Monthly Archives: June 2018

The official blog of Team Bilirakis. Featuring the latest news and updates from the campaign trail. Check back frequently or sign up for updates.


Tampa Bay Reporter

June 29, 2018

The money will be used to improve coordination between the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration as they study the effects of exposure to burn pits.

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, announced that the final Department of Defense spending bill that just passed the House included $1 million to study the effects of toxic exposure to burn pits.

Bilirakis co-authored the amendment with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT. The money will be used to improve interagency coordination between the DOD and the Veterans Administration as they study the effects of toxic exposure to burn pits.

Bilirakis said he has been working with Veteran advocacy groups to finalize language for legislation he will introduce shortly to ensure that those who were exposed to burn pit toxins during their military service and are diagnosed with diseases known to be associated with such exposure are granted presumptive status.

“We have to expedite the process of ensuring that our men and women who are experiencing hardship due to exposure to these toxins during their service get the medical treatment and benefits they need. Coordination between these two agencies is necessary and these funds are key to making that happen,” Bilirakis said. “Too often we see bureaucracy get in the way of doing the right thing for our heroes. I’ve met with many of these veterans. They are suffering and their stories are heartbreaking.They don’t have time to wait any longer. I will not stop fighting for them.”

Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. CD 12 includes all of Pasco and northern parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Gus Bilirakis’ Proposal to Ensure Student Veterans Not Penalized by Colleges, Universities Gains Momentum

June 25, 2018
Sunshine State News

A Florida Republican’s proposal to make sure veterans are not financially penalized by colleges and universities as they wait for their federal education benefits is gaining traction on Capitol Hill.

Back in January, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., the vice chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced the “Servicemembers Improved Transition through Reforms for Ensuring Progress (SIT-REP) Act.” Under the proposal, veterans using their GI Bill benefits will not be penalized if the VA delays payment to the school due to the time it takes to process.

Bilirakis explained why he introduced the legislation.

“I filed this common sense bill in response to several student veterans who were subject to punitive action by their school because it received payment from the VA after a certain deadline,” Bilirakis said. “Veterans should never experience financial harm or delays in education due to bureaucratic red tape in processing paperwork at the VA or school. The GI Bill is already a wonderful benefit that our veterans have earned and this legislation just makes the program better.”

The Florida Republican reeled in the support of a host of veterans groups including the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). Two fellow Florida Republicans–U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Bill Posey–are original cosponsors. Other supporters of the bill include U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster, D-NH, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Tex.

At the end of last week, the Senate version was introduced by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

“All three of my brothers served in the military, and they taught me about the importance of honoring our promises to our veterans and servicemembers,” Warren said on Friday. “We owe our servicemembers a quality education when they return home so they can build a future for themselves and their families. I’m glad to work with Senator Boozman to support student veterans who put their life on the line in service to our country.”

“We must create certainty for our veterans who use the education benefits they earned in service to our country. This is a commonsense measure that allows veterans to eliminate the potential for financial hardships to receive the tools to help prepare them for civilian life. I appreciate Senator Warren’s leadership on this issue,” said Boozman.

For his part, Bilirakis welcomed the additional support.

“I am glad to see our Senate colleagues moving this issue forward and look forward to its expedited passage,” Bilirakis said on Monday.

Tampa Bay lawmaker drafts bill to help vets exposed to burn pits

June 19, 2018

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — After 10News revealed a possible treatment for veterans exposed to burn pits, there’s finally some action for tens of thousands of suffering vets.

Burn pit exposure is an epidemic with many consequences that veterans deal with years after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Following a 10News story in January, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R – New Port Richey) drafted legislation to help get veterans the health care and coverage they need right away.

A Veteran’s Story
Joe Hernandez was exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan when the military burned waste like chemicals, ammunition, oil and other items they had to get rid of.

Years after coming home, Hernandez noticed he was feeling weak.

“If I can’t breathe or I don’t feel well because I can’t breathe, then what was the point of coming back alive,” he said.

Hernandez is among thousands of veterans who have signed the VA’s burn pit registry.

Action From Congress
Bilirakis calls burn pit exposure the ‘Agent Orange’ of our time.

“I mean some of the stories are so very sad,” he said. “These are our heroes we’re talking about. They need health care immediately and they need to get their disability payments approved immediately.”

Bilirakis drafted legislation that would give veterans presumptive status, making them eligible for health care and coverage right away.

Veterans otherwise could be forced to wait for comprehensive research linking burn pit exposure to various respiratory illnesses – and by then it could be too late.

