President Joe Biden signed into law this week three new bills designed to clear up lingering concerns with veterans policy issues, including a better accounting of how pandemic funds are being spent by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
All three measures easily passed Congress earlier this month and were approved by the president without comment.
The accounting bill, named the “VA Transparency and Trust Act of 2021,” will require department officials to provide biweekly reports to Congress about how pandemic relief funds are being spent and mandate the VA Inspector General look into those costs for any evidence of fraud or waste.
The idea was pushed by Republican lawmakers (but also backed by Democratic members of Congress) who voiced concerns about nearly $17 billion in emergency funding given to VA leaders as part of pandemic spending plans earlier this year.
Department officials have said the money would largely go to offsetting health care costs, but lawmakers will now get a more specific and timely accounting of that spending.
More than 61,000 patients have been hospitalized in VA hospitals in the last 20 months for coronavirus-related illnesses, and more than 16,600 have died from complications related to the virus.
The second bill mandates a report by VA officials within a year on “the policies, use, and maintenance of cameras deployed by the department for patient safety and law enforcement.”
A lack of cameras in VA hospitals have been a concern among lawmakers for years, especially in areas with patients who are prone to self harm.
The new bill will not require the installation of any new cameras, but is designed to get a better sense of how the existing equipment is being used and where gaps in coverage might exist.
The final bill signed by Biden, known as the “Veterans and Family Information Act,” will require VA make all fact sheets for the department available in the 10 most commonly spoken languages in America other than English.
The goal of the change is to ensure that veterans and caregivers for them have all the information available to ensure they can access services when needed.
Department officials have six months to report to Congress on how much translating those fact sheets will cost and when the work will be complete.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.