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COLUMN: Congress Can Act on Solutions to Improve Care for Our Veterans

March 20, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

As I begin my service in our nation’s capital, I have been impressed by the many monuments, memorials and statues that recall the great conflicts that have defined our history, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War and those of the 20th Century. The burden of keeping our nation free and secure has largely fallen on the shoulders of the men and women of our Armed Forces. These memorials help us feel connected to those who served honorably in the U.S. military and remind me of men like my father, who served a tour in the South Pacific with the Navy during World War II.

Marble and bronze monuments show the nation’s recognition of our debt to the brave men and women who were willing to sacrifice on our behalf. They also remind us of our duty to honor living veterans. The care our nation provides for veterans is a measure of the debt we owe them. It is our responsibility to ensure that the federal government keeps the commitment to provide veterans with the level of care they deserve.

The recent systemic mismanagement that surfaced at the Veterans Administration only confirmed what many veterans already know: the federal government has fallen short in meeting its obligation. Our veterans depend on the VA to be transparent and accountable, and while progress has been made, there is more work to be done.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a group of local veterans in East Wenatchee. I listened as they expressed their concerns about understaffing at VA medical clinics and a lack of information about qualification for the VA Choice program. Many of the vets described excessive wait times to receive service on their claims. Stories like these are unacceptable and test the promise that our nation has made to its veterans. I am committed to continuing to meet with other veterans groups to ensure I know their concerns.

A strong, continued focus is needed for Congress to improve care for veterans. There are solutions that will improve veterans’ healthcare: I co-sponsored the Veterans’ Access to Community Care Act of 2015 (H.R. 572), which would improve transparency at the VA and provide veterans with the choice to access healthcare outside of the VA when wait times for an appointment exceeded 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility. The legislation also accounts for a driving distance of 40 miles—a key improvement over the previous definition of 40 miles ‘as a crow flies.’

I also voted in support of the Long-Term Care Veterans’ Choice Act (H.R. 294). This bipartisan legislation authorizes the Secretary of the VA to transfer a veteran for whom the Secretary is required to provide nursing home care, to a medical foster home that meets VA standards.

At the end of his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln poignantly evoked the promise our nation has made "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan." We must fulfill this promise. We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude and quality care.