(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke at the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing titled, “Legislative Presentation of Disabled American Veterans.” More specifically, Heller thanked the witnesses from the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) for their hard work in helping veterans after returning home. Earlier today, Heller received the first-ever DAV Outstanding Senate Legislator of the Year award for 2014.
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke at the Senate Committee on Finance hearing titled, “Jobs and a Healthy Economy.” More specifically, Heller addressed the economic situation in Nevada and offered solutions to give the nation a more competitive marketplace.
The Senate Finance Committee is one of the oldest and most powerful committees in the United States Senate. Jurisdiction for the committee is vast as it covers tax, trade, commerce, health, national security, labor, Social Security, and monetary issues. Membership assignments for the committee are coveted by Senators and only reserved for senior members of the Senate.
REMARKS AS PREPARED:
Mr. Chairman, I’d like to begin by thanking you for holding this critical hearing to focus on our nation’s most pressing issue – the economy.
Promoting real economic recovery and creating jobs must be the top priority for Congress, so I am encouraged that the Finance Committee has made this the first issue we address.
The economic recession affected everyone, but in my home state of Nevada, the effects were especially harmful.
Nevada experienced the nation’s highest unemployment rate – nearly 14% at its peak – as well as the highest foreclosure rate and one of the highest personal bankruptcy rates.
Though our situation has improved, Nevada’s unemployment rate unfortunately remains one of the nation’s highest. The recovery has been slow and thousands of Nevada families are still waiting for a true economic recovery they can see and feel in their pocketbooks.
Americans have been told the economy is getting better, but they aren’t feeling the effects, at least not in Nevada.
Though the national unemployment rate has gone down, millions of Americans have dropped out of the workforce entirely.
The fact is that this Administration’s policies have put up barriers to economic growth.
We have an already burdensome tax code that has only become more complicated under ObamaCare.
Businesses continue to face mountains of new federal rules and regulations.
And we have a health care law that makes it harder to see your doctor, makes it more difficult for employers to grow, and raises taxes on the hardworking American middle class.
To truly grow our economy, there are key issues that deserve the attention of Congress. Americans deserve a cleaner, simpler tax code, trade policies that ensure America’s competitiveness in the growing international marketplace, and health care policies that actually focus on improving access, affordability, and quality.
As a member of this committee, I look forward to working with the Chairman and Ranking Member to move these issues forward.
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing addressing the rules of the committee in the 114th Congress and pending legislation. Heller specifically spoke about his dedication to implementing all of the bills included in the VA Claims Backlog Working Group that he started in 2013, as well as focusing specifically on the needs of Nevada’s veterans.
REMARKS AS PREPARED:
First off, thank you to the Chairman and Ranking Member for your work in moving forward the Clay Hunt SAV Act. This could very well be the first bill signed by the President from this Congress.
I admire the mothers who came before this Committee last Congress to tell their stories about their sons. It took a great amount of courage, and I hope this bill will turn the tide for all the veterans out there who may be facing this problem.
Secondly, I am honored to be back on this Committee for the 114th Congress. Serving on this committee has always been a priority for me, not only because my father and brother are veterans who served, but also because Nevada has 300,000 veterans.
The veterans organizations in my state are a passionate group of people who are truly dedicated to ensuring their fellow veterans and all future service members are cared for.
And last Congress, after it came to light that veterans were mistreated in VA facilities across the nation, this Committee came together to fulfill our oversight responsibilities and hold the VA accountable.
I was proud to be part of the Committee at such a crucial time and am pleased that Chairman Isakson has committed to continuing this oversight and ensuring the Choice Act is implemented properly for our veterans.
However, our work as a Committee is nowhere near complete. There are many other issues our veterans are facing beyond just appointment wait times at VA health care facilities.
As I have stated during every Committee hearing, I believe the disability claims backlog is one of the most pressing issues our veterans are facing.
The VA made a commitment to end the backlog by 2015 so that no veteran waits more than 125 days for their claim to be completed.
Yet today, in my home state of Nevada, nearly 4,000 veterans are waiting longer than 125 days and the Reno VA Regional Office remains one of the worst in the nation. Across the country, 245,000 veterans are also languishing in the VA’s claims backlog.
