Vern Buchanan

Vern Buchanan

FLORIDA's 16th DISTRICT

Buchanan Scores 4th Major Legislative Win This Congress

2016/12/08

WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan scored his fourth major legislative win of the 114th Congress this week with passage of his legislation to save Medicare Advantage plans used by thousands of seniors in his district and across the country. The bill is expected to be signed by President Obama as early as today.

This has been Buchanan’s most successful term yet when it comes to passing legislation he wrote and introduced. Other Buchanan accomplishments passed in previous sessions of Congress included citrus greening research, job training for veterans, funding for Sarasota National Cemetery and veterans’ health care.  

The most recent win is Buchanan’s Seniors’ Health Care Plan Protection Act, which he wrote and introduced last year. His bill will save Medicare Advantage plans for thousands of seniors in Sarasota and Manatee counties. It was rolled into the 21st Century Cures Act, sweeping legislation intended to combat the opioid crisis, spur research and help end cancer.

Earlier this Congress three other legislative proposals authored by Buchanan were signed into law, either as part of a larger package or as a stand-alone legislation. It is common for single bills to get incorporated into larger, more comprehensive measures passed by Congress, like the 21st Century Cures Act. There is no distinction between whether a bill is enacted as a stand-alone measure or rolled into a larger package. The other Buchanan proposals that became law this Congress include:

  • Veterans Identification Card Act, H.R. 91: Buchanan’s bill allowing all veterans in America to receive an official identification card was signed into law by President Obama on July 20, 2015. Several of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations supported the legislation, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Concerned Veterans for America and AMVETS.
     
  • Taxpayer Identity Protection Act, H.R. 3568: Buchanan’s bill to safeguard the Social Security numbers of more than 100 million working Americans was included in a larger bill and signed into law in December 2015.
     
  • No Subsidized Housing for Millionaires, H.Amdt. 909: The Congressman’s legislation to end taxpayer rip-offs in federally subsidized public housing was signed into law by President Obama on July 29, 2016 as part of the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act. Both the Manatee County Housing Authority and Sarasota Housing Authority supported the legislation.

“We need to protect Medicare for today’s seniors and future generations,” Buchanan said. “Thousands of seniors in Florida depend on these plans to meet their medical needs day in and day out and my bill ensures that they will not be unfairly terminated.”

Without Buchanan’s legislation, these plans would have been terminated due to a flawed rating system widely criticized by Democrats and Republicans, forcing thousands of seniors to find alternative coverage less suitable to their needs.

The U.S. Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act containing Buchanan’s bill on Wednesday afternoon 94-5. The U.S. House approved the bill 392-26.

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No Presidential Pardon for Bowe Bergdahl

2016/12/06

Buchanan Tells Obama to Reject Pardon Request

WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan today urged President Obama to reject Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl’s request for a presidential pardon, saying the search for Bergdahl may have led to the deaths of several American soldiers.

Bergdahl’s lawyers recently filed documents with the White House, the Justice Department and the Pentagon requesting a pardon, according to the New York Times. 

“It has been seven years since Sgt. Bergdahl chose to abandon his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan during a time of war,” Buchanan said. “He should be court-martialed and held accountable.”

Former members of Bergdahl’s platoon have publicly expressed concerns about Bergdahl since his return, characterizing him as a deserter who put American lives at risk. One of his fellow soldiers, Sgt. Matt Vierkant, has called for Bergdahl to face military trial for desertion and even said that “his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”

Bergdahl is facing charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy that endangered fellow soldiers.  He was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after walking off his post in Afghanistan, sparking a massive man-hunt conducted by the military over the five-year period. During this time it was reported that as many as six American soldiers may have died as a direct result of the search for Bergdahl.

Soldiers in his platoon have also claimed that anti-U.S. attacks in the region seemed to increase in the days and weeks following Bergdahl’s disappearance. 

A pardon would allow Bergdahl to escape his court-martial, which is scheduled to begin April 18, 2017. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. 

