This weekend, Americans will observe Veterans Day, a day on which we honor the brave men and women who fought for our country. Since coming to Congress, I have proudly served on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee; and earlier this year was given the privilege and responsibility to serve as its Chairman. As a veteran myself, I take the commitment we’ve made to veterans and their families very seriously. Veterans Day is a powerful reminder of how our nation’s liberty has been secured and preserved by the members of our Armed Forces since the founding of our great nation.
One of the things I love most about Tennessee is how we all appreciate the sacrifice and service of the more than 500,000+ veterans in our state. It is truly a privilege to work on improving conditions for the men and women who sacrificed to protect the freedoms we enjoy today. In East Tennessee, we’re fortunate to have the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center, and I hear from many veterans in the First District who are extremely pleased with the care they receive there. Our medical center was recently rated as a 4-star facility, and I couldn’t be prouder of the work the staff at Mountain Home does every day. But as you look across our state, veterans in Middle and West Tennessee have facilities that need improvement. We must ensure that veterans throughout our state and nationwide have access to the same high-quality care enjoyed by veterans in East Tennessee.
As I mentioned in my column two weeks ago, I am continuing to work on one of my highest priorities as chairman, which is ensuring veterans have timely access to the health care they have earned. I am working to streamline the Choice Program and VA’s other community care programs into one veteran-centric program that ensures veterans can receive timely, convenient care, regardless of the setting it’s provided in. My legislation, the VA Care in the Community Act, was introduced last week and is cosponsored by every member of the committee, both Republican and Democrat.
Another one of my priorities is to ensure the VA is well-positioned to meet the needs of our veteran population. As a doctor, I’ve seen how medicine has changed in the last 30 years. Care that used to be delivered in a 500-bed hospital on an inpatient basis can now be delivered in a 100-bed hospital on an outpatient basis. VA is spending a great deal on bricks and mortar while more resources are needed for doctors and nurses. That’s why VA’s assets need to be strategically reviewed to ensure the VA is aligned with veteran demographics and needs and why I have introduced the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review (VA AIR) Act of 2017. This legislation would enact one of the eighteen recommendations made by the bipartisan Commission on Care to create an unbiased, non-partisan panel to examine Veterans Health Administration assets. The commission will be tasked with developing recommendations on modernizing or realigning VHA facilities so we can invest in a stronger VA for America’s heroes.
In addition to our work on these long-term priorities, the committee produced 14 bipartisan veterans’ bills that the House passed this week. These bills will protect veterans from financial fraud, improve VA’s organ transplant program, expand mental health care for certain veterans, streamline VA’s telehealth program and provide better in-home care for disabled veterans – to name a few.
This Veterans Day, I encourage you to take a moment to remember the sacrifice it takes to keep this great country safe and free. I thank all the men and women, past and present, who have answered the call to serve. My thoughts and prayers are always with you and your families, and I am eternally grateful for all you do.Feel free to contact my office if we can be of assistance to you or your family.