Release of American Hostages Held in Yemen

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State

Today, we join with all Americans in welcoming the release of two U.S. citizens from Houthi custody in Yemen.

My deepest condolences go out to the family of a third American who died while in captivity, but whose remains are being repatriated.

I would like to thank Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia for their diplomatic efforts.  I also want to commend the tenacious diplomacy of our embassies in the region who helped facilitate this release.

Today’s news is the latest affirmation that President Trump remains committed to bringing every American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad back home.  This Administration will not rest until they are all reunited with their families.

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After reviewing safety and other data from vaccine studies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may license a vaccine to be marketed in the U.S. There are also programs to expedite—but not bypass—development and review processes, such as a priority review designation, which shortens FDA’s goal review time from 10 to 6 months. Safety monitoring continues after licensing. For example, health officials are required to report certain adverse events—such as heart problems—following vaccination, in order to help identify potential long-term or rare side effects that were not seen in clinical trials and may or may not be associated with the vaccine. Figure 2. Vaccine safety is assessed at every stage: development through post-licensure. 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  • Indian Health Service: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Provider Misconduct and Substandard Performance
    In U.S GAO News
    The Indian Health Service's (IHS) policies related to provider misconduct and substandard performance outline several key aspects of oversight, such as protecting children against sexual abuse by providers, ethical and professional conduct, and processes for managing an alleged case of misconduct. Although the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or IHS headquarters have established most of these policies, area offices that are responsible for overseeing facility operations and facilities, such as hospitals, may develop and issue their own policies as long as they are consistent with headquarters' policies, according to officials. Although some oversight activities are performed at IHS headquarters, IHS has delegated primary responsibility for oversight of provider misconduct and substandard performance to the area offices. However, GAO found some inconsistencies in oversight activities across IHS areas and facilities. For example, Although all nine area offices require that new supervisors attend mandatory supervisory training, most area offices provided additional trainings related to provider misconduct and substandard performance. The content of these additional trainings varied across area offices. For example, three area offices offered training on conducting investigations of alleged misconduct, while other area offices did not. Officials from IHS headquarters told GAO they do not systematically review trainings developed by the areas to ensure they are consistent with policy or IHS-wide training. Facility governing boards—made up of IHS area office officials, including the Area Director, and facility officials, such as the Chief Executive Officer—are responsible for overseeing each facility's quality of and access to care. They generally review information related to provider misconduct and substandard performance. However, there is no standard format used by governing boards to document their review, making it difficult to determine the extent this oversight is consistently conducted. In some cases, there was no documentation by governing boards of a discussion about provider misconduct or substandard performance. For example, none of the seven governing board meeting minutes provided from one area office documented their discussion of patient complaints. In other cases, there was detailed documentation of the governing board's review. Additionally, governing boards did not always clearly document how or why an oversight decision, such as whether to grant privileges to a provider, had been made based on their review of available information. These inconsistencies in IHS's oversight activities could limit the agency's efforts to oversee provider misconduct and substandard performance. For example, by not reviewing trainings developed by area offices, IHS headquarters may also be unable to identify gaps in staff knowledge or best practices that could be applied across area offices. Addressing these inconsistencies would better position the agency to effectively protect patients from abuse and harm resulting from provider misconduct or substandard performance. IHS provides care to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) through a system of federally and tribally operated facilities. Recent cases of alleged and confirmed misconduct and substandard performance by IHS employees have raised questions about protecting the AI/AN population from abuse and harm. For example, in February 2020, a former IHS pediatrician was sentenced to five consecutive lifetime terms for multiple sex offenses against children. Several studies have been initiated or completed in response, and IHS has reported efforts to enhance safe and quality care for its patients. GAO was asked to review IHS oversight of misconduct and substandard performance. This report (1) describes IHS policies related to provider misconduct and substandard performance and (2) assesses IHS oversight of provider misconduct and substandard performance. GAO reviewed policies and documents, including minutes from 80 governing board meetings from January 2018 to December 2019. GAO also interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, all nine area offices with two or more federally operated facilities, and two federally operated facilities. GAO is making three recommendations, including that IHS should establish a process to review area office trainings as well as establish a standard approach for documenting governing board review of information. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