Eugene R. Fidell, Bergdahl’s defense lawyer, said if his case is still pending on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, he will file a motion to have it dismissed, arguing that a “fair military trial will be impossible after Mr. Trump becomes the commander in chief,” according to the New York Times.

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Buchanan Co-Sponsors Bill to Intercept Killer Opioids from China

2016/12/02

Manatee County Has Most Fentanyl-Related Deaths in Florida

WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan announced today he has co-sponsored legislation to toughen screening of overseas shipments of deadly synthetic drugs coming into the United States.

The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act will help stem the flow of dangerous drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil by requiring more intensive screening at U.S. Postal Service facilities. Fentanyl and carfentanil are synthetic drugs similar to heroin but more than 50 times more powerful. These drugs are often manufactured in foreign countries like China and mailed into the United States.

Experts have cautioned the synthetic drugs, which are odorless and colorless and therefore more difficult to detect, are now being mixed with heroin by dealers to boost profit margins and give a more potent and potentially deadly high for users.

“While our community is making progress addressing the heroin crisis, we are now confronting a new threat – fentanyl,” Buchanan said. “If we want to save lives and reduce overdose deaths we must stop these new killer drugs from crossing the border.”

Buchanan represents Sarasota and Manatee Counties, where officials have warned about an increase in the number of overdoses due to fentanyl and carfentanil. Synthetic fentanyl variations have been found in 41 fatal overdoses so far this year, according to the medical examiner for Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

Manatee County Sheriff-elect Rick Wells praised the new legislation co-sponsored by Buchanan, saying, “This is an important bill that will help reduce the amount of fentanyl and carfentanil entering the United States. It’s critical that we cut the head off of the snake and put an end to the destruction these synthetic drugs are causing in our communities.”

Manatee County ranks highest in the state for the number of fentanyl-related deaths, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission.

These substances can come in several forms, including powder, tablets, and spray and can be absorbed through the skin or by accidental inhalation. Carfentanil is an incredibly powerful synthetic opioid normally used to tranquilize large animals like elephants, and up to 100 times stronger than its cousin fentanyl. A lethal dose of fentanyl can be as small as two or three grains of salt, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Fentanyl and carfentanil are both so hazardous that first responders often wear protective gear when responding to a crime scene where the synthetic drugs may be present.

Specifically, the STOP Act, introduced by Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, would require shipments from foreign countries through the U.S. postal system to provide electronic advance data stating information such as where and who the package is coming from, where and who it’s going to, and what’s inside. Currently the USPS does not adequately screen all “non-letter” packages entering our country from abroad for dangerous or illegal contents.

With this advance information, U.S. Customs and Border Protection can better target potential illegal packages and prevent dangerous drugs from ending up in the hands of traffickers.

In Florida, fentanyl-related deaths increased by 77.6 percent last year when compared to 2014, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission.

The Congressman has been an active leader in addressing the opioid crisis in Florida. In May, Buchanan chaired a hearing examining the impact of addiction on kids. Earlier this year he hosted a roundtable in Bradenton, Fla. with local police officers, medical professionals and stakeholders. Buchanan also chaired a meeting of the bipartisan 29-member Florida congressional delegation in Washington, DC where members heard testimony from anti-drug experts. Buchanan serves as co-chair of the Florida delegation. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration and the DEA adopted Buchanan’s proposal to make it more difficult for abusers to obtain certain highly addictive narcotics. 

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U.S. House to Pass Sweeping Mental Health Reform

2016/11/30

One in 5 Americans Coping With Mental Illness

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House today is expected to approve the most sweeping reform of the nation’s mental health system in more than half a century, a bill Congressman Vern Buchanan called “a breath of fresh air after decades of flawed policies.”

Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, a bipartisan measure that will help the approximately one in five American adults that suffer from mental illness in a given year. The legislation is included in the 21st Century Cures Act, which is intended to spur innovative medical treatments and speed research. The Senate is expected to approve the measure by next week.

