Congressman Greg Walden

Representing the 2nd District of Oregon

Op-Ed: Making sure our veterans get the care they deserve

August 31, 2015

OP-ED COLUMN: “Making sure our veterans get the care they deserve”

by Rep. Greg Walden

Several times a year, I have the privilege of greeting World War II veterans who travel to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial on the National Mall as part of the “Honor Flight” program. These brave men and women fought to protect our freedom and defeat tyranny. In the words of General John Pershing, the commander of American forces in World War I, “time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

He was right. Time will not dim the glory of their deeds. This holds true for all of America’s veterans, from World War II and Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. We as a nation owe our freedom to the men and women who have served in uniform.

But too often, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other arms of the federal government have failed our veterans. That’s why I’m working hard to pass legislation and cut through red tape to improve health care for veterans and active duty military, help them find jobs when they return home, and increase accountability and transparency at the VA.

One of the very first laws passed by Congress this year was the Clay Hunt SAV Act, which seeks to combat the terrible plague of veteran suicides. The law would help ensure that the VA’s mental health and suicide prevention efforts receive independent, third party oversight. And also it helps to improve accounting of available mental health services while implementing a better, community-based approach to delivering suicide prevention services.

Last year, Congress passed a law requiring the establishment of a new “Veterans Choice” program to help rural veterans get care from private providers. This was a good step, but the rollout of the new program has hit some speed bumps along the way. For example, the law that created the Choice program says that a veteran living more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility may go outside the system for care. Originally, the agency had calculated that 40 mile distance “as the crow flies” instead of the distance it took to drive there. That didn’t make sense to me or many veterans I heard from in Oregon. So we passed a law to make it clear that 40 miles is defined by how far a veteran needs to drive for care. This will help veterans get the appropriate care they need in the communities where they live.

It’s not just enough to make sure veterans have health care. They need jobs too. In July, the President signed into law the “Hire More Heroes Act,” which will exempt veterans enrolled in health care provided by the VA or TRICARE from being counted as part of the 50 full-time employee threshold for purposes of the employer mandate in Obamacare. This ensures that employers aren’t penalized for hiring veterans under the health law’s mandates. 

We also passed a new law to allow all veterans to get a special ID card from the VA as proof of veteran status, eliminating the need to carry and use their official military discharge papers. And the House has passed plans to increase funding for veterans programs, recoup bonuses from poorly performing VA executives who received them based on false claims, and allow the VA greater authority to remove employees if they aren’t up to the job. The Senate should act on these bills right away.

I have two veterans on staff who assist Oregonians with problems at the VA, and I’ve already assisted over 5,000 veterans and their families. If you or a loved one needs help with the VA (or any other federal agency), please call my office toll free from the 541 area code at 800-533-3303. I’ll do everything I can to get results for you. And I’ll keep working to make sure our veterans get the care and benefits they’ve earned through their service.

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Greg Walden represents Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which covers 20 counties in southern, central, and eastern Oregon.