Weekly Columns

Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

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Washington, May 23, 2018 | Lani Short (202-225-6356) | comments

Next Monday, our nation will observe Memorial Day, a solemn day of remembrance for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. Memorial Day is much more than just a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer. Memorial Day is an important day in our history when we pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving in the Armed Forces. Since 1868, our nation has observed this day to honor the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who gave their lives in defense of our Republic. It is our duty to honor and support these heroes, and to pray for those who are currently deployed and in harm’s way. 

Serving as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs gives me the opportunity to work on behalf of veterans in East Tennessee and across the nation. One of my highest priorities as chairman is to ensure veterans have timely access to the quality care they deserve. For that reason, I’m proud that my bill, the VA MISSION Act, passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support last week, passed the Senate today and is expected to be signed by President Trump in the near future. This legislation will transform and modernize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system and has the support of all leading Veterans Service Organizations, VA and the White House.

This legislation builds on the progress made when Congress created the Choice Program four years ago after it was uncovered that some veterans died waiting for care on a secret wait list. The Choice Program is one of seven programs VA uses to allow veterans to seek care in the community. The VA MISSION Act will streamline those seven programs into one easier-to-use, veteran-centric program. This program will ensure veterans have access to the care they need, when they need it – whether at a VA facility or with a community provider partnering with VA. This legislation also provides additional funding for the Choice Program to ensure veterans have continuity of care during the transition to the new program created by the VA MISSION Act.

I am also pleased this legislation expands VA’s Post-9/11 Caregiver Program to eligible veterans from all eras. Some veterans who suffer catastrophic injuries rely on the assistance of family members or other designated caregivers, but – until this legislation – only caregivers for Post 9/11 veterans were able to seek support from VA. This expansion gradually rolls out over the next few years, allowing Congress to conduct necessary oversight over the current structure to ensure this program is truly benefiting veterans and their caregivers.

Finally, this legislation establishes a commission that will review VA’s assets and make recommendations on how to ensure VA is structured in a way that is responsive to veteran needs. Going back to Civil War times, VA has built large hospitals that often require veterans to travel long distances to access care. As more and more care is delivered on an outpatient basis, VA has created more community-based outpatient clinics, but they are still far behind where they need to be, often stuck with outdated, poorly-located facilities that don’t fit the needs of today’s veterans. This commission will make recommendations to create a 21st Century VA.

President Trump called on Congress to pass this bill before Memorial Day, and we answered that call. The president promised to “not rest until all of America’s great veterans can receive the care they so richly deserve,” and I’m honored we were able to help fulfill this promise.

In addition to our work to reform VA health care, the House passed more than a dozen other bipartisan veterans bills this week. For instance, we passed the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act to reauthorize and improve programs that assist veterans facing homelessness with housing and access to job training and placement programs. We also passed the Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2018 to ensure disabled veterans receive a cost-of-living adjustment, as well as the Veterans’ Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act, a bill I introduced with Ranking Member Tim Walz. This bill will give Congress additional tools to conduct oversight of VA’s transition to its new electronic health record system. Just last week, VA’s Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie signed a contract to begin this transition, and I intend to closely monitor this process every step of the way. This transition is expected to cost roughly $16 billion, so Congress must conduct careful oversight to ensure tax dollars are spent wisely as this important transition moves forward.

With the advancements Congress is making to repair and support VA, I am hopeful that the organization is on an upward trajectory. I am proud of our accomplishments and remain committed to ensuring veterans have access to the care and benefits they earned and deserve.

This Memorial Day, I encourage you and your family to remember the many men and women who have died in service to our country.

Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.

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