“For far too long Americans suffering with mental illness have been stigmatized and left in the shadows,” Buchanan said. “I’ve heard from countless families in Southwest Florida about how our current system leaves Americans untreated, incarcerated or worse. Congress can send a real message to all of those crying out for help by passing these life-saving reforms.”

Passage of the mental health legislation will mark the first time Congress has taken action to significantly overhaul the mental health system in more than half a century. The last major push for mental health reform occurred more than 50 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act of 1963.

Specifically, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act delivers treatment to individuals with mental illness before tragedy strikes. The legislation authorizes grants focused on suicide prevention and early intervention programs, and boosting the number of psychiatrists and psychologists. The bill allows law enforcement to use existing funds to create mental health response programs, including crisis intervention teams.

The legislation also directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to undertake guidance to clarify HIPAA privacy rules, a common frustration for caregivers and family members that prohibits them from knowing critical information such as their loved ones’ medication or treatment plan.

Another critical component to the measure is closing the gap in mental health care for underserved and rural populations. This bill establishes eligibility requirements for mental health care telehealth programs to receive grant funding. Telepsychiatry and telepsychology are critical to linking primary care doctors with psychiatrists in areas where patients do not have access to mental health professionals.

Additionally, it authorizes the Minority Fellowship Program, which provides specialized training for mental health professionals interested in serving minority communities.

The bill drives evidence-based care and ensures federal dollars are spent effectively by creating a new assistant secretary in HHS responsible for overseeing mental health and substance abuse programs. A 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed a lack of coordination among the eight agencies and 112 federal programs tasked with supporting individuals with serious mental illness. The report also found shortcomings in the evaluation of the federal programs.

“This bill helps stop Americans from falling through the cracks,” Buchanan said. “Congress must send this legislation promptly to the president’s desk so we can support all Americans with mental health issues on a path of recovery.”  

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis boasted endorsements from nearly all of the nation’s leading advocacy groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Psychological Association, and American Psychiatric Association. 

The Congressman has been a leading advocate in urging reforms to the federal mental health system for several years. Buchanan previously co-sponsored similar legislation in the 113th Congress. In 2014, Buchanan held a mental health town hall in Sarasota, Fla. with Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the sole practicing psychologist in Congress.

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Medicare Open Season for Seniors

2016/11/22

WASHINGTON — Congressman Vern Buchanan today advised Suncoast seniors to take advantage of Medicare’s annual open enrollment period before it closes on Dec. 7. Those on Medicare should review their coverage to make the best decision for their health needs because some plans and benefits may change in the upcoming year, Buchanan said.

The Congressman represents Sarasota and Manatee counties, home to nearly 220,000 Medicare recipients.

“Medicare is one of the government’s most successful programs and I hope Florida’s seniors will use this period to find the best plan that fits their healthcare needs,” Buchanan said. “Don’t let anything catch you off guard next year. Re-evaluating and comparing different Medicare plans could help bring down your out-of-pocket costs.”

There are more than 55.5 million Medicare beneficiaries across the country, which accounts for 17 percent of the total U.S. population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Florida ranks second in the country only to California for the highest number of Medicare beneficiaries.

The annual open enrollment period – which started Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7 – is the only time those enrolled in Medicare can change their health and prescription drug plans, or can enroll as new beneficiaries. These changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

Buchanan, a strong advocate for Medicare, said he is hopeful Congress will put forward a bipartisan plan in 2017 that protects and preserves Medicare for future generations. The Congressman is the only Floridian to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee and its Subcommittee on Health, which has jurisdiction over Medicare and employer-provided health insurance benefits.

“Strengthening Medicare should be a top priority for both parties,” Buchanan said. “Seniors have worked their whole lives with the promise of a safe retirement and need to know that Medicare will be there for them during their golden years.”

Seniors may sign up or update their plans in two ways:

More details on Medicare Open Enrollment are available online in the U.S. Government Medicare handbook.

