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COLUMN: Honoring Service of Our Veterans

November 9, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

In a nation of lovers of freedom and liberty, one needs to look no further for examples of patriotism in action than to our veterans. Their service kept us safe and defended the freedoms we enjoy as citizens. As Americans, we do not take that service for granted. This Veteran’s Day, each one of us has the opportunity to express our gratitude for the sacrifices of the men and women who have served and continue to serve in the Armed Forces. They are our friends, neighbors, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. Take a moment this week for a simple gesture of gratitude to those who served, the words can be as simple as: “thank you for your service.”

Currently, about 1.4 million people serve on active duty in our military—less than one half of one percent of the U.S. population. Approximately 7 percent of Americans have spent time in uniform, and that number is declining over time. The burden of securing our national defense rests on these brave few, and for the federal government, implementing and honoring much-needed improvements for veterans’ care nationwide is a solemn duty. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln wrote stirring words in support of caring “for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Honoring veterans with whom we come in contact with a kind word is appropriate, but from their own government, veterans deserve a timely medical appointment either at their local VA or a private hospital.

Earlier this year after sitting down with Central Washington veterans, I introduced the Veterans Emergency Treatment (VET) Act to require that every enrolled veteran is afforded the highest level of emergency care at every emergency-capable medical facility under VA jurisdiction. The legislation is in response to the instance of our veterans receiving inadequate emergency care.  On such instance is when a 64-year-old Kennewick Army veteran, Donald Siefken, arrived outside the Seattle Veterans Administration hospital emergency room with a broken and swollen foot. Instead of receiving the assistance he needed to walk the ten-foot distance to the door from the hospital, he received instructions to call 911 and a warning that he would have to pay for the cost of any emergency services. In the end, Seattle firefighters arrived at the VA to help Donald Siefken into the emergency room to be treated.

The VET Act will fulfill promises to care for our veterans by requiring greater accountability and much-needed improvements to emergency medical response from the VA. The VET Act would apply the requirements of the Emergency Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) to emergency care furnished by the VA to enrolled veterans who arrive at the emergency department of a VA medical facility and indicate an emergency condition exists. This bill would ensure our veterans know that they are our priority, and that cases such as Donald Siefken’s treatment will not be repeated.

There is no shortage of ways to thank our veterans, and there are concrete steps we can take to care for and recognize their service to our country. God bless America’s veterans.