The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations passed a number of funding bills last week that included provisions drafted and championed by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger.
The Northwest Georgia congressman focused this cycle on boosting the nation's cyber and telecommunications security. The legislation also includes language to expand telehealth capabilities for U.S. veterans in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Over the last few months, we all have seen firsthand how important secure networks and reliable telecommunications systems are to our daily lives, and we now understand the role that we play in ensuring that our allies stay cybersecure as well," Graves said in remarks during the markup of the FY21 State and Foreign Operations funding bill.
Graves said the nation should be working with NATO allies to ensure a standard response for cybersecurity attacks. Text of the report includes a directive that the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, present a set of standards and protocols to the Appropriations Committee not later than 180 days after the funding bill is enacted.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations reported that the number of cyber incidents – including data breaches - increased 1,300% between 2006 and 2015.
An independent audit in FY18 ranked the State Department's information security program among the worst in the federal government, and showed that it does not currently have the ability to detect rogue devices on their networks.
Telehealth access for veterans
During the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth visits by veterans using VA Video Connect have increased 1,000%. The program allows veterans to meet virtually with their care teams on any device with an internet connection.
"While the pandemic continues to affect all Americans, it’s important to ensure medical services for our nation’s heroes are being provided in a timely, safe and convenient manner," Graves said.
The funding bill passed by the committee provides $1.3 billion for VA telehealth services. The VA is already using $250 million from the CARES Act for telehealth expansion.
The committee also directs the VA to make maternal fetal medicine a high priority of their telehealth program.
Other provisions backed by Graves include providing pro-bono legal services to U.S. veterans
In July 2018, The University of Georgia School of Law opened The Veterans Legal Clinic. The clinic serves veterans and their dependents, helping them to obtain the benefits they’ve earned.
Additional funding will allow for future expansion of similar clinics, and allow for more collaboration to increase veterans’ care.