That is why, in 2013, I started the VA Claims Backlog Working Group along with Senator Casey so that we could come up with solutions to fix the VA backlog permanently.
Together, the Working Group developed a VA Backlog Working Group Report and legislation, which members of this Committee—Ranking Member Blumenthal, Senator Moran, and Senator Tester—all joined in supporting.
While some of the solutions in this bill were implemented by the VA or passed by Congress, there are many reforms that still need to be made to ensure the claims process moves into the 21st Century.
I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Casey and my other colleagues to reintroduce this bill and report so that the VA has the tools it needs to eliminate the backlog.
I also think this Committee has an opportunity to renew its focus on caring for our women veterans.
Given that the number of women veterans will be increasing in the years to come, the VA must do its part to ensure that VA facilities are meeting their needs.
I have been working with a colleague to address many of the issues facing women veterans through legislation, and I hope it is a topic that this Committee can have a hearing on in the months to come.
Lastly, I remain committed to advocating on behalf of the issues facing Nevada’s veterans, locally.
This includes the availability of rural care, transportation to VA facilities, wait times at the Reno and Las Vegas Medical Centers, construction of new VA clinics in Pahrump and Laughlin, among many other priorities.
Again, we have a lot of work ahead as a Committee to truly keep the commitment our nation made to care for those who served and sacrificed.
And the best part of this Committee is that it has a strong history of bipartisanship, so I look forward to working with members of both sides of the aisle to achieve this goal.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Jan 21 2015
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller asked the following questions at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing titled, “Protecting the Internet and Consumers through Congressional Action.”
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke on the Senate floor, urging his colleagues to support the reauthorization and extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). This legislation provides a safeguard for many industries in Nevada, such as hospitality, tourism, and gaming.
REMARKS AS PREPARED:
I rise to speak on the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program. As a member of the Banking Committee and co-author of the Senate TRIA reauthorization bill, this is a critical issue that I have worked on closely with my colleagues on this for over a year.
Madam President Terrorism is a real threat in both rural and urban areas, North, South, East and West. That’s why I have been so involved in trying to get TRIA extended.
I’ve stated this before but I want to re-emphasize this. In my home state, Las Vegas is considered to be one of the leading international business and visitor destination cities in the world. Southern Nevada welcomes 40 million visitors annually and has a population of nearly two million people. We have 35 major hotels along the Las Vegas strip, many of which have 15,000 occupants at once.
If a terrorist attack were to occur in Las Vegas, our entire state economy would be devastated without TRIA.
But, it’s not just about Las Vegas. In Northern Nevada, our visitor and gaming industry is one of the largest private employers in Washoe County, which includes Reno.
They know that unless they can have access to affordable terrorism coverage, they will have difficulty starting new capital projects and creating new jobs.
TRIA has helped many hotels, hospitals, office complexes, shopping centers, colleges and universities have access to terrorism insurance coverage.
While I was disappointed we could not reach an agreement before TRIA expired at the end of 2014, I’m pleased that this legislation has been brought to the floor so quickly by the Majority Leader.
The bill before us today is a good bill. Yesterday, it passed the House with 416 votes. Let me repeat that – 416 Members of the House, both Democrats and Republicans supported this bill.
I strongly support this bill. I urge all of my colleagues to support passage of this bill today.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke on the Senate Floor about his support of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, specifically his support of some public lands provisions. The lands provisions include several Nevada public lands priorities that will grow the Nevada’s economy with mine expansion and development of public land.
REMARKS AS PREPARED:
I rise today to speak in support of some of the public lands provisions that were included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
Before I do so, I would first like to recognize the work Senators Levin and Inhofe have put into this bill and their dedication to reaching an agreement with the House so that this bill can move forward on time as it has for over 50 years.
As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I hear every day about the sacrifices service members make to protect our country.
Passing the authorization bill that helps ensure they have the equipment they need and the resources required to meet the mission they are tasked with is important.
While I am pleased the Senate will be moving forward on this bill, I would like to note that the bill’s reduction in service members’ benefits concerns me. I believe Members should have had the chance to debate and amend this, and I hope the Senate will have that opportunity in the future.
