This op-ed ran in The Hill on November 14, 2018.
Last month, I had the honor of meeting the nearly 100 young Kansans who applied for my recommendation to our nation’s Service Academies. Year after year, these applicants’ energy and eagerness to serve our country in this capacity humbles me and reminds me of the grave sacrifices millions before them have made for our nation.
As a member of the United States Senate, I take seriously my responsibility to provide our Armed Forces with the resources necessary to remain the strongest military in the world, and to provide our servicemembers with the tools they need to be successful on and off the battlefield. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, I remain committed to fulfilling this responsibility.
But our work to support those who sacrifice so much for our nation cannot end when their service in uniform ends. These young Kansans will someday transition back to civilian life, and we must make certain that the next generation of veterans – tech-savvy and accustomed to accessing care when they need it – has a VA that meets their 21st Century needs.
In my home state of Kansas, taking care of people – particularly those who have sacrificed for and served our nation – is a way of life, and caring for our veterans is not reserved for just one day per year. My job as a United States senator is to bring that way of life to Washington, D.C. and work to make certain veterans receive the care they deserve.
In this vein, I sponsored the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act in 2014, legislation that created the Veteran’s Choice Program to grant flexibility to veterans who otherwise would have experienced inexplicably long wait-times, drive-times, or both, to access their health care benefits. The Veterans Choice Program has certainly helped thousands of veterans, but some have still struggled to access care they need due to unnecessary VA red tape that undermined congressional intent.
Over the past several years, I have worked with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to modernize and improve the Veteran’s Choice Program and ultimately pass several pieces of reform legislation aimed at providing the tools and authorities the VA needs to complete its mission of caring for our nation’s heroes.
One such piece of legislation, named in honor of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is the VA Mission Act of 2018 – what I believe to be the single most transformative VA reform legislation in 30 years. This legislation requires the VA to develop access and quality standards that do not limit access to care based on arbitrary or ambiguous guidelines, and to create strategic plans and financial forecasting that will help establish a long-term path toward a highly integrated health care network. The law also increases access to telemedicine service, provides much-needed support to rural community hospitals and allows veterans to utilize walk-in care clinics – all of which are designed to provide greater access to care.
The provisions of the VA Mission Act are not yet fully integrated, and implementation of the VA’s regulations will determine the success of the law. I continue to work closely with my colleagues and the VA to make certain these provisions are implemented as Congress intended with the best interest of our nation’s heroes at the forefront of every decision. I am hopeful that the culture of denial, delay and the dismissal of veterans who deserve the very best our nation has to offer will be destroyed.
As I shook each of the Service Academy applicants’ hands I met with last month – young men and women whose military service is just beginning – and thanked them for their desire to serve our nation, I also acknowledged my responsibility to make them proud by ensuring they are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve when they separate from service and return to civilian life. There is no group of people I value more than our nation’s veterans. To the nearly 200,000 veterans across Kansas and millions across the country: I work to serve and honor you.
Americans of all ages, from all backgrounds and walks of life, have bravely stepped up to defend our nation, and I remain committed to fostering a world in which they return home and have ample career and educational opportunities, the ability to pursue the American dream, and, most importantly, access to timely, quality health care. If implemented correctly in the best interest of veterans, the VA Mission Act will be a significant leap forward in accomplishing that goal.
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