By Heather Ansley
Traditionally, August signals a long recess work period for members of Congress. It is during this time that Senators and Representatives devote extra time and attention to meeting with their constituents, touring important facilities in their states and districts, and otherwise reconnecting with the citizens and communities they serve. Both members of the House and Senate typically leave Washington at the beginning of August and do not return until after Labor Day. This year, however, the Senate is taking a shorter recess and will return in the middle of the month.
It is important for constituents to take advantage of these opportunities to educate their elected officials about how different programs and policies affect them. It is particularly important this year as all House seats and one-third of Senate seats are up for election in November. That means that many elected officials will be especially keen to listening to the concerns of their constituents.
During the remainder of this month, we encourage you to connect with your members of Congress about two important issues. First, in June, the President signed the VA MISSION Act of 2018. This historic legislation will require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reform care in the community, assess its infrastructure, and expand access to the Comprehensive Caregiver Program. Expansion of the VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver Program to veterans of all eras has been one of Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA’s) top priorities. If your Representative or Senators were among those who voted yes, now is a good time to reach out to them to say “thank you” for that vote. It is also a good time to urge them to ensure that the law is properly implemented by VA in a timely and effective manner.
Second, PVA has worked very hard to ensure that provisions to improve the air travel experience of people with disabilities are included in a final FAA Reauthorization bill. The House passed its reauthorization bill in April. We are now waiting for the Senate to take action on its version of the reauthorization. Both of these bills include provisions from the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (H.R. 5004/S. 1318). Some of the provisions included in these bills are an increase in civil penalties that can be assessed against an airline when a passenger is injured or his or her wheelchair is broken, creation of a bill of rights for passengers with disabilities, a study regarding the feasibility of using in-cabin wheelchair restraints to allow passengers to fly from their chairs, and the establishment of a Department of Transportation (DOT) advisory committee on the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities.
In order to make these reforms happen, we need a final FAA bill. That means the Senate needs to take up its bill as soon as it returns to Washington to provide time for negotiations with the House. We need a bill that can be agreed to by both Houses of Congress prior to the end of September. That is when the current FAA authorization expires. We need you to let your members of Congress know that you want a final FAA bill that includes disability-related provisions before the end of September.
If you need information about your members of Congress, it is easy to locate. All members of Congress have official websites. Through their websites, you can locate district/state office locations and phone numbers, voting records, and committee assignments. For a list of all members, please visit www.senate.gov and www.house.gov. Another useful information source is The Town Hall Project – www.townhallproject.com – which contains listings of local events and mobile office hours with elected officials. Attending a local event or office hours for your member or someone from his or her staff is a great way to educate them about PVA’s mission and priorities.
Although PVA’s National Government Relations staff members work very hard to advocate for the needs of our members on a daily basis, the voice of a constituent expressing those same concerns is even more powerful. Members of Congress will often remember a conversation with someone they meet who has personally experienced a particular problem or who was served by a specific program. PVA’s members, their families, and stakeholders need to ensure that their voices are heard so that members of Congress will promote the policies and programs that serve and protect veterans with catastrophic disabilities.
For more information on PVA’s advocacy efforts, please visit www.pva.org/research-resources/disability-rights-advocacy.