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NFIB Newest Group to Endorse Buchanan Tax Reform Bill

2016/11/21

Momentum Grows for Tax Parity Among All Businesses

WASHINGTON — The nation’s leading voice for small business, the National Federation of Independent Business, today endorsed Rep. Vern Buchanan’s Main Street Fairness Act.
 
Buchanan’s bill, which has been building momentum as Congress prepares to overhaul the tax code, would ensure that small businesses never pay a higher tax rate than large corporations.
 
Juanita Duggan, President and CEO of NFIB, said "For small businesses, tax parity with big corporations is an important principle. The vast majority of small businesses are pass-through entities that pay taxes at the individual rate. Some of them actually end up paying at a higher rate than the big corporations they compete against. We are grateful to Congressman Buchanan for introducing the Main Street Fairness Act, and we strongly urge that it become a central feature of comprehensive tax reform in the next Congress.” 

The NFIB is the latest group to endorse Buchanan's measure. Others include the National Association of Manufacturers, Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Retail Federation, Americans for Tax Reform, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida TaxWatch.

“The time is right for Washington to pass a tax reform package that grows our economy and unleashes the power of small businesses,” Buchanan said. “It’s absurd that small businesses face a higher tax rate than ExxonMobil. We have to level the playing field as part of tax reform.”
 
The Main Street Fairness Act will establish that businesses that file taxes as passthrough income, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs and S corporations, will never pay a higher rate than a corporation. Under current law, corporations pay a maximum tax rate of 35 percent, while small business owners pay up to 39.6 percent under the individual income tax code on top of additional taxes on earnings and investments. These small businesses pay more than 50 percent of their income in taxes in some states; in Florida, they face an effective tax rate of 42.6 percent according to the Tax Foundation.

A tax reform blueprint released earlier this year by the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee lowers the tax rate on income earned by pass-throughs, and states that the House “will build on concepts developed by Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida in his Main Street Fairness Act.”
 
The concept behind Buchanan’s bill is also a part of a tax cut package supported by President-elect Donald Trump.
 
The businesses that would be helped by Buchanan’s plan account for more than 68 million jobs.
  
 

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Buchanan: End Federal Funding For Sanctuary Cities

2016/11/16

Public Safety At Risk

WASHINGTON — Responding to new reports that major American cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, will continue providing “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants, Congressman Vern Buchanan today urged swift congressional action to end such policies. 

“Public safety must be our top concern,” Buchanan said in calling for passage of two important bills – Kate’s Law and the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act, which would cut federal funding to any city that refuses to enforce immigration laws. Kate’s Law would toughen penalties against anyone who re-enters the country after being deported. Kate Steinle was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and was convicted of seven felonies.

Both bills should be brought up and passed immediately by Congress, Buchanan said, noting that President-elect Trump has expressed support for stripping federal funds from sanctuary cities. 

“Taxpayers should not be supporting cities that ignore federal law,” Buchanan said. “While we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Our number one priority should be targeting criminals that are here illegally.”

Within the last week, mayors and leaders in Washington, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Minneapolis have all pledged to retain their city’s sanctuary status in public defiance of federal immigration law. 

“Congress must act to protect Americans from criminals and make every state and city across the country enforce the laws on the books,” Buchanan said.

The term “sanctuary city” refers to a municipality that provides safe harbor to illegal immigrants, which dangerously undermines our nation’s law enforcement efforts.

The Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act strips federal funding from communities that prohibit law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration officers. More than 400 jurisdictions across the country have some sort of sanctuary law, according to the Los Angeles Times. Ten of the largest sanctuary jurisdictions in the U.S. received $700 million in block grants in 2016 alone.

Kate’s Law imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for any illegal immigrant that has previously been deported and re-enters the country.

“Washington needs to send a clear message to sanctuary cities – if you don’t follow the laws, you don’t get federal funding,” Buchanan said. “It is dangerous and unconscionable that so many cities across the country blatantly ignore the rule of law and still get rewarded with taxpayer dollars.”