This year, the final defense bill includes several Nevada public lands priorities that will spur economic development and job creation in our state while enhancing U.S. national security. I have been working on many of these proposals since I was first elected to Congress in 2006.
I want to thank incoming Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowksi for her leadership and work on this public lands package.
We have been working together for years on many of the bills included in the package, and I’m glad to see them get across the finish line.
Let me first clarify that just because some of these bills are related to public lands does not mean that they do not have a direct relationship to defense and protecting our national security. My Nevada Copper bill will increase domestic production of copper, the second most used mineral at the Department of the Defense as well as directly benefitting two bases located in the State of Nevada.
Mr. President, as you may know, roughly 85 percent of the land in Nevada is controlled by the federal government. This presents our local and state governments with many unique challenges. Our communities’ economies are directly tied to the way the federal government manages those lands.
They often work closely with me to develop legislative solutions to their problems. Whereas out east, local government can acquire land on their own to build public works projects; out west we unfortunately have to get Congress’ permission.
That is why reducing the federal estate and increasing access to our public lands has been one of my top priorities in Congress, and this package goes a long way towards accomplishing these goals.
It resolves over sixty of these types of issues throughout the west. In total, over 110,000 acres of land will be removed from federal ownership and utilized for mineral production, timber production, infrastructure projects and other community development. In addition, it releases approximately 26,000 acres of current wilderness study areas, which unlocks lands to be used for multiple-use.
It is important to discuss the eight Nevada provisions today, to show my colleagues here the many hoops our western communities have to go through to take the same steps that many eastern communities can accomplish in a day’s time.
The Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act is a jobs bill that I first introduced while in the House but has been held up by Senate gridlock for years.
This bill allows the City of Yerington to partner with Nevada Copper to develop roughly 12,500 acres of land surrounding the Nevada Copper Pumpkin Hollow project site to be used for mining activities, industrial and renewable energy development, and recreation.
Senate passage is the final hurdle to more than 1,000 new jobs at an average wage of over $85,000 per year. The mine will contribute nearly $25 million in property and net proceeds taxes per year that would be distributed to the State, Lyon County, their Schools, the hospital district, and the Mason Valley Fire Protection District.
In addition, Nevada Copper plans to invest $80 million in infrastructure for the mine and processing facilities that can be utilized to support other land uses and economic development. This bill will transform the local economy of the one of the counties in our nation that is struggling most due to the recent economic downturn.
As I said before, Copper is the second most used mineral at the Department of the Defense, and is considered an essential mineral for weapons production.
Copper is also the primary mineral from which other strategic and critical metals like Rhenium are derived. A domestic supply of this important resource greatly benefits our national security.
Second – there is a provision in this package that will allow Naval Air Station Fallon to acquire over 400 acres of BLM land for a safety arc for an explosive ordinance handling facility and to construct the much needed family housing at the station. Both of these plans will greatly benefit mission operations and the quality of life for our brave service members serving there. The station first asked for these lands over twenty years ago. I am glad their wait will finally end.
Third – the package includes the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act, a proposal that has been in the works in Humboldt County for nearly a decade. Just north of the Black Rock Desert, the Pine Forest offers a diverse landscape of sagebrush, aspen and rock formations. Scenic lakes and reservoirs offer world-class trout fisheries.
From the ranchers who make their livelihood on grazing allotments to conservationists’ intent on preserving a rugged landscape, anyone familiar with the place agrees it’s special.
In addition to conserving these areas the bill releases areas from wilderness that needs watershed restoration and treatment due to a high wildfire threat. It also provides for the construction of additional campsites and accommodations for motorized camping.
The initial work on the Pine Forest bill was grassroots driven, transparent, and ultimately supported unanimously by all stakeholders and local governments in this county.
Fourth – the package includes the Elko Motocross and Tribal Conveyance Act, another bill I first introduced in the 111th Congress as a member of the House. This common-sense bill conveys 275 acres of BLM lands to Elko County for a public motocross park. Additionally, it provides 373 acres to the Elko Band of the Te-Moak Tribe for housing and tribal economic development.
Outdoor recreation and tourism are such important parts of life in Nevada. Opening up this land will benefit the residents of Northern Nevada for years to come.
