Our nation’s service members deserve access to resources that help them succeed at transitioning to civilian life. For this reason, Senator Braun led a bipartisan effort with Senator Hassan of New Hampshire to actively hire veterans and transitioning service members who have the skills critically needed in federal health care departments. More specifically, the Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act of 2021 (S. 894) directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to actively recruit medical personnel who are within one year of completing their military service, and to encourage them to remain in federal health care in departments like Veterans Affairs. The Senate Committee Veterans Affairs held a hearing to consider this bill on April 29, 2021; the Committee then favorably reported this bill on June 24, 2021; the U.S. Senate then unanimously passed the Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act of 2021 on July 21, 2021, followed by passage in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 15, 2021. President Biden signed Senator Braun’s bill into law on November 20, 2021. Now that this legislation has been signed into law, the country is one step closer to fulfilling our obligation to those who have served get the best health services possible.
Too often, career politicians create new federal programs to great fanfare, but then fail to oversee the implementation of such programming to ensure the American people are well-served in practice. Senator Braun has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring effective implementation of the programs he has helped to create. Most recently, Senator Braun held the Social Security Administration (SSA) accountable for its implementation of a bill designed to give critical disability benefits to individuals with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease affecting the ability of the brain to control muscle movements. Individuals with ALS progressively lose the ability to speak, walk, and breathe. There is no effective treatment for the disease, no known cause, and—currently—no cure. At the end of the 116th Congress, the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act was signed into law. Importantly, this long overdue law eliminated a mandatory five-month waiting period for patients with medically-determined ALS. Simply put, individuals that are given a fatal diagnosis of ALS should not have to wait to access the benefits that they earned and are entitled to possess. Passage of this change was a priority for the Senate ALS Caucus, which Senator Braun co-chairs with Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. However, it soon became apparent that the SSA was not going to implement the bill as intended. SSA indicated that it did not plan to grant these key benefits to people diagnosed with ALS that were already in their five-month waiting period prior to the date of the new law’s enactment. As a result, Senator Braun quickly drafted yet more legislation (S. 579) in the 117th Congress to force SSA to implement the law as Congress intended—and now all individuals with ALS are to be given their federal entitlements. Since this set of bills became law, 5,154 ALS patients have been able to gain immediate access to their Social Security Disability benefits. This figure represents ten percent of all the ALS patients ever allowed SSDI benefits.
The TEACH Grant program incentivizes teachers to serve in high need, often neglected communities. However, often due to basic clerical mistakes, thousands of teachers had their TEACH grants converted into student loans that must be paid back with interest. To correct this problem of failed program administration, Senator Braun drafted the Consider Teachers Act (S. 848) with Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. This legislation fixes this broken system permanently, and provides extra time for teachers to complete service requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic. This bill was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate on April 27, 2021, followed by passage in the U.S. House of Representatives on September 28, 2021. President Biden signed Senator Braun’s bill into law on October 13, 2021.
As a Main Street Entrepreneur and conservationist, Senator Braun knows firsthand that if we want to address our changing climate, we need to facilitate real solutions that our farmers, environmentalists and industry can collectively support. That is why Senator Braun drafted the Growing Climate Solutions Act (S. 1251) with Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, legislation designed to break down barriers for farmers and foresters interested in voluntarily participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices. The bill had widespread support, including from the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, Environmental Defense Fund, McDonald’s, Microsoft, over 40 farm groups, environmental organizations, and numerous Fortune 500 companies. The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on this bill on June 24, 2020 during the 116th Congress. The bill was reintroduced with improvements in the 117th Congress, wherein the Senate Agriculture formally marked up the bill on April 22, 2021. The U.S. Senate then brought Senator Braun’s bill to the floor, where it was robustly considered and approved by a 92-8 margin on June 24, 2021. The U.S. House of Representatives later approved the legislation, enabling President Biden to enact its provisions on December 29, 2022.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) failed to retain critical features of the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program that is essential in the State of Indiana. A drafting error in the IIJA meant that the AML program could not put new funds into state-run set-aside accounts for the long-term treatment of acid mine drainage in coalfield rivers and creeks. Set-aside accounts are necessary because of the perpetual nature of acid mine drainage, and the devastating effects it has on rivers, streams, ecosystems and contaminating groundwater and downstream water supplies. Abandoned mines negatively affect local economies, decreasing land values, reducing recreational opportunities and threatening the health and safety of individuals living in coalfield communities. Given this reality, Senator Braun joined Senator Casey of Pennsylvania to introduce the STREAM Act (S. 3957/H.R. 7283), legislation to provide a fix to that issue, ensuring states can use investments for the perpetual treatment that acid mine drainage. The STREAM Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 391-9 margin in July 2021. On December 2022, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to consider the merits of the STREAM Act, which lead to improvements in the bill to also allow states greater flexibility using funds for mine fire safety and subsidence issues. The U.S. Senate then passed this legislation on December 16, 2022. President Biden subsequently signed this reform into law on December 29, 2022.