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  • USDA Market Facilitation Program: Information on Payments for 2019
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) distributed about $14.4 billion in 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments to farming operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. According to USDA, these payments were intended to offset the effects of trade disruptions and tariffs targeting a variety of U.S. agricultural products. FSA distributed these payments to 643,965 farming operations. The average MFP payment per farming operation for 2019 was $22,312 but varied by county, ranging from $44 to $295,299. MFP payments for 2019 also varied by type of commodity. Three types of commodities were eligible for 2019 MFP payments: (1) nonspecialty crops (including grains and oilseeds, such as corn and soybeans); (2) specialty crops (including nuts and fruits, such as pecans and cranberries); and (3) dairy and hogs. Most of the 2019 MFP payments went to farming operations that produced nonspecialty crops. Less than 10 percent went to farming operations that produced specialty crops or dairy and hogs. USDA made approximately $519 million in additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 because of increases in payment limits—the cap on payments that members of farming operations can receive. FSA distributed these additional MFP payments to about 10,000 farming operations across 39 states. The amount of additional MFP payments that FSA distributed for 2019 varied by location. Farming operations in five states—Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota—received almost half of all additional payments. In May 2019, USDA announced it would distribute up to $14.5 billion in direct payments to farming operations that were affected by trade disruptions, following the approximately $8.6 billion USDA announced it had distributed for 2018. USDA referred to these 2018 and 2019 payments as the MFP. In comparison with 2018, USDA changed the 2019 payment structure for the three types of commodities that were eligible for payments. For example, USDA increased the payment limit for each of these three types. GAO was asked to review the distribution of MFP payments for 2019. This report examines, among other things, MFP payments for 2019 and how they varied by location, farming operation, and type of commodity, as well as additional MFP payments for 2019 compared with 2018 that resulted from increased payment limits. To accomplish these objectives, GAO analyzed data from USDA and interviewed agency officials knowledgeable about the data. For more information, contact Steve Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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  • Military Housing: DOD Has Taken Key Steps to Strengthen Oversight, but More Action Is Needed in Some Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    In 1996 Congress provided DOD with authorities enabling it to obtain private-sector financing and management to repair, renovate, construct, and operate military housing. DOD has since privatized about 99 percent of its domestic housing. The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in addressing weaknesses in its privatized housing program, and GAO has identified additional opportunities to strengthen the program. GAO reported in March 2020 on DOD's oversight and its role in the management of privatized housing. Specifically, GAO found that 1) the military departments conducted some oversight of the physical condition of privatized housing, but some efforts were limited in scope; 2) the military departments used performance metrics to monitor private developers, but the metrics did not provide meaningful information on the condition of housing; 3) the military departments and private developers collected maintenance data on homes, but these data were not captured reliably or consistently, and 4) DOD provided reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but some data in these reports were unreliable, leading to misleading results. GAO made 12 recommendations, including that DOD take steps to improve housing condition oversight, performance indicators, maintenance data, and resident satisfaction reporting. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. As of February 2021, DOD fully implemented 5 recommendations and partially implemented 7 recommendations. DOD should also take action to improve the process for setting basic allowance for housing (BAH)—a key source of revenue for privatized housing projects. In January 2021, GAO reported on DOD's process to determine BAH. GAO found that DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. GAO recommended that DOD review its methodology to increase sample sizes. GAO has also determined, in a report to be issued this week, that DOD should improve oversight of privatized housing property insurance and natural disaster recovery. GAO assessed the extent to which the military departments and the Office of the Secretary of Defense exercise oversight of their projects' insurance coverage. GAO found that the military departments have exercised insufficient oversight, and that the Office of the Secretary of Defense has not regularly monitored the military departments' implementation of insurance requirements. Without establishing procedures for timely and documented reviews, the military departments cannot be assured that the projects are complying with insurance requirements and assuming a proper balance of risk and cost. The draft of this report, which GAO provided to DOD for official comment, included 9 recommendations, 2 of which DOD addressed in January 2021 by issuing policy updates. The final report's 7 remaining recommendations, including that the military departments update their respective insurance review oversight procedures, will help strengthen DOD's oversight of privatized housing, once implemented. DOD concurred with all of the recommendations. Congress enacted the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) in 1996 to improve the quality of housing for servicemembers. DOD is responsible for general oversight of privatized housing projects. Private-sector developers are responsible for the ownership, construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair of about 99 percent of military housing in the United States. GAO has conducted a series of reviews of MHPI, following reports of hazards (such as mold) in homes, questions about DOD's process to determine the basic allowance for housing rates, which is a key revenue source for privatized housing, and concerns about how DOD ensures appropriate property insurance for privatized housing projects impacted by severe weather. This statement summarizes 1) steps DOD has taken to strengthen oversight and management of its privatized housing program, and work remaining; 2) actions needed to improve DOD's BAH process; and 3) actions needed to enhance DOD's oversight of privatized housing property insurance. The statement summarizes two of GAO's prior reports, and a report to be issued, related to privatized housing. For this statement, GAO reviewed prior reports, collected information on recommendation implementation, and interviewed DOD officials. In prior reports, GAO recommended that DOD improve oversight of housing conditions; review its process for determining basic allowance for housing rates; and that the military departments update their housing insurance review oversight procedures. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Department of Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Accounting of Intradepartmental Transactions
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has a long-standing material weakness related to intradepartmental transactions. Intradepartmental transactions occur when trading partners within the same department engage in business activities—such as the Department of the Army as a seller and the Department of the Navy as a buyer within DOD. As part of the standard process of preparing department-wide financial statements, intradepartmental transaction amounts are eliminated to avoid overstating accounts for DOD. For the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, DOD eliminated approximately $451 billion of net intradepartmental activity. Auditors continue to report a material weakness related to DOD's processes for recording and reconciling intradepartmental transaction amounts that are necessary to eliminate the transactions and prepare reliable consolidated financial statements. DOD has identified implementation of the Government Invoicing (G-Invoicing) system as its long-term solution to account for and support its intradepartmental activities. In fiscal year 2020, DOD issued a policy requiring all DOD components to use G-Invoicing's General Terms and Conditions (GT&C) functionality for initiating and approving GT&C agreements—a necessary step for using subsequent G-Invoicing functionalities (see figure). GAO found the use of this functionality varied among selected DOD components because of issues such as inconsistency in DOD policies and numerous changes to G-Invoicing system specifications. If DOD components do not implement the GT&C functionality, there is an increased risk of delay in full implementation of G-Invoicing to help remediate the intradepartmental eliminations material weakness. General Terms and Conditions Agreement Process in Government Invoicing Although DOD has identified G-Invoicing as its long-term solution, GAO found that DOD has not implemented an overall department-wide strategy to address its intradepartmental eliminations material weakness in the short term. Further, GAO found that while DOD issued a department-wide policy in May 2019 with new requirements for reconciling intradepartmental transactions, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and selected DOD components have not updated their policies or implemented several of the new requirements. Without a short-term strategy that includes identifying the causes of issues and consistently implementing department-wide policies across DOD, DOD's efforts to resolve differences in intradepartmental transaction amounts—including its efforts in the long term—will likely be inefficient and ineffective. Since 1995, GAO has designated DOD financial management as high risk because of pervasive weaknesses in its financial management systems, controls, and reporting. DOD's long-standing intradepartmental eliminations material weakness reflects DOD's inability to adequately record and reconcile its intradepartmental transactions, and has affected DOD's ability to prepare auditable financial statements. GAO was asked to evaluate DOD's process for performing intradepartmental eliminations. This report examines the extent to which DOD has (1) identified and taken steps to address issues related to intradepartmental eliminations and (2) established and implemented policies and procedures related to intradepartmental eliminations. GAO interviewed DOD officials about intradepartmental eliminations processes and reviewed DOD policies and procedures to identify the extent to which procedures have been implemented to record and reconcile intradepartmental transactions. GAO is making five recommendations to DOD, including that DOD should (1) take actions to ensure that its components follow its policy for using G-Invoicing's GT&C functionality and (2) develop short-term solutions that address causes for trading partner differences before G-Invoicing is fully implemented. DOD agreed with all five recommendations and cited actions to address them. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or kociolekk@gao.gov.
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  • Program on VMI Case Recalls Ginsburg’s Crusade for Gender Equality
    In U.S Courts
    A recent program honoring the 25th anniversary of a landmark case allowing women to enroll in the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) also celebrated a broader theme: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decades-long effort to remove gender bias from state and federal laws.
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  • Over-The-Counter Drugs: Information on FDA’s Regulation of Most OTC Drugs
    In U.S GAO News
    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulated most over-the-counter (OTC) drugs—that is, drugs available without a prescription—through the OTC monograph process. FDA has described an OTC monograph as a "rulebook" for marketing safe and effective OTC drugs, such as aspirin, cough and cold medicine, and hand sanitizer. OTC monographs established conditions—such as active ingredients, indications for use, dosage forms, and product labeling—under which an OTC drug was generally recognized as safe and effective. According to FDA officials, before the CARES Act, which was enacted in March 2020, the agency's ability to update and finalize monographs in response to safety issues and to reflect new scientific information was limited by the rulemaking process the agency was required to follow, as well as insufficient resources. Agency officials estimated that it took at least 6 years to complete the required rulemaking process. Additionally, the agency reported it was critically under-resourced to regulate the estimated 100,000 OTC drugs marketed through the monograph process. However, the CARES Act provided for a new process to regulate these OTC drugs rather than the rulemaking process. FDA officials expect it will take less time to update and finalize requirements for OTC drugs using the new process. The CARES Act also authorized FDA to assess user fees to provide additional resources to regulate OTC drugs. Although FDA officials said this new process and user fees should improve its regulation of OTC drugs, the agency's analysis of the effect of the CARES Act is still ongoing. FDA officials told GAO that prior to the CARES Act, they used various methods to identify and respond to safety issues related to OTC drugs. For example, to identify these issues, FDA officials said they read medical literature related to safety issues and reviewed reports submitted to the agency's adverse event reporting system. To respond to these issues, FDA took steps such as issuing drug safety communications to consumers and requesting that manufacturers make changes to a drug's labeling. For example, in 2015, two FDA advisory committees recommended that cough and cold drugs with codeine be removed from the relevant OTC monograph for use in drugs in children. In 2018, FDA also issued a drug safety communication stating the risks outweighed the benefits for the use of these drugs in children. However, FDA officials said these methods were not a substitute for rulemaking because manufacturers could legally market their OTC drugs without making requested safety changes until the rulemaking process was completed. According to FDA officials, the new process for regulating OTC drugs included in the CARES Act could improve FDA's ability to address identified safety risks in a more timely and efficient manner in the future. The act established an expedited process to address safety issues that pose an imminent hazard to public health or to change a drug's labeling to mitigate a significant or unreasonable risk of a serious adverse event. OTC drugs prevent and treat a variety of conditions; for example, sunscreen is used to help prevent sunburn. FDA officials and stakeholders, such as industry representatives and patient and provider groups, have questioned whether the monograph process used to regulate most OTC drugs has been overly burdensome and has limited FDA's ability to quickly update and finalize monographs in response to potential safety issues for consumers. Enacted in March 2020, the CARES Act changed how FDA regulates OTC drugs. The Sunscreen Innovation Act included a provision for GAO to review FDA's regulation of OTC drugs. This report describes, among other issues, (1) the factors that affected FDA's ability to regulate OTC drugs and (2) how FDA identified and responded to safety issues associated with these drugs. GAO reviewed federal statutes and agency documents and interviewed FDA officials and stakeholders familiar with the monograph process. These stakeholders included representatives from the OTC drug industry, health care provider and consumer groups, and researchers. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact John E. Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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  • Singaporean National Sentenced to 14 Months in Prison for Acting in the United States As an Illegal Agent of Chinese Intelligence
    In Crime News
    Jun Wei Yeo, also known as Dickson Yeo, was sentenced today in federal court to 14 months in prison. Yeo pled guilty on July 24, 2020 to acting within the United States as an illegal agent of a foreign power without first notifying the Attorney General, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 951. The announcement was made by John G. Demers, Assistant Attorney General; Michael R. Sherwin, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia; James A. Dawson, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of FBI Washington Field Office; Alan E. Kohler, Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division; and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations.
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    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Chicago, Illinois, returned a superseding indictment yesterday charging the owner of a tax preparation business with filing tax returns for herself and clients, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • Justice Department Sues to Block Aon’s Acquisition of Willis Towers Watson
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit today to block Aon’s $30 billion proposed acquisition of Willis Towers Watson, a transaction that would bring together two of the “Big Three” global insurance brokers. As alleged in the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the merger threatens to eliminate competition, raise prices, and reduce innovation for American businesses, employers, and unions that rely on these important services.
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    In U.S GAO News
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  • The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Publish Final Rule to Restrict Certain Criminal Aliens’ Eligibility for Asylum
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced the publication of a Final Rule amending their respective regulations to prevent certain categories of criminal aliens from obtaining asylum in the United States.  The rule takes effect 30 days after publication of the Final Rule in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
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  • Puerto Rico CPA Indicted and Arrested on Wire Fraud Charges in Relation to Act 20 and Act 22 Scheme
    In Crime News
    On Oct. 14, 2020, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned an indictment charging Gabriel F. Hernández, with ten counts of wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1343, announced W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney, District of Puerto Rico, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, and Tyler R. Hatcher, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Miami Field Office. The indictment was unsealed this week after the arrest of the defendant by federal law enforcement officers from IRS-CI.
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  • North Carolina Return Preparers Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud the IRS
    In Crime News
    Two Durham, North Carolina, return preparers pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin of the Middle District of North Carolina.
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  • Four Individuals Plead Guilty to RICO Conspiracy Involving “Bulletproof Hosting” for Cybercriminals
    In Crime News
    Four Eastern European nationals have pleaded guilty to conspiring to engage in a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) arising from their providing “bulletproof hosting” services between 2008 and 2015, which were used by cybercriminals to distribute malware and attack financial institutions and victims throughout the United States.
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  • Retirement Security: Other Countries’ Experiences with Caregiver Policies
    In U.S GAO News
    For over a decade, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom (UK) have developed and implemented national approaches—including strategies, laws, and policies—to support family caregivers, according to experts GAO interviewed. Specifically, experts noted that these efforts could help caregivers maintain workforce attachment, supplement lost income, and save for retirement. As a result, their retirement security could improve. For example, experts said: Care leave allows employees to take time away from work for caregiving responsibilities. Australia's and Germany's policies allow for paid leave (10 days per year of work or instance of caregiving need, respectively), and all three countries allow for unpaid leave though the duration varies. Caregivers can receive income for time spent caregiving. Australia and the UK provide direct payments to those who qualify. Germany provides indirect payments, whereby the care recipient receives an allowance, which they can pass on to their caregiver. Other Countries' Policies to Support Caregivers Experts in all three countries cited some challenges with caregiver support policies. For example, paid leave is not available to all workers in Germany, such as those who work for small firms. In Australia and the UK, experts said eligibility requirements for direct payments (e.g., limits on hours worked or earnings) can make it difficult for someone to work outside their caregiving role. Experts in all three countries said caregivers may be unaware of available supports. For example, identifying caregivers is a challenge in Australia and the UK. As required under the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened the Family Caregiving Advisory Council (FCAC)—a stakeholder group that is to jointly develop a national family caregiving strategy. As of July 2020, HHS and the FCAC reported limited information on other countries' approaches, and neither entity had concrete plans to collect more. In September 2020, HHS officials provided sources they recently reviewed on selected policies in other countries, and they further noted that HHS staff, FCAC members, and collaborating partners have subject-matter expertise and bring perspectives about other countries' efforts into their discussions. Family caregivers play a critical role in supporting the elderly population, which is growing at a rapid rate worldwide. However, those who provide eldercare may risk their own long-term financial security. Other countries have implemented policies to support caregivers. In recognition of challenges caregivers face in the United States, Congress directed HHS, in consultation with other federal entities, to develop a national family caregiving strategy. GAO was asked to provide information about other countries' efforts that could improve the retirement security of parental and spousal caregivers. This report examines (1) other countries' approaches to support family members who provide eldercare, (2) challenges of these approaches, and (3) the status of HHS' efforts to develop a national family caregiving strategy. GAO conducted case studies of three countries—Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom—selected based on factors including rates of informal care (i.e., help provided to older family members or friends) and the types of policies they have that could improve caregivers' retirement security. GAO interviewed government officials and experts and reviewed relevant federal laws, research, and documents. GAO's draft report recommended that HHS collect additional information about other countries' experiences. In response, in September 2020, HHS provided an update on its efforts to do so. As a result, GAO removed the recommendation and modified the report accordingly. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at or nguyentt@gao.gov.
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  • VA Disability Benefits: VA Should Continue to Improve Access to Quality Disability Medical Exams for Veterans Living Abroad
    In U.S GAO News
    The number of disability claims for veterans living abroad—in foreign countries or U.S. territories—increased 14 percent from fiscal years 2014 to 2019. During this time period, claims processing time frames improved. In fiscal year 2019, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approved comparable percentages of disability claims for veterans living abroad and domestically—63 percent and 64 percent respectively. However, for a subset of these claims—those where veterans likely received a disability medical exam scheduled by Department of State (State) embassy staff—approval rates were often lower. Veterans' access to disability medical exams abroad improved as VBA has increasingly relied on contracted examiners, rather than embassy-referred examiners, to conduct these exams. According to VBA, this shift expanded the pool of trained examiners abroad and increased the frequency and depth of VBA's quality reviews for contract exams. These quality reviews help VBA and its contractor identify and address common errors, according to VBA and contractor officials. However, several factors continue to limit some veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams (see figure). Factors That Impair the Access of Veterans Living Abroad to Quality Disability Medical Exams Unknown quality of certain exams: A subset of veterans living abroad receive disability medical exams from an embassy-referred provider. VBA does not systematically assess the quality of these exams. Without doing so, VBA cannot determine if such exams affect the approval rates of veterans who receive them or contribute to longer processing times and are unable to make informed decisions about their use. Travel reimbursement: Under current VA regulations, VA is not authorized to reimburse veterans for travel expenses for certain services incurred in foreign countries as it is for those incurred within the United States, including U.S. territories. Consequently, some veterans living in foreign countries may be unable to afford to travel to exams. Examiner reimbursement: The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Foreign Medical Program reimburses examiners referred by embassy staff via paper checks in U.S. currency. These checks may be slow to arrive and not accepted by foreign banks, according to State and other officials and staff we interviewed. Such payment issues can deter examiners from being willing to conduct disability medical exams and thus limit veterans' access to these exams in foreign countries. Of the roughly 1 million disability claims VBA processed in fiscal year 2019, 18,287 were for veterans living abroad. Veterans living abroad are entitled to the same disability benefits as those living domestically, but GAO previously reported that veterans living abroad may not be able to access disability medical exams as readily as their domestic counterparts. VBA uses medical exam reports to help determine if a veteran should receive disability benefits. GAO was asked to review the disability claims and exam processes for veterans living abroad. Among other things, this report examines disability claims trends for veterans living abroad and these veterans' ability to access quality disability medical exams. GAO analyzed VBA claims data for fiscal years 2014 to 2019; assessed data reliability; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, policies, and contract documents; and interviewed employees of VBA, State, and other stakeholders. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VBA assess the quality of embassy-referred exams, VBA and VHA assess whether to reimburse beneficiaries for travel to disability medical exams in foreign countries, and that VBA and VHA pay examiners located by embassy staff electronically. The Department of Veterans Affairs concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-7215 or curdae@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that Target Recovery Towing Inc. (Target) has agreed to enter into a court-enforceable consent order to resolve allegations that it failed to obtain a legally required court order before auctioning off a car belonging to a U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant who was deployed overseas. 
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    In Crime News
    A Mississippi businessman was charged with defrauding the United States and other health care providers in a $1.8 million scheme related to acquiring and hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE) and price gouging health care providers, including numerous U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in critical need of PPE.
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