Fifth - this lands package includes the Las Vegas Valley Public Land and Tule Spring Fossil Beds National Monument Act, which is the culmination of several years of effort to conserve the ancient Tule Springs Fossil Beds while providing job creation opportunities and critical civilian and military infrastructure that will be necessary to meet the needs of the Las Vegas Valley.
After working with stakeholders at every level, I am pleased that we can navigate a path forward for southern Nevada.
While serving in the House, I also introduced legislation in both the 110th and 111th Congresses to convey parcels of BLM land to the Nellis Air Force Base, to create an off-highway vehicle park in the Nellis Dunes, and to convey land to the Nevada System of Higher Education to expand educational opportunities for Southern Nevadans.
Those smaller bills were ultimately included in S.973 this Congress, so I am pleased that over six years of work on this Tule Springs legislation will finally become a reality.
The final three Nevada bills included in the lands package are newer proposals, but achieve long-term economic development objectives that the affected communities have long-pursued.
The Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act provides Fernley the opportunity to purchase up to 9,114 acres of federal land within the city boundaries for the purpose of economic development.
Fernley was incorporated in 2001. Since incorporation, the City has been working with private business partners and state and federal regional agencies to develop a long-term economic development plan. These parcels have significant potential for commercial and industrial development, agriculture activities, and the expansion of community events.
Similarly, the Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act allows Carlin to purchase up to 1,329 acres of BLM lands. This city, located in Elko County, is completely landlocked by federal land. Without this legislation, it would be impossible for their leaders to meet the demand for expansion their growing population needs.
Finally, the Storey County provision conveys over 1,700 acres of BLM lands to Virginia City. These properties have been occupied for decades by individuals who purchased them or acquired them legally, yet their continued residency is trespass according to the federal government.
It is a very burdensome oversight by the federal government that must be resolved for the sake of my constituents. They have struggled for years haunted by this error that is the result of no fault of their own.
As you can see, these small public lands proposals are going to make a MAJOR impact on Nevada’s economy. They have all been developed at the local level and signed off on by the local communities
I understand my colleagues concerns that would have liked the opportunity to debate and vote on more amendments to this bill. I too, had filed a number of amendments that I would have liked to see considered and will continue pushing those priorities next year.
Right now, Congress has the rare opportunity to pass this public lands package that enables important mining, energy development, ranching, and timber work to go forward generating economic and employment opportunities for my and other states and local residents. Let’s get the government off these Nevadans’ backs and allow them to do what they do best – creating jobs.
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke at the Commerce Committee hearing addressing the nomination of Mark Rosekind to be administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, along with two other nominations. More specifically, Heller emphasized the importance of Americans knowing they are safe in their vehicles and of employees of NHTSA having proper knowledge of technological features in these cars to ensure safety for consumers.
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke at the Commerce Committee hearing, “Addressing Domestic Violence in Professional Sports,” about the necessity to hold professional sports leagues and players accountable for their actions in domestic violence disputes.
REMARKS AS PREPARED:
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate the committee’s attention to this important issue.
I know there are some that may question why Congress is involved in this issue. Let me explain why. Every minute in the United States, 20 people will experience domestic violence.
Last night, more than 20,000 phone calls were made to domestic violence hotlines. One in three women will experience physical violence from a partner in their lifetime. And children exposed to domestic violence are more likely commit domestic violence later in life. As a husband, and as a father of two wonderful daughters, this is simply unacceptable and something that must be changed.
These numbers aren’t just statistics – they’re people. They are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. The witnesses before us today represent the most popular and commercially successful sports leagues in the world. Their star players are household names and role models for fans and aspiring young athletes.
In the past few years, we’ve witnessed some truly shocking acts from some of these public figures. But just as concerning is how the leagues handled these situations and how the unions protected these players.
It’s very clear to me that getting these players back on the field was more important than addressing incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, even child abuse. The leagues and the unions simply brushed these problems aside and left it to the courts.
Only when a video surfaced of the brutal punch an NFL player landed on his wife did the collective conscience of America demand these leagues and unions change their approach.
I can only imagine what survivors feel like today. As I wrote in a letter earlier this year to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, by waiting until the video of a shocking act of domestic violence by one of their players became public, they effectively condoned the action of this player.
I believe the same holds true for the players association and in fact don’t think you even understand the full scope of the problem.
