Government Matters: Week in review, April 17-21

Peters cosponsors legislation to establish national registry for firefighters suffering from cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of deaths for firefighters


By WKTV Contributor


U.S Senator Gary Peters announced he is cosponsoring bipartisan legislation to establish a national registry that would better monitor cancer diagnoses in firefighters. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act would also improve voluntary data collection to track and respond to firefighters’ unique health care needs. Firefighters are exposed to hazardous toxins and carcinogens in the line of duty and have a higher risk for cancer, which is a leading cause of death for career firefighters. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, nearly 60% of firefighters will die from cancer.


“Firefighters put their lives on the line every day to help protect our homes and our communities, and in return they deserve to receive the best care possible,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.


The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act would create a voluntary registry to collect and catalog health data related to the high instances of cancer among firefighters. The registry would include information such as years of service, number of fire incidents responded to, and any additional occupational risk factors. The data will be made publicly available to researchers to help support groundbreaking research to determine any link between exposure to toxins and cancer, and develop better protective gear and prevention techniques to improve firefighter safety.


According to a 2010 study by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) firefighters have a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer compared to the general population. Firefighters are also much more likely to be diagnosed with unique forms of cancer, such as malignant mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure.


Peters cosponsors bipartisan bill to promote research and development of wood products for building construction

By Allison Green


U.S Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), has announced he is cosponsoring bipartisan legislation to encourage research and development of innovative uses for wood as a building material in the construction of tall buildings over 85 feet in height. The Timber Innovation Act of 2017, which was introduced by U.S Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), would direct the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish programs to advance and improve environmentally-friendly wood building construction, support Michigan’s forestry industry and encourage good stewardship of forestry resources. According to a 2015 report from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Michigan’s forestry industry supports approximately 87,000 jobs and contributed nearly $17.8 billion to the state’s economy.


“Michigan’s forests are not only beautiful, they are an important economic resource for our state, especially in our rural communities in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula,” said Senator Peters.


While lumber and wood products have been a key part of construction for centuries, most wood buildings do not exceed three to four stories in height. Recent developments in wood products engineering and new technologies, such as laminated timber and lumber, have encouraged greater use of wood in larger construction projects. According to the USDA, wood building materials are often more sustainable and environmentally friendly than other common building materials.


The Timber Innovation Act would build on recent developments in wood construction by promoting research and development through the National Forest Products Lab and American colleges and universities to identify new methods for the construction of wood buildings and to study the commercialization, safety, and environmental impact of tall wood building materials. The bill would also create a Wood Innovation Grant program to encourage builders to adopt emerging technologies and cutting-edge wood products, and launch an annual Tall Wood Building Competition to promote the development of new tall wood building designs.


Peters cosponsors legislation to improve access to care for women veterans

By Allison Green


U.S. Senator Gary Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, announced he is cosponsoring bipartisan legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide better access to services to help meet the unique health care needs of women veterans. The Deborah Sampson Act, named for a woman who disguised herself to serve in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, would improve access to specialized services, like maternity and newborn care. According to the VA, there are approximately 2 million women veterans across the country, including more than 46,000 in Michigan.


“As the number of women veterans continues to grow, we must ensure that they are able to access the care and services they have earned by serving our country in uniform,” said Senator Peters.


The Deborah Simpson Act would improve access to support services, including counseling and legal support for issues such as housing, eviction and child support issues. The bill also improves health care for women veterans by requiring every VA facility to have at least one women’s health primary care provider on staff, authorizing funding to retrofit VA facilities to enhance privacy and provide a better care environment, and expanding coverage for specialized services including maternity and newborn care.


Peters, colleagues to urge Trump to quickly nominate government watchdogs

Inspectors General needed to conduct critical oversight and investigations of taxpayer dollars


By WKTV Contributor


U.S Senator Gary Peters, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management, joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues to send a letter urging President Donald Trump to quickly nominate qualified candidates for Inspectors General (IGs), who serve as watchdogs at federal agencies. According to a 2014 report from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), for every federal dollar invested in the IG community, IGs recoup 18 dollars in potential savings from identifying waste, fraud, and abuse.