Several of the nation’s leading law enforcement and immigration organizations have endorsed the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary City Policies Act, including the National Sheriff’s Association, National Association of Police Organizations, and Federation for American Immigration Reform.
 

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Buchanan: "A Golden Moment for Tax Reform"

2016/11/14

Urges Leaders to Take Immediate Action

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, urged congressional leaders today to capitalize on a “golden moment for tax reform” by enacting sweeping legislation when the new Congress convenes in 2017.

Noting that President-elect Donald Trump as well as House and Senate Republicans support reforming the tax code, Buchanan said we must capitalize on this “historic opportunity” to jump-start our economy. The last time Congress adopted major changes to the tax code was in 1986 under former President Ronald Reagan.

“The tax code punishes ordinary Americans and suffocates business growth,” Buchanan said in a letter sent today to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It’s time to fix the economy by simplifying the tax code and reducing rates on individuals and businesses.”

Buchanan has been a leader on tax reform efforts as a Ways and Means Committee member and has introduced the Main Street Fairness Act to help small businesses.

His bill would ensure that small businesses – which account for 94 percent of all businesses in America – never pay a higher tax rate than large corporations. It would do so by removing income earned by so-called passthrough businesses from the individual tax code and treat this income like business income earned by corporations.

This provision was also included in a tax reform blueprint released by House Republican leaders.

The Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee have released a blueprint for reforming the American tax code. It includes a section that would lower rates for many of the nation’s small businesses. The inclusion of this provision points to a strong future for Buchanan’s bill and the pro-small business principles that drove its introduction.

As the tax blueprint says, “the tax treatment of business income will build on concepts developed by Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida in his Main Street Fairness Act (H.R. 5076).”

The concept behind Buchanan’s bill is a part of the tax cut package pushed by President-elect Donald Trump.

“It’s clearly time that Washington stopped punishing small businesses and started helping them,” Buchanan said.

The businesses that would be helped by Buchanan’s plan account for more than 68 million jobs.

A broad coalition of prominent business and tax reform groups have expressed their support for Buchanan's measure, including the National Association of Manufacturers, Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Retail Federation, Americans for Tax Reform, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida TaxWatch.

Full text of the letter can be found below:

November 14, 2016

The Honorable Paul D. Ryan
Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
U.S. Senate
S-230, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell:

I write to urge that Congress capitalize on the historic opportunity to fundamentally overhaul the U.S. tax code and jumpstart the economy.

President-elect Donald Trump as well as House and Senate Republicans support reforming the tax code, presenting a rare and golden moment for tax reform.

The tax code punishes ordinary Americans and suffocates business growth. It’s time to fix the economy by simplifying the tax code and reducing rates on individuals and businesses.

People have been looking at their bank account balance with a knot in their stomach for too long.

Tax reform will help Americans get a job, make more money and spend less time doing their taxes. It’s time to give the American people a break – we have suffered together through years of slow growth. In fact, the Obama presidency did not see economic growth higher than 3 percent at any time.

Small businesses – which account for 94 percent of all businesses in America –  deserve serious attention. The principles of my Main Street Fairness Act, which would ensure that small businesses never pay a higher tax rate than large corporations, should be a prominent feature of any tax code changes. I was very encouraged when my bill was included in the House Republican blueprint for tax reform and am hopeful that that blueprint will serve as a starting point for tax reform.

The concept behind my bill is also part of the tax cut package pushed by President-elect Donald Trump. It’s clearly time that Washington stopped punishing small businesses and started helping them. The businesses that would be helped by my plan account for more than 68 million jobs.

Significant changes to our tax system that put money in the pockets of Americans and save them time and headaches when filling out their taxes need to happen quickly.

Congress needs to take advantage of this rare opportunity to pass sweeping tax reforms.

