There is no group of Americans I hold in higher regard than veterans, our nation’s heroes. During my time in Congress – as a member of both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees – I have made improving the quality of life for the nearly 200,000 veterans living in Kansas a top priority. Especially at a time when thousands of troops are returning from battle and the needs of aging veterans are increasing, I am committed to keeping our promise to those who have served our country.
Veterans face a unique set of challenges as they transition from a military career to civilian life. The first of these challenges often occurs when they leave the service and enter the civilian workforce. It is critical to focus on veteran job creation and employment, which is why I sponsor legislation like the Hire More Heroes Act, the Hire Student Veterans Act, and the Veterans’ Economic Recovery Act. These bills offer practical solutions to veteran unemployment like incentivizing the hiring of veterans and offering veterans educational or vocational training opportunities.
Our nation’s veterans also deserve strong health care and benefits in return for protecting our country. For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has struggled to provide quality health care for millions of veterans, particularly those who live in rural communities. In fact, 41 percent of all veterans enrolled in the VA Health Care System reside in rural areas. That number will continue to rise with 44 percent of all U.S. Armed Forces recruits residing in rural areas across the country. To meet this growing need, I have championed common sense solutions to increase access to health care for rural veterans as well as crafted legislation and advocated to make certain Critical Access Hospitals, Rural Health Clinics, Sole Community Hospitals, and other rural hospitals can provide quality, community-oriented, primary and preventative care for veterans. I have also led measures to create additional Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), enhance transportation services to and from VA facilities, increase travel reimbursement, improve Home-Health programs and telemedicine.
I believe Kansas VA medical centers and CBOCs are filled with good, hard-working professionals who want to care for veterans by providing quality health care. But challenges remain, and the revelations of failures within the VA system in 2014 demonstrated what can happen when bureaucracy gets in the way of an organization’s mission. The scandals at VA facilities across the country, including manipulation of veteran waitlists and appointments, represented how internal VA dysfunction impacts access to and quality of health care. As a result of these harmful revelations, I sponsored The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which became law in August 2014. This vital legislation addressed the dysfunctional VA system and increased veterans’ access to health care by offering them the choice to receive care from local providers. It also held VA employees who directly delayed veteran care through secret wait lists accountable. In 2019, I sponsored the MISSION Act, which replaced the Choice Act by broadening community care criteria, making those options more accessible and flexible for veterans. I will continue to monitor the implementation of this law and the VA’s related programs to make certain Kansas veterans are able to access the health care they deserve.
Another of my objectives for our VA health care system is to provide exceptional mental health care for veterans. The VA estimates that an average of eighteen veterans die each day by suicide, and most of them never received any care from the VA. In 2020, I sponsored the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, named for a Navy SEAL who we tragically lost to suicide. This law makes many improvements to our current treatment systems and provides the VA an opportunity to participate in critical mental health research. It increases access to mental health care for rural veterans, places a Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital, and establishes a grant program to foster partnerships between VAs and resources in their local communities. I will continue to make certain that every veteran has a place to go where they can find hope and heal from the invisible wounds of war.
Our nation’s veterans should be treated like heroes, deserving of care from a grateful nation – not made to feel like a burden. I will not rest until all veterans have a Department of Veterans Affairs worthy of their service and sacrifice.
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