“They’re getting sick and some have passed away,” added Bilirakis.

Although there’s no public pushback, Bilirakis believes the Veterans Administration is delaying the process.

Earlier this month, he and other lawmakers learned more about burn pit exposure at a hearing in Washington D.C. Now he hopes Congress will pass his measure by the end of the year.

Possible Treatment
Since our original story in January about Dr. Randall Harrell, who invented a possible treatment for burn pit exposure, Harrell has received numerous calls from vets and other physicians looking to learn more about the treatment.

Charlie Crist, Gus Bilirakis team up to fight newspaper tariffs

Tampa Bay Times

June 8, 2018

WASHINGTON – While the Trump administration ratchets up a trade war, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is fighting tariffs imposed against newsprint, an issue affecting the publishing industry.

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican from South Dakota, have introduced the Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act, which has gained bipartisan support, including Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor.

“An unnecessary trade war with some of our closest partners is already having real, negative consequences for our economy and the newspaper industry in particular. The Tampa Bay Times recently announced 50 employees would be laid off due to new tariffs – shrinking newsrooms at a time when thoughtful, credible reporting is needed most,” Crist said Friday.

“Newspapers are an integral part of our communities, employing our neighbors and keeping us informed. It’s encouraging to see bipartisan and bicameral support for protecting local news.”

The legislation, already introduced in the Senate by Susan Collins and Angus King, both of Maine, would suspend the import taxes on uncoated groundwood paper while the Department of Commerce examines the effects on the printing and publishing industry, according to sponsors.

The publishing industry is also mounting an advertising campaign, highlighting the 600,000 jobs it provides. And next week, 50 newspaper executives will travel to Washington to press their case.

The Commerce Department has imposed newsprint tariffs up to 32 percent in response to a complaint from a Washington state mill that contends Canadian makers are dumping product in the U.S.

Recently 15 Florida lawmakers sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about the issue.

“Not only would the tariffs cause severe economic turmoil in Florida and across the country but they would also make it harder for the public to get the information needed to sustain a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” the letter read.

Congressional committee sends tough questions to drug rehab company


June 6, 2018

WASHINGTON D.C. — Congress is asking tough questions to operators of a local drug rehab center our I-team has been reporting about for months.

The ABC Action News I-Team has learned American Addiction Centers is on a tight deadline to provide answers.

“They’re playing with people’s lives,” said former River Oaks Treatment Center patient Tonia Donnini.

She went to the Riverview, Florida rehab last year for treatment of alcohol abuse, after receiving a referral from an Ohio detox center,

Donnini says River Oaks offered an incentive to seek treatment there.

“They would pay for my flight down. They would transport me from Tampa airport,” she said.

After arriving, she says she got little counseling and questionable treatment.

“We played Bingo for therapy,” she said.

But the center billed her nearly $77,000 for 30 days of treatment.

She’s not alone.

The I-Team has reported for months about big bills, security threats and other issues at River Oaks.

“There’s no governing body regulating these types of facilities,” said Donnini.

Congress is finally getting involved.

“It’s a multi-faceted approach. That’s why there’s 60 pieces of legislation we’re trying to work through,” House Commerce and Energy Committee Chairman Greg Walden said in a recent committee hearing involving potential solutions to the opioid crisis.

The Committee is now demanding River Oak’s parent Company, American Addiction Centers, turn over information about call centers, referrals, billing, criminal charges involving employees and lawsuits.

Here’s a link to the letter.

The company has until next Tuesday to comply.

When the I-Team reached out to American Addiction Centers, CEO and Founder Michael Cartwright called us back.

He said his company will fully cooperate with the Congressional inquiry.

Cartwright says he welcomes federal regulation of the addiction treatment industry, since currently his company operates under nine different sets of rules in nine different states.

Donnini says help can’t come soon enough.

“There has to be some oversight with these facilities,” she said.

In less than a year, she’s lost three friends she met in treatment at River Oaks.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-New Port Richey, FL) is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

He issued the following statement today:

“An increased demand for recovery from substance use disorder has sadly attracted bad actors into the recovery space in order to make a quick buck by taking advantage of patients and families in crisis. Currently, regulations for addiction recovery providers vary from state-to-state and are virtually non-existent in some states. As a result, patients and families are unable to confidently identify quality sober living environments. It is vital that we work in a bipartisan manner to address laws and regulations, or lack thereof, which exacerbates this national crisis.”

Bilirakis is sponsoring a bill called the Ensuring Access to Quality Sober Living Act and is introducing a House companion to Senator Marco Rubio’s Sober Home Fraud Detection Act.

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