Weekly Columns

Looking Forward For Our Veterans

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Washington, March 13, 2019 | Whitley Alexander (2022266356) | comments

One of my top priorities and highest privileges is working to ensure those “who shall have borne the battle” receive the services and support they have earned. It is an honor to serve as the Ranking Republican Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) this Congress. While I chaired the Committee the last two years, we accomplished historic reforms to improve the benefits and support provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Now, I look forward to ensuring these reforms are properly implemented. 

In my time as Chairman of HVAC, I worked tirelessly with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find bipartisan compromise on many bills, including the monumental VA MISSION Act. This law improves veterans’ access to quality care and gives them increased freedom when choosing where they receive care, whether at VA or in their community. This law also transforms VA’s health care system by streamlining the VA Community Care and Choice programs into one cohesive program. The VA MISSION Act also contained provisions to strengthen VA’s internal capacity to provide timely and quality care. This was a milestone for VA’s integrated health care system, and I am excited to see it go live this June. 

On February 27, the Committee held its first hearing of the year entitled “VA 2030: A Vision for the Future of the VA.” I applaud Chairman Takano for starting this Committee off with a forward-looking hearing. We must focus on providing necessary oversight as all the laws we passed last Congress are implemented so we can ensure VA improves as intended. Our focus needs to be on the future, and I look forward to seeing VA a decade from now after all of our reforms are enacted. As part of the VA MISSION Act, we established the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) commission, which is tasked with reviewing the VA’s infrastructure and making recommendations on how to properly align the system to meet the future needs of veterans. Health care has changed rather significantly over the past 40 years. More and more, care can be delivered effectively and conveniently in an outpatient setting near our veterans’ homes, but VA is still too focused on large hospitals delivering inpatient care. I am hopeful this commission will help ensure VA situates its assets in the most convenient, effective way possible to serve the 21st-century veteran.

Updating technology is also very important for our VA facilities to provide quality and timely care. Under my leadership, the Committee established the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization to ensure VA’s efforts to smoothly implement the largest governmental electronic health record overhauls in history, the Electronic Health Record Modernization Program (EHR). It is critical that we do not rush because of the complexity of this task. I was glad to see Chairman Takano continue this important oversight function in the new Congress.  

Even with our accomplishments last Congress, there is still much to be done. One of my top goals this Congress is to assist our Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who are seeking entitlement to service connection based on the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange during their service. As a Vietnam-era veteran myself, I am devoted to ensuring these vets get the benefits they deserve. Dioxin is now understood to have caused significant health issues for our veterans who were exposed, but VA’s presumption currently only extends to those who served on land or the inland waterways of Vietnam. Even though Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans may have also been exposed to dioxin, they do not currently receive the presumption of exposure like those who had boots on the ground or were on boats in “brown water.” I hope the House passes this bill again and that the Senate takes action this time. We have no time to waste, and based on census data, around 523 Vietnam- veterans are dying every day. It is time for Blue Water veterans to receive compensation for the conditions they have suffered due to their service to our great nation.

Today, the veteran population is changing, with more women veterans. As an OB-GYN, I know women’s health care needs are different than men’s and we need to make sure VA is prepared to take care of them. Taking care of our nation’s veterans has been a priority of mine since I first took my oath of office, and I look forward to continuing my work on the Committee.


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