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Buchanan to Pentagon: “Apologize and Return The Money”

2016/10/27

Congressman Told Florida Vets Not Affected (Yet)

WASHINGTON — Congressman Vern Buchanan today said the Pentagon should stop forcing thousands of veterans to return enlistment bonuses, give back any money collected so far and apologize for their obscene money grab.

Nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers – many of whom served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan – were ordered by the Pentagon to return their enlistment bonuses and student loan repayments, averaging $15,000 or more, according to the Los Angeles Times. The recoupment effort has taken more than $22 million from soldiers so far, according to the Times.

“The Pentagon needs to apologize to these veterans and return their money,” Buchanan said. “There is no middle ground on this issue. The government needs to tell veterans it will permanently — not temporarily — end its outrageous attempt to collect nlistment bonuses from a decade ago.”

Buchanan’s office was told by Florida National Guard officials today that an internal audit failed to find any Florida vets affected yet.

The Congressman, who served six years in the Michigan Air National Guard, said it was no fault of the soldiers if the government later realized it made a mistake in calculating eligibility for bonuses and other incentives.

“For many soldiers, this money means the difference between paying the mortgage, owning a car and putting food on the table,” he said. “The Pentagon wastes billions of dollars on defective weapons systems but it can’t help our veterans?”

Buchanan yesterday wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and called for the Pentagon to back off their recoupment efforts. “Forcing innocent soldiers and veterans to repay these funds 10 years after they went to war on the nation’s behalf is obscene and unjustified,” Buchanan wrote. “The Pentagon needs to back off and leave them alone.”

Buchanan also requested that the Secretary provide specific information on whether any Florida service members have received similar orders and on steps the department is taking to rectify the situation. The Pentagon has acknowledged that California may not be the only state where the recoupment efforts are occurring. Soldiers in Virginia are now among the affected. A National Guard Bureau spokeswoman said on Wednesday, “We understand other states may have been affected but are pending verification of which ones.”

Buchanan said he was frustrated the Pentagon was unaware of the true scope of the issue. “We need accurate information to ensure that service members from other states – particularly Florida – have not been subject to this outrageous abuse.”

The Florida National Guard is one of the largest state Guard organizations in the country with more than 11,600 soldiers and airmen.

During 2006 and 2007, the California National Guard encouraged soldiers to stay in the service by offering up front re-enlistment bonuses and student loan repayments. The incentives were part of a federal program run by the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Army that was meant to boost the number of U.S. troops as the country continued its involvement in the post-9/11 wars.

Federal investigators later discovered that millions of dollars were mistakenly given to California National Guard soldiers who did not qualify.

Since then, current and retired soldiers have been told by the Pentagon to repay some or all of their bonuses. If the soldiers refuse to give back their bonuses, they face interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens, according to the Times.

The California National Guard said they do not have the authority to unilaterally waive the debts in a statement Monday.

“This policy inflicts financial stress on our nation’s heroes, erodes trust in the military and sets a dangerous precedent,” Buchanan wrote. “These soldiers left their families, fought overseas for days on end and some returned home with physical and invisible injuries. They should not be punished for a mistake they did not make.”

While Buchanan was encouraged by Carter’s remarks that the department is looking into the problem, the Congressman said he’s hopeful the Pentagon will “keep its promise to these service members.” 

Several veterans service organizations have voiced their opposition to the Pentagon’s recoupment efforts, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

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Another “Obscene” Veterans Scandal

2016/10/26

Buchanan Tells Pentagon “BACK OFF!”

WASHINGTON — In a letter sent today to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Congressman Vern Buchanan said it was “obscene” to force thousands of veterans to repay enlistment bonuses issued a decade ago when the Pentagon needed troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Buchanan said it was no fault of the soldiers if the government later realized it made a mistake in calculating eligibility for bonuses and other incentives.

“Forcing innocent soldiers and veterans to repay these funds 10 years after they went to war on the nation’s behalf is obscene and unjustified,” Buchanan wrote. “The Pentagon needs to back off and leave them alone.”

