Honoring our veterans is one of the greatest privileges I have as a U.S. Senator. Earlier this month, President Trump proclaimed November “National Veterans and Military Families Month.” As we recognize our veterans and honor the sacrifice and heroism of those who answered the call to serve our nation in uniform, we must recommit ourselves to fighting on their behalf.
As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am committed to honoring the promise made to our veterans. We’ve made tremendous progress during this Congress. In June, President Trump signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. This law strengthens accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by allowing the Department to dismiss bad employees while protecting those who expose wrongdoing.
We have also enhanced post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to increase educational opportunities. I’m proud to have played a role in crafting this law, along with my colleague Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). This bipartisan legislation is a great example of how we work across the aisle to get things done. For several years, we championed fixing an oversight that prevented combat-injured members of the National Guard and Reserve from receiving the same GI Bill benefits as active duty military members. Wounded and injured service members were being unfairly penalized from accruing educational benefits they rightly earned while in recovery. This was a priority for us because these men and women deserve better. To correct this injustice, we introduced legislation earlier this year as well as in the last Congress. I’m pleased it was included in the comprehensive GI Reform bill that was signed into law this summer.
While we’ve made improvements, there is still more that needs to be done including the expansion of VA services for female veterans. I encourage my colleagues to support the Deborah Sampson Act to address these concerns, and I urge VA Secretary Shulkin to implement reforms written in the bill that don’t require congressional action.
In the coming days, the Senate VA Committee will consider bipartisan legislation to consolidate and improve access to community care – a must needed update to the Choice Program, created by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. That law was passed by Congress in 2014 to expand access to community health care for veterans. We knew then that this was just the first step. We’ve made incremental improvements to the program since then, but more must be done.
The VA estimates that one third of enrolled veterans live in rural areas. We must improve how we are meeting their needs, especially how we deliver treatment and care. Earlier this year I hosted listening sessions with Arkansas veterans to obtain their input on the strengths and weaknesses of the program as we continue to expand access to adequate health care options for veterans. I am committed to ensuring our veterans are getting the very best care so hearing input directly from veterans was tremendously helpful.
This country made a promise to our veterans that we must live up to and I’m proud to be a champion for them to ensure we follow through with our commitment. Working together, we can find solutions that deliver the results they expect and earned.