Washington, D.C. – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald will visit Boise on Tuesday to speak with patients and staff at the VA Medical Center. 

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo urged McDonald to visit Idaho to learn firsthand the concerns of Idaho veterans over heath care and other services.  Crapo’s invitation came after he heard of Idahoans’ concerns through two years’ worth of surveys with Idaho vets.  Crapo has since sponsored health care reform legislation for veterans. 

Because the Secretary is visiting while the U.S. Senate is in session, Crapo staff will represent him during the visit.  Crapo has invited veterans and their representatives to attend a working session that will include Idaho representatives from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Vets and other groups the Senator has been working with to assist Idaho vets.  The Veterans Affairs Administration currently plans for the Secretary to meet with VA employees, patients and service providers, including those working with the Veterans Choice Program (VCP).

In the invitation to the Secretary to visit Idaho, Crapo noted the Veterans Choice Program is not working for many veterans.  “The results demonstrate the VA has much more work to do to meet the needs of veterans,” Crapo said. “The surveys, as well as personal visits with veterans throughout the state, also show the greatest gap between veterans’ expectations and VA delivery is health care.  For many, the Veterans Choice Program simply is not working as it should.”

In other Washington news, Crapo and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued a joint statement during a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a draft wildfire funding bill:

“The issue of fixing fire borrowing has been a bipartisan issue for as long as we all have been working on it. I want to give a little perspective on behalf of Senator Crapo and myself. 

“When Senator Crapo and I started on this journey some thought fire borrowing was a western problem looking for western solutions.  It’s now known, however, that shortchanging the Forest Service budget is a national problem. Fire borrowing has the attention of our colleagues from New York to Wisconsin – both states with forest lands – because even if they don’t suffer from the catastrophic fires in the West, fire borrowing robs timber projects, restoration logging, recreation and other forest projects in states across the country.  All other forest work nationwide gets put on hold every time there is a significant fire season in the West.  And the wildfires are not getting any better, in fact, they’re getting bigger, they’re lasting longer, and they’re costing more each year.

“Senator Crapo and I want to emphasize the importance of this hearing and the wildfire funding discussion draft being reviewed today as steps toward fixing the way the federal government funds wildland firefighting.  This broken and dysfunctional system has tied the hands of the agencies for many years.  It is now practically common knowledge that wildfires eat up a significant amount of the Forest Service budget – 52 percent, in fact. 

“At the same time, Senator Crapo and I are well aware of our colleagues’ desire to discuss wildfire funding reforms only if coupled with broader forestry reforms.  However, Senator Crapo and I want to ensure that the wildfire funding piece, the piece that has broad, bipartisan support, does not get lost in this discussion. 

“And let me be clear:  fixing forest fire budgeting will allow the Forest Service to do more of the work in the woods that it is already authorized to do.

“There must be a concerted effort to control the continued erosion of the Forest Service budget that is needed to fight fires.  If the 10-year average cost of fighting fires isn’t contained, like the fires themselves, it will continue to rage out of control.  The Congress cannot in good conscience let another fire year go by, with lives and property at stake, without fixing this once and for all.”