In 2022, a small business medical device manufacturer based in Jeffersonville, Indiana called the Office of Senator Braun to flag a shortcoming of legislation moving in Congress. Namely, as Congress considered statutorily required updates to the FDA user fee model, there was no consideration given to the size of filing fees on small businesses. As a result of this constituent’s outreach to identify the shortcoming, Senator Braun drafted legislation with Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, the Small Business Establishment Registration Waiver Act (S. 4385), to allow the FDA to waive annual establishment registration fees for small medical device manufacturers for which such fees present a financial hardship. Specifically, this bill provides authority for FDA to waive the registration fee for the smallest device manufactures, those with less than $1,000,000 in annual revenue, if the business can demonstrate to FDA that the registration fee represents a financial hardship to the business. It will allow companies to continue to manufacture devices that are doing good in the world with small profit. This bill was offered as an amendment during the Senate Committee consideration of S.4348, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Landmark Advancements Act (FDASLA) of 2022 in June 2022, where it was adopted by the Committee on voice vote. President Biden subsequently signed this reform into law on December 29, 2022.
When passing legislation, Congress should always put the needs of Americans first. That is why Senator Braun introduced the Make It in America Act (S. 363/H.R. 3684) with Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan to make it harder for federal agencies to use waivers to get around Buy American requirements. The bill requires the federal government to give preference to American companies and spend taxpayer dollars on American-made products and American jobs. Ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used to support American jobs is commonsense, main-street policy, but America’s Buy American laws have too many loopholes, resulting in our country sending our resources to foreign workers. This bill closes those loopholes and helps ensure that America’s workers, small businesses, and families are the direct beneficiaries of federal purchasing. President Biden signed this reform into law on November 15, 2021.
During the 116th Congress, I was proud to author the VA Directly Returning Opioid Prescriptions (“VA DROP”) Act (S. 3753/H.R. 4817) with my colleague Rep. Jim Baird in the U.S. House of Representatives. The VA DROP Act requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that each VA medical center with an on-site pharmacy (or a law enforcement officer) has a physical location where patients may safely dispose of controlled substances or medications. I was proud to see this legislation signed into law as part of the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 (Public Law No: 116-315). There is always more work do to, however, when it comes to the fight against opioids. That is why I joined forces with Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana in the 117th Congress to expand upon the VA DROP Act. Together, we introduced the DUMP Opioids Act, legislation to allow any American—not just Veterans— to securely dispose of opioids at VA facilities. The DUMP Opioids Act was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate on April 22, 2021, followed by passage in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 27, 2021. President Biden signed this bill into law on July 29, 2021.
The opioid crisis ravaging the country of its full potential demands a multi-faceted approach. To help strengthen the disposal process for dangerous opioids, Senator Braun joined Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire in introducing the Better ODDS to Reduce Diversion Act of 2021 (S. 2628). This bill authorizes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to direct safe disposal requirements as a part of a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for a drug, including prescription opioids. Currently, the FDA is only able to recommend the use of mail-in drug disposal products for prescription drugs, such as opioids. This legislation eliminates this burdensome requirement and allows for a broader use of safe and effective at-home, in-home disposal products. This includes products that modify the chemical makeup of the prescription drug to make the drug unusable, or unable to be diverted into a different substance. At a Senate HELP Committee markup held in June 2022, the Better ODDS Act was incorporated into the base text of a bigger legislative package to reauthorize the FDA user fee model (S. 4348, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Landmark Advancements Act). President Biden subsequently signed this key reform into law on December 29, 2022.
To better inform next steps in the war against the opioid crisis, Senator Braun joined Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia in drafting legislation about drug study designs that are used in the approval of new prescription opioids for chronic pain. More specifically, the FDA has approved new drug applications for opioids following completion of clinical trials using enriched enrollment, randomized, withdrawal (EERW) designs. The FREED Opioids Act (S. 1634) directs the FDA to conduct a study to review EERW study designs, and to encourage the FDA to consider expanding the scope of information requested on requiring fixed quantity blister packaging for certain opioids. President Biden subsequently signed this reform into law on December 29, 2022.
Senator Braun’s father was a B-17 tail gunner during World War II, and he has never forgotten the lesson taught him: to honor every American who has served our country with dignity and respect. Serving those that serve the American people by defending the nation’s security and way of life is not only an honor, but a responsibility. That is why Senator Braun joined Senator Ossoff of Georgia in introducing legislation to help eliminate the current backlog of veterans’ record requests at the National Personnel Records Center (S. 4816, the Access for Veterans to Records Act of 2022). The bipartisan legislation will help more veterans and their families obtain their military records, which are often required to access critical care and benefits veterans earn through their service to the nation. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) considered this legislation at a Committee markup in September 2022, with amendment. President Biden subsequently signed this reform into law on December 29, 2022.