When the Ray Rice decision was overturned the NFL Players Association said:
“This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent, this union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players.”
This is not about due process. This is not about the collective bargaining agreement you do not like anymore and want to change. This is not about any type of labor issues you may have with the league.
This is about helping to stop a terrible problem in society. Wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends are being beaten. When you are worrying more about getting back on the field instead of stopping abuse, your priorities are out of order.
Instead of addressing the problem, inadequate or nonexistent league policies and codes of conduct mean that aggressors have not been dealt with appropriately, and the survivors of domestic violence have been left behind.
There is no place in any society for these horrifying acts of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Our nation’s professional sports leagues have a unique ability to make a difference.
The American people need you to step up and this committee wants to know what you’re going to do to take a stand.
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller questioned auto executives during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing examining airbag defects and the vehicle recall process.
Senator Heller first asked a Takata Corporation executive if his company took responsibility for its actions.
Senator Heller then asked a Honda executive if members of his own family were safe driving Honda vehicles.
(Washington, DC) – Today, United States Senator Dean Heller spoke at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, “Mental Health and Suicide Among Veterans,” about the importance of addressing the VA’s disability claims backlog in order to speed up services for mental health treatment and lower suicide rates for veterans.
REMARKS AS PREPARED:
First, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge two witnesses here today, Mrs. Selke and Mrs. Pallotta. I cannot begin to imagine your loss and I truly admire your bravery coming here today to talk about your sons. They served our country with valor and we must honor that by making sure every veteran from here on out is cared for when they return home.
Chairman Sanders and Ranking Member Burr—I also want to thank you for bringing this issue before the Committee, especially because of the impact it has on veterans in my state.
To put it in perspective—between 2008 and 2012, 593 veterans from Nevada were lost to suicide.
Six months ago, I would have looked at that number and asked why is it so high? What is missing within the VA or VA benefits that so many of Nevada’s veterans resort to this?
I think we now know that a big part of the problem is veterans’ access to care at VA facilities. This is such a critical thing to get right at the VA because of the ripple effect it has on a veteran’s well-being.
Whether it is medical care, mental health treatment, or support during transition to civilian life, veterans being forced to wait for care from the VA can be detrimental.
That is why I have asked the Las Vegas VA Director to send me reports about wait times for primary care, specialty care, and mental health treatment for Southern Nevada’s Veterans.
Every two weeks, for both Las Vegas and Reno, I track these numbers for improvements.
In the most recent data, patients already receiving mental health care from VA facilities in Nevada wait a week or less for an appointment.
Unfortunately, the average wait time for new patients seeking mental health treatment is 23 days in Reno and 46 days in Las Vegas.
Even worse, a clinic in Northwest Las Vegas has an average wait time of 64 days for new patients.
Veterans in need of mental health treatment absolutely cannot be waiting more than 2 months to be seen.
I have been pushing every one of these facilities to improve these wait times in the coming months and want to hear from the VA today about what resources it will be devoting to mental health treatment.
We must also remember that scheduling an appointment is not the only barrier to receiving care. Veterans must also qualify for this care.
One of the best ways to ensure veterans qualify for mental health services is by reducing the VA’s disability claims backlog.
Veterans with post-traumatic stress who have a PTS-related claim approved will be able to access VA’s mental health services and treatment.
This claims backlog is an issue I have brought up during every Committee hearing because I believe it should be a top priority of the VA and of this Committee.
That is why I sent a letter to the Chairman requesting that he re-schedule a legislative hearing to consider my bipartisan bill to address the VA claims process.
Nevada Veterans have one of the longest waits in the nation at 248 days on average to complete a claim, and 240,000 veterans nationwide are still waiting longer than the VA’s 125-day deadline.
Until this backlog is eliminated, veterans will continue to face delays to accessing the mental health treatment they need.
With 22 veteran suicides a day and nearly 600 veteran suicides in Nevada over the past five years, it is clear that something must be done to improve the current state of mental health services at the VA.
The VA facilities in my state know that I will use my oversight role on this Committee to continue holding them accountable for performance, timeliness and the quality of care they provide to Nevada’s veterans.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today about what VA is doing to address this crisis and how Congress can help in this effort.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.