On Monday we will pause for Memorial Day to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. These brave heroes and their families are in my thoughts and prayers, not just Memorial Day, but every day of the year. We should always remember and honor our fallen, our veterans and our servicemembers. As a member of Congress, I take my duty to serve our veterans and servicemembers very seriously. I’ve always said there are three groups of people I will never apologize for fighting for: veterans, servicemembers and farmers.
Lately, the lack of leadership we’ve seen from the Obama administration is appalling – whether it’s the VA Secretary comparing veterans’ wait times for health care services to lines at Disney, the president’s failure to lead on the world stage, or our lack of strategy to defeat the terrorist organizations that continue to grow around the world. It’s clear our president is out of touch.
I was appalled to read VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s comments comparing wait times at the VA to lines at Disney. I believe these comments were shameful, disturbing and indicative of an agency culture that has routinely downplayed an issue that has cost veterans their lives. Wait times DO matter, especially when someone who put on a uniform and served this country is waiting for potentially life-saving treatments. This is not a joke – not something you should be comparing to amusement parks. The VA Secretary should be 100 percent focused on ensuring our veterans receive timely access to quality health care services, and it’s a responsibility that should be taken seriously.
As I’ve said before, the problems within the VA are not because of funding shortages. I believe providing the resources necessary for the men and women who served should be a top priority, and it has been. Since I’ve served on the VA Committee, the VA’s budget has grown from $99 billion to $180 billion. There’s enough money there to serve the veterans who need care, but it’s not being managed properly. The VA has more than 32,000 schedulers whose main responsibility is to schedule appointments for veterans, but there are not enough doctors and staff at the VA to meet the demand. This is why I’ve been working with the VA to implement the additional Graduate Medical Education, or GME, slots that were approved through the Choice Act.
As a physician who spent time training at a VA Medical Center, I believe bringing in more residents to see patients is a step in the right direction, but more work must be done. We need leadership at the VA – from the very top to the director level – that is passionate about taking care of veterans. And we need policies in place where the bad actors can be fired, no matter how they rank in the VA structure. I hope the Secretary’s comments will wake people up to the fact that we have a culture in the VA in desperate need of change and modernization.
I was encouraged to read that an airstrike killed the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, over the weekend, but I still believe we need a stronger, strategic plan to defeat terrorist organizations like the Taliban and ISIS. Air power is an effective tool in the larger fight against terror, but I believe it will take a sustained effort to defeat these organizations driven by an ideology of hate. While the administration touts the fact these groups are losing their footing in the Middle East, it is clear their reach has spread throughout Europe and even into the United States. We have to step up and lead this fight to protect Western interests around the world. While I understand the hesitancy to engage in a long-term ground war, it’s time to hunt, locate and destroy the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations that threaten the civilized people of the world.
With all matters related to war and peace there are no easy answers, but I have full faith in the strength and competence of our military, and I know, with the proper leadership and strategic vision, we can eliminate this threat from the world. You can rest assured I will continue to press the administration for a plan and fight to ensure our servicemembers have the tools and resources they need for success. In fact, just last week I voted for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 which included a 2.1% military pay raise. We owe so much to these men and women, and it is our duty to take care of them.
This Memorial Day, I hope you’ll join me in pausing to remember our fallen heroes. Their sacrifice is bigger than politics, and we should carry their memory in our hearts forever.Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.