STANDING UP FOR VETERANS

Our vets fought for us. Now we have to fight for them.

Taking care of our veterans is among our highest responsibilities as a society. For years, it has been clear that the Veteran’s Administration needs more support. Today, half of all veterans do not receive the mental health care that they need. Veterans can wait years for the assistance they need for housing and food. The House leadership has blocked legislation that would provide health benefits for 90,000 Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. That’s an appalling betrayal of our responsibility toward our veterans.

We can and should fix these problems. The VA has 45,000 vacant posts across this country. We need to budget the funds necessary to fill those positions. Anything less is prizing dollars above our veterans’ lives. I support the Deborah Sampson Act, which would expand VA medical and legal services for female vets: everyone who has served this country deserves equal treatment and equal care. For the same reason, I support allowing VA doctors to prescribe medical cannabis in states where it is legal. And while I am in favor of last year’s Forever GI Bill, which expanded veterans’ access to higher education, I think it’s outrageous that Congress is paying for that education by cutting vets’ housing stipends. No one who has fought for this nation should have to choose between paying tuition and paying rent.

But while these problems are real and important, it’s also true that – according to the American Legion –the VA “continues to perform as well as, and often better than, the rest of the U.S. health-care system.” The proof of that fact is in the loyalty of our veterans to the VA: 80 percent of VFW members who are eligible for VA care use it, even though most of them have access to other insurance. One big reason is that VA hospitals have lifetime relationships with their patients, which gives them incentive to invest in patients’ long-term health.  In recent years, the VA has modernized the appeals process for benefits, improved patient satisfaction, and reduced wait times. It is not, as President Trump has claimed, “the most corrupt agency in the United States.” It is the way we keep our promise to those who risked everything for this country.

That’s why I stand with the American Legion, the VFW, and an overwhelming majority of veterans who oppose privatization of the VA. Along with members of Congress from both parties, I support legislation to let veterans and VA doctors make joint decisions about when veterans should go outside the VA system for care. But I will fight any attempt to dismantle the VA system and dump them on the private healthcare market. The VA is more than just another government insurance program: it’s the fulfillment of the promise this country makes to those who serve it.