they could support the legislation but that they want some tweaks to it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called the bill a “waste of time,” saying that he thought it was too big and is still supporting his $500 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say they are concerned that a large third stimulus bill would only add to the debt.

The incoming Biden administration’s transition team is also supporting the bill.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing companies of all sizes across every sector of the economy. Members range from the small businesses and local chambers of commerce that line the main streets of America to leading industry associations and large corporations.

(Original reporting by Newsweek, Fox News, and CBS News contributed to this report.)

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