As an Army veteran, I believe we have no higher commitment than to take care of our active duty military, their families, and our veterans. As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, you have my word that we will never allow our soldiers to return home to anything less than a hero’s welcome.
As a veteran and a physician, I am excited to get to work on reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As Chairman, I will conduct hearings, provide oversight and work to implement policies which will put veterans back in charge of how they receive healthcare from the VA. I do not take this appointment lightly and will be a consistent advocate for improving the quality and timeliness of care that veterans receive both in and out of VA health care facilities, as well as ensure the benefits earned by our veterans are never delayed, dismantled or reneged upon.
Veterans Choice Program
In April 2014, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee discovered that many VA patients seeking care were being put on secret waiting lists—resulting in long, unreported wait times. These delays allegedly resulted in the deaths of over 40 veterans.
In response, Congress passed, and the president signed, H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. I was honored to have served as a member of the conference committee that negotiated the final bill with the Senate. This law gives veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment—or who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility—the choice to seek VA-funded care outside of the VA system.
H.R. 3230 also increases accountability within the VA by granting the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to fire or demote senior VA executives for poor performance and misconduct. Holding senior managers accountable is an important step toward addressing the corrosive culture which has existed within the VA bureaucracy for far too long. Unfortunately, to date, just three employees have been fired for their involvement in the nationwide waitlist scandal – which spanned over 110 VA facilities. This is unacceptable.
Over the past two years, my colleagues and I on the Veterans Affairs Committee have been holding hearings to ensure the Veterans Choice Program is implemented by the VA in accordance with the intent of the legislation. While there is much work yet to be done, it is imperative we get this right because veterans have earned the right to receive timely, high-quality medical care. As Chairman, I will ensure that the Choice program is reauthorized and improved upon to serve veterans better and offer true choice.
Importantly, in the 115th Congress, President Trump signed the Eliminating the Sunset Date of the Choice Act into law, which allows the Choice Act to continue operating until its funding runs out, rather than the date initially chosen in the original legislation. This also allows for more time to work with my colleagues on robust reauthorization legislation that creates a more manageable VA health care system that provides the services veterans need and deserve.
National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial Act
I sponsored H.R. 503, the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial Act, which passed the House of Representatives as a part of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, and was signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2014. This law authorizes the construction of a lasting memorial to veterans of Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, paid for entirely with private funds. The United States currently lacks a national memorial dedicated to the valor and sacrifices made by those members of our Armed Forces who honorably fought in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. This will properly honor the sacrifices made and work done by the nearly 600,000 individuals who were deployed to serve in these operations.
In March, President Trump signed Legislation Approving the Location for the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial Act into law. This crucial piece of legislation designated that the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial should be located on the National Mall near the memorials dedicated to the service members from other armed conflicts in which the United States armed forces have been involved previously.
Invisible Wounds Caucus
As our veterans and service members continue to return from Iraq and Afghanistan, we must be prepared to address new needs, such as treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am the co-chair of the Invisible Wounds Caucus, whose purpose is to educate and seek solutions to better address the unseen challenges our men and women in uniform may face after serving our country abroad.
The invisible wounds, such as PTSD and TBI suffered by our active duty service members and veterans has been brought even more into focus in recent times due to the startling report of the number of daily veteran suicides and the shortcomings of the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL). In August 2016, the VA released a report that indicated an average of between 20 and 22 veterans commit suicide per day. This unfortunate statistic was only compounded by the VA Office of Inspector General’s report that numerous calls to the VCL were going unanswered, were being forwarded to backup centers where they were answered by individuals with far less training than those who should be answer the calls and that suggested corrections had yet to be implemented in order to fix these shortcomings. This is unacceptable and we must make a change to ensure that our veterans have access to the best professionals available at the time they are most in need.
Interoperable Health Records for Military and Veterans
For years, the Department of Defense and VA have not been able to construct or agree upon an electronic health records system capable of transitioning data from DOD to VA health systems. This failure will have cost taxpayers an astronomical $12 billion by the time in-house development is supposed to be completed—whenever that may be. This kind of waste is simply unacceptable for our men and women who have served in uniform.
For this reason I’ve introduced H.R. 1590, the Integrated Electronic Health Records (iEHR) for Military and Veterans Act. This legislation creates a prize competition—similar in spirit to the X Prize that led to the first privately-designed reusable space vehicle—which would give a monetary award to the system that best fits DOD and VA needs, at a fraction of the estimated cost of the in-house alternative. My bill seeks to utilize the knowledge and expertise of the private sector to create an iEHR quicker, better, and more cost effectively than the in-house alternative.
My office is available to help veterans if they are having problems with the VA. Veterans can contact the VA directly to take advantage of the following benefits:
-Compensation and Pension
-Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment