Statement by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division on Veterans Day

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and its Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative would like to wish a happy Veterans Day to our soldiers, both past and present. We owe you our thanks, but more than that, we owe you our freedom. As the head of the Civil Rights Division, I am entrusted with enforcing laws that protect the rights of the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, and the veterans who have served in the past. Enforcement of these very important federal civil rights laws helps ensure that these men and women can continue to safeguard our freedom. 

Our nation’s servicemembers have been tasked with novel and difficult tasks this year. When COVID -19 reached our shores, tens of thousands of members of our National Guard in all 50 states responded to the pandemic. Many of these same servicemembers, as well as thousands of others, were also deployed in response to the public demonstrations in the past months. In March 2020, the Department of Defense issued stop movement orders on domestic and overseas travel for all military personnel and their families. These orders were necessary to slow the spread of the virus and to protect force readiness. Unfortunately, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act did not protect servicemembers who had to terminate their leases in order to comply with these orders. This meant that servicemember-lessees could have been forced to pay rent for a property that they were unable to occupy or to make car payments for a vehicle they were unable to drive due to military orders. 

Upon learning about this problem, the Civil Rights Division and its Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative mobilized to work on a solution. Fortunately, on July 20, Congress passed S. 3637, a bill to allow for lease termination based on stop movement orders. On Aug. 14, 2020, President Donald J. Trump signed the bill into law. As a result, servicemembers can rest assured that the law will protect them when stop movement orders related to COVID-19 – or any future local, national or global emergency – require them to terminate their leases.

While we maintain vigilance with respect to the deployments and orders related to COVID-19, we also continue to commit time and resources to protect the rights of servicemembers.  The employees of the Department of Justice are proud to serve our nation’s men and women in uniform in this capacity. We at the Civil Rights Division ardently enforce three statutes that protect the rights of service members; the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).

The right to vote is among our most fundamental civil rights. Protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families to vote in our nation’s federal elections, whether they are serving here or abroad, is one of our highest priorities. Through the enforcement of the UOCAVA, the department ensures that servicemembers and overseas U.S. citizens have the opportunity to request and receive absentee ballots in time to vote and have their votes counted in federal elections. The department vigilantly monitored nationwide compliance with UOCAVA for all federal elections in the 2020 cycle. In 2020, the department also filed statements of interest in lawsuits in Georgia and Massachusetts to ensure that eligible military and overseas voters would have sufficient time to vote.  In each case, the private lawsuits sought modifications to election-related dates, and the department’s briefs explained the importance of the UOCAVA requirement that states transmit absentee ballots no later than 45 days prior to any federal election. 

Our Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, in collaboration with U.S. Attorney’s offices nationwide, enforces the SCRA, and has to date obtained over $474 million in remediation to over 120,000 service members whose financial rights were violated. These cases involved unlawful home foreclosures, vehicle repossessions, interest rate reductions, lease terminations, and default judgments. In 2019, the Division obtained a $3 million settlement against a Nissan Motors for repossessing vehicles owned by 113 qualified servicemembers. On Sept. 3, 2020, the division reached a $259,000 settlement with the City of San Antonio, TX to resolve allegations that the city violated the SCRA by auctioning, or otherwise disposing of, cars owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining court orders.   

The division’s Employment Litigation Section, also in collaboration with U.S. Attorney’s offices nationwide, continues to enhance its enforcement of USERRA against private, state, and local government employers, through litigation, facilitated settlements, outreach, and advocacy. Since the division assumed USERRA enforcement authority in 2004, it has filed 105 lawsuits and favorably resolved 193 complaints through consent decrees or private settlements.

The Civil Rights Division also continually looks for new ways to protect the rights of service members, veterans and military family members. For our veterans with disabilities, the division’s Disability Rights Section has focused on outreach to the veteran population about the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensure equal access to all aspects of civic and community life. In recent months, the department resolved complaints from veterans who alleged that, because they use a service animal, they were denied access to restaurants, shops, and healthcare facilities.

America’s service members are willing to fight for us in the face of danger, and at great personal sacrifice especially in times like these.

While servicemembers carry the burdens of this nation, they should not have to worry that the financial sacrifices they are making will result in adverse actions, such as lenders foreclosing on their homes. They should not have to worry about facing employment discrimination due to their service. They should not have to worry about being able to vote while stationed away from home. They should not have to worry about being targeted for fraud and scams. And finally, our veterans should not face discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities.

We at the Department of Justice are committed to using all of the tools in our arsenal to fight for them. The violation of anyone’s civil rights is unacceptable and unlawful, and the Department of Justice will not tolerate any actions that violate the rights of service members or anyone else in our nation. 

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    What GAO Found Drug manufacturers spent $17.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for 553 drugs from 2016 through 2018, and spending was relatively stable at about $6 billion each year. Almost half of this spending was for three therapeutic categories of drugs that treat chronic medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and depression. GAO also found that nearly all DTCA spending was on brand-name drugs, with about two-thirds concentrated on 39 drugs, about half of which entered the market from 2014 through 2017. Medicare Parts B and D and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs from 2016 through 2018, $324 billion of which was spent on advertised drugs. Of the 553 advertised drugs, GAO found Medicare Parts B and D spending for 104 and 463 drugs, respectively. Among the drugs with the highest Medicare spending, some also had the highest DTCA spending. Specifically, among the top 10 drugs with the highest Medicare Parts B or D expenditures, four were also among the top 10 drugs in advertising spending in 2018: Eliquis (blood thinner), Humira (arthritis), Keytruda (cancer), and Lyrica (diabetic pain). Medicare Spending on Advertised Drugs, 2016 - 2018 GAO's review of four advertised drugs found that drug manufacturers changed their DTCA spending during key events, such as increasing spending when a drug was approved to treat additional conditions or decreasing spending following the approval of generic versions. GAO also found that DTCA may have contributed to increases in Medicare beneficiary use and spending among four selected drugs from 2010 through 2018. However, other factors likely contributed to a drug's Medicare beneficiary use and spending, making it difficult to isolate the relationship between drug advertising, use and spending. For example, GAO's review of four selected drugs showed that increases in unit prices were a factor, while stakeholders GAO interviewed cited other contributing factors such as doctors' prescribing decisions and manufacturers' drug promotions directed to doctors. Why GAO Did This Study Drug manufacturers use advertising on television and in other media to promote the use of their drugs to consumers and to encourage them to visit their doctors for more information. From 2016 through 2018, the Medicare program and beneficiaries spent $560 billion on drugs, and spending is projected to increase with the use of newer, more expensive drugs and an increase in beneficiaries. GAO was asked to examine DTCA and Medicare spending on advertised drugs. This report examines (1) drug manufacturer spending on DTCA; (2) Medicare spending on advertised drugs; and (3) changes in DTCA spending and Medicare use and spending for selected drugs. GAO analyzed DTCA spending data from Nielsen Media, and Medicare Parts B and D Drug Spending Dashboard data, from 2016 through 2018 (the most recent available data at the time of GAO's analysis). GAO also analyzed DTCA spending and Medicare data for a non-generalizable selection of four advertised drugs over a longer period—from 2010 through 2018. The four drugs were selected to reflect differences in DTCA and Medicare spending, beneficiary use, and medical conditions treated. GAO also interviewed or obtained information from officials representing 14 stakeholder groups (including research, trade, and physician organizations; and drug manufacturers of the four selected drugs) about DTCA spending and drug use and spending. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact John Dicken at (202) 512-7114 or dickenj@gao.gov.
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    In Space
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  • Designation of Iranian Procurement Networks
    In Crime Control and Security News
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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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  • Justice Department Sues To Block Geisinger Health’s Transaction With Evangelical Community Hospital
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice sued today to block Geisinger Health’s partial acquisition of its close rival, Evangelical Community Hospital. The complaint alleges that the agreement fundamentally alters the relationship between the parties, raising the likelihood of coordination and reducing Defendants’ incentives to compete aggressively against each other. As a result, the transaction is likely to lead to higher prices, lower quality, and reduced access to high-quality inpatient hospital services for patients in central Pennsylvania. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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