Buchanan’s letter arrives after nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers – many of whom served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan – were ordered by the DOD to return their enlistment bonuses and student loan repayments of $15,000 or more, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Buchanan also requested that the Secretary provide specific information on whether any Florida service members have received similar orders and on steps the department is taking to rectify the situation. The Pentagon has acknowledged that California may not be the only state where the recoupment efforts are occurring. Laura Ochoa, a Pentagon spokeswoman, on Monday said “there may be other states involved,” according to the Times.

Buchanan said he was frustrated the Pentagon was unaware of the true scope of the issue. “We need accurate information to ensure that service members from other states – particularly Florida – have not been subject to this outrageous abuse.”

The Florida National Guard is one of the largest state Guard organizations in the country with more than 11,600 soldiers and airmen.

During 2006 and 2007, the California National Guard encouraged soldiers to stay in the service by offering up front re-enlistment bonuses and student loan repayments. The incentives were part of a federal program run by the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Army that was meant to boost the number of U.S. troops as the country continued its involvement in the post-9/11 wars.

Federal investigators later discovered that millions of dollars were mistakenly given to California National Guard soldiers who did not qualify.

Since then, current and retired soldiers have been told by the Pentagon to repay some or all of their bonuses. If the soldiers refuse to give back their bonuses, they face interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens, according to the Times.

The California National Guard said they do not have the authority to unilaterally waive the debts in a statement Monday.

“This policy inflicts financial stress on our nation’s heroes, erodes trust in the military and sets a dangerous precedent,” Buchanan wrote. “These soldiers left their families, fought overseas for days on end and some returned home with physical and invisible injuries. They should not be punished for a mistake they did not make.”

While Buchanan was encouraged by Carter’s remarks that the department is looking into the problem, the Congressman said he’s hopeful the Pentagon will “keep its promise to these service members.” 

Several veterans service organizations have voiced their opposition to the Pentagon’s recoupment efforts, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Full text of the letter can be found below:

October 26, 2016

 

The Honorable Ashton B. Carter
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Carter:

I write to express my deep concern regarding recent reports of the Pentagon ordering thousands of veterans, many of whom have served multiple combat tours, to return re-enlistment bonuses and student loans repayments awarded to them nearly a decade ago. 

It is particularly egregious that, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, the improper payment of these bonuses, some totaling more than $15,000, was due to mismanagement by National Guard officials – not malfeasance on the part of the brave men and women who protect our country.

Forcing innocent soldiers and veterans to repay these funds 10 years after they went to war on the nation’s behalf is obscene and unjustified. The Pentagon needs to back off and leave them alone. They did their part and answered our nation’s call to serve at a time when we needed them most.

I am also frustrated by reports that the Pentagon is unaware of the true scope of this issue, and that your department has acknowledged Guardsmen from other states may also be facing similar orders to return this money.

While the California National Guard has been the subject of investigations, we need accurate information to ensure that service members from other states – particularly Florida – have not been subject to this outrageous abuse. The Florida National Guard is one of the largest state Guard organizations in the country with more than 11,600 soldiers and airmen.  

To that end, I respectfully request that your office (1) identify any instances of Florida service members who are or have been subject to bonus recoupment proceedings due to the mistakes of Defense Department officials and (2) describe steps that the Defense Department is taking to rectify this situation, both nationally and with respect to Florida.

I’m hopeful the Pentagon will reverse course on this reprehensible demand and keep its promise to these service members. This policy inflicts financial stress on our nation’s heroes, erodes trust in the military and sets a dangerous precedent. These soldiers left their families, fought overseas for days on end and some returned home with physical and invisible injuries. They should not be punished for a mistake they did not make.

