VA contacts veterans on Phoenix wait list

The interim chief of the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that the agency has reached out to almost all of the approximately 1,700 veterans that a Phoenix VA hospital placed on unofficial wait lists that hid treatment delays.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said at his first meeting with veterans groups that the department called 1,586 former troops and sent letters to those who had not provided phone numbers.

Gibson said VA reached out to those veterans to discuss their medical needs and to begin scheduling appointments. He plans to visit the Phoenix clinic Thursday, when he also is scheduled to outline additional actions from the department.

An interim report last week from the VA’s inspector general substantiated recent allegations that VA clinics across the country manipulated their scheduling records to cover up treatment delays, in part to improve their chances of securing bonuses.

“Getting this right is our top priority, and taking care of the veterans in Phoenix is a good place to start,” Gibson said. “The department will also continue reaching out to veterans nationwide to accelerate their access to care, and that is the message I intend to deliver in Phoenix and across the country.”

— Josh Hicks from Federal Eye

Republicans list steps to address VA issues

A group of key Republicans wrote to President Obama on Wednesday outlining actions they want the White House to take to address widespread scheduling issues at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

The lawmakers, who included House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), along with Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), said the resignation of former VA secretary Eric K. Shinseki last week is not enough to fix he department’s problems.

The Republicans asked that Obama support GOP legislation aimed at addressing treatment delays and allowing the VA secretary to fire senior executives over poor performance. They also said the secretary should direct VA to cooperate with congressional committees as they investigate the scheduling matter, which involves manipulation of appointment records to hide long wait times.

“It is imperative that you lay out for the American people your vision for reforming what is clearly a broken system,” the Republicans said in their letter to Obama.

— Josh Hicks from Federal Eye

Term limits may be on the ballot in Illinois

A preliminary review of paperwork submitted by supporters shows a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the terms of Illinois state legislators has enough signatures to make the ballot in November.

The amendment would limit legislators to eight years in office, expand the state House by five members, to 123, and cut the size of the state Senate by nearly one third, from 59 to 41 members. It also would change the percentage of lawmakers required to overturn a governor’s veto from three-fifths to two-thirds.

The review, conducted by state elections officials, showed the proposed amendment probably has at least 333,164 valid signatures — about 11 percent more than the 300,000 required to qualify for the ballot. The state Board of Elections will take the next steps by determining whether to conduct a fuller review or approving the measure for the ballot.

But there’s no guarantee the proposal will make it on the ballot, even with enough signatures. A prominent Democratic lawyer with close ties to state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) has filed a lawsuit challenging the amendment’s viability, given that it covers so many different purposes.

Democrats think Mike Kasper, who represented then-mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel when Emanuel’s residency status was challenged before his 2011 election and counts Sen. Dick Durbin (D) and then-Sen. Obama among his past clients, has a strong argument. The Illinois constitution requires that any proposed amendments that make the ballot by citizen petition “shall be limited to” subjects contained in Article IV of the constitution; Kasper says the term limits proposal goes beyond Article IV, which deals with the composition of the legislature.

Either way, the term-limits conversation is likely to become an issue in the race between Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and his challenger, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner (R). Rauner was the driving force behind the term-limit measure and chairs the campaign to pass the amendment. What’s more, the legislature in Springfield is deeply unpopular.

Fifteen other states impose term limits on state legislators, most of which were implemented during a term-limits push during the early 1990s. Most states have a limit of eight to 12 years in each chamber. Nine states limit legislators’ consecutive service, meaning they can leave the legislature and return; six other states — Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, California, Oklahoma and Nevada — limit lifetime service.

Six states that enacted term limits in 1992 or 1994 have since repealed those limits. Those states include Idaho, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

— Reid Wilson from GovBeat