“While many acting IGs have served admirably in the absence of permanent leadership, the lack of a permanent leader threatens to impede the ability of these offices to conduct the oversight and investigations necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected, public safety risks are identified, and that whistleblowers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse are protected,” the senators wrote. “In addition, the lack of a permanent IG can create the potential for conflicts of interest and diminish the essential independence of IGs.”


Many government agencies have an independent Office of the Inspector General that is responsible for auditing federal programs in order to improve government operations and target waste, fraud, and abuse, as well as investigating whistleblower claims and allegations of wrongdoing. The following agencies currently lack a presidentially-appointed permanent Inspector General: Department of the Interior, Export-Import Bank of the United States, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Office of Personnel Management, Social Security Administration, National Security Agency, Small Business Administration and Intelligence Community. The United States Postal Service, AbilityOne Commission, and the Federal Election Commission have Inspectors General vacancies that the agencies are required to fill. The members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had previously sent a similar letter to President Obama urging him to fill Inspectors General vacancies.


Peters cosponsors bill to help more veterans suffering from PTSD receive mental health treatment

By WKTV Contributor


U.S Senator Gary Peters has announced he is cosponsoring legislation to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide mental and behavioral health services to certain former servicemembers who received less than honorable discharges, also known as “bad paper” discharges. The Honor Our Commitment Act of 2017 would extend eligibility for VA mental health benefits to individuals with bad paper discharges who are suffering from mental health disorders as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained during their service.


“Our veterans put their lives on the line in service to our country, and they have earned the right to get the treatment they need for injuries sustained during their service, including the invisible wounds of war like PTSD and traumatic brain injuries,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I am proud to join my colleagues in supporting this legislation that will ensure our brave service members can get the health care services they need both during and after their military service.”


A less than honorable discharge, or bad paper discharge, is often given for instances of minor misconduct such as being late to formation and missing appointments – behavior that can be seen in those suffering from PTSD, TBI, and other trauma-related conditions. A less than honorable discharge renders servicemembers ineligible for certain benefits, including Post-9/11 G.I. Bill educational benefits and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home loans. The bill applies to former servicemembers who received a general or other-than-honorable discharge.


The VA has recently announced that it will extend only limited mental health services for suicide prevention and crisis prevention to veterans who qualify, such as the Veterans Crisis Line. According to an investigation by the National Journal, 13% of Post-9/11 veterans – roughly 318,000 – have left the service with a less than honorable discharge. This status denies most of them of VA educational, economic and other benefits. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11-20% of these veterans have PTSD in a given year.


Last year, President Obama signed into law Peters’ bipartisan Fairness for Veterans amendment that helps veterans with a bad paper discharge resulting from behavior caused by PTSD to petition for an upgrade in their discharge status. An upgrade to an honorable discharge would help certain veterans access benefits earned through their service like VA home loans and educational benefits provided by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.


Peters statement on reported potential closure of EPA Region 5 Office

By WKTV Contributor


U.S. Senator Gary Peters has released the following statement on reports that President Trump’s Administration may close the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 Office in Chicago that serves Michigan and other Great Lakes states:


“While these reports have yet to be confirmed, I am gravely concerned with any effort to potentially close the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office, which would be a disaster for the Great Lakes. Not only are the Great Lakes a source of clean drinking water for over 40 million people, but they play a critical role in our economy – from shipping and commerce to tourism and travel. Important Environmental Protection Agency programs help restore portions of the Great Lakes watershed and protect against threats like toxic algal blooms and invasive species.


“The Environmental Protection Agency also provides important technical assistance as the City of Flint recovers from the water crisis and considers a transition to a new water source. Flint families still cannot drink tap water without a filter, and as more communities deal with the effects of aging infrastructure on the health of their water systems, we should be strengthening – not cutting – these vital federal tools.


“I am committed to fighting any proposal to close the Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 office, which would threaten public health in communities across Michigan and endanger the Great Lakes for future generations.”