Thank you for your assistance in this matter, and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Vern Buchanan
Member of Congress

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Buchanan Vets ID Card to Become Law

2015-07-07 19:17:46


Pastor Bezet of Sarasota-Manatee Bayside Community Church Delivers Morning Prayer before Congress

2015-06-25 15:32:15


Buchanan: Balancing the Budget is an Urgent Priority

2015-06-17 21:43:25


Buchanan Speaks on Veterans ID Card Act

2015-05-18 21:03:41


Rep. Buchanan Named to House Budget Committee

2015-03-18 16:40:43


Buchanan Hosts Venice Listening Session on Jobs and the Economy

2015-02-09 16:57:18


Buchanan Questions Treasury Secretary on Obama Economic Plan

2015-02-03 16:57:28


Buchanan Hosts Sarastota Town Hall on Jobs and the Economy

2015-01-26 20:19:21


Contact Information

2104 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone 202-225-5015
Fax 202-226-0828
buchanan.house.gov

Committee Assignments

Ways and Means

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is the only Florida member of Congress to serve on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, international trade, health care and Social Security.

A self-made businessman, Buchanan understands that America’s economic strength flows from its entrepreneurial spirit and pro-growth, free-market policies. Buchanan has worked tirelessly to enact tax incentives to help small businesses, end burdensome regulations, and limit frivolous lawsuits.

In his fourth term, Buchanan is an outspoken advocate of reforming the U.S. tax code to make it simpler and fairer. He serves on the Trade and Health subcommittees on Ways and Means.

As a member of the Trade Subcommittee, Buchanan recognizes that international competitiveness is key to revitalizing the economy. He will seek to move three free trade agreements through the Congress and conduct oversight on U.S. trade relations with the European Union, China, India, among others.

Buchanan is also a member of the Health Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare and employer-provided health insurance benefits. With 190,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Florida’s 16thDistrict, Buchanan is committed to preserving Medicare’s long-term solvency for senior citizens, as well as bringing down the cost of health care for all Americans.

And as the Chairman of the Friends of Panama Caucus, Buchanan will continue his efforts to help Port Manatee grow and capitalize on the upcoming expansion of the Panama Canal.

A strong fiscal conservative, the Congressman’s signature bill is the Buchanan Balanced Budget Amendment Act. He also introduced legislation to stop automatic pay raises for Members of Congress until the budget is balanced.

Congressman Buchanan’s previous committee assignments include the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and the House Small Business Committee, where he also served as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

Vern Buchanan grew up with five siblings in a blue collar household in a small town near Detroit, Michigan. He served six years in the Air National Guard and worked his way through college.

The self-made businessman is a respected leader in Florida’s business community. He chaired both the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. He was also a member of the Board of the U.S. Chamber, and in 2005 he was inducted into the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame.

In addition, Congressman Buchanan is a dedicated philanthropist, committing himself to diverse community causes, including the Boys and Girls Club, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Walk to Cure Juvenile Diabetes, the American Heart Walk, the Mote Marine Laboratory, and the Ringling Museum of Art.

A husband and father, Congressman Buchanan lives in Longboat Key, Florida with his wife of more than 30 years. Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan have two grown sons, James and Matt.


Serving With

Jeff Miller

FLORIDA's 1st DISTRICT

Ted Yoho

FLORIDA's 3rd DISTRICT

Ander Crenshaw

FLORIDA's 4th DISTRICT

Ron DeSantis

FLORIDA's 6th DISTRICT

John Mica

FLORIDA's 7th DISTRICT

Bill Posey

FLORIDA's 8th DISTRICT

Daniel Webster

FLORIDA's 10th DISTRICT

Rich Nugent

FLORIDA's 11th DISTRICT

Gus Bilirakis

FLORIDA's 12th DISTRICT

David Jolly

FLORIDA's 13th DISTRICT

Dennis Ross

FLORIDA's 15th DISTRICT

Tom Rooney

FLORIDA's 17th DISTRICT

Curt Clawson

FLORIDA's 19th DISTRICT

Mario Diaz-Balart

FLORIDA's 25th DISTRICT

Carlos Curbelo

FLORIDA's 26th DISTRICT

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

FLORIDA's 27th DISTRICT

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