By Representative Brad Wenstrup –
You may have passed him on the street, or stood behind him in the checkout line at the grocery store. Perhaps you’ve sat next to him in the pew on Sunday morning. If you did, you probably didn’t realize you just brushed shoulders with a hero.
Like so many veterans, Joe (whose name is changed for privacy) is deeply humble about the sacrifices he made for our country. He answered the call to serve during the Vietnam War. After returning home from the frontlines, Joe later continued his service as a Cincinnati police officer. Then one day he received the news we all dread – the kind that sends your heart sinking and stomach churning. Joe’s doctor looked him in the eye, and told him he had bladder cancer and heart disease.
Joe visited my office to voice his frustration with the Cincinnati and Chillicothe VA hospitals – after serving our country with courage, he still couldn’t get the medical care he needed. Thankfully, the caseworkers at my District Office were able to contact both VA hospitals and work to get him immediate care for his heart and his cancer. We also helped him with his VA disability rating, which was bumped up to 100%.
Unfortunately, Joe’s story is all too common. When returning home from service, too many of our warfighters face an array of medical challenges further complicated by bureaucracy, delays, and significant variance in quality of care depending on where they seek treatment. But Joe’s story is a poignant reminder that fighting for veterans’ healthcare reform should be a cause close to every American’s heart.
Why? Because the staggering statistics of veterans caught up in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs claims backlogs or struggling to receive proper care are not just numbers on a piece of paper. Every number has a face and every statistic is a story. As an Army Reserve Officer and Iraq War veteran myself, this is personal to me. I believe it should be personal to all of us. The men and women spending long nights over mounds of paperwork or waiting in line at the VA clinic are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our moms and dads, our neighbors and friends.
They are the ones who fought for us. Now, it’s our turn to fight for them.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed several bills that will translate into tangible improvements in the lives of our veterans. On Thursday, we passed the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 (H.R. 1259), which I cosponsored, to give the VA Secretary more flexibility to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee for poor performance. Just last year, former VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson testified that it was too hard to fire bad employees at VA. This is common sense: our veterans deserve the best, and the VA should be able to hold employees accountable if they are not demonstratively providing veterans with proper care.
We also passed a bill I introduced to streamline and update the VA hiring process (H.R. 1367). Currently, the bureaucratic, inefficient hiring practices at VA hospitals make recruiting and retaining highly qualified candidates far too difficult. It’s simple: if we want to give our veterans the best possible care, then the VA has to be hiring the best possible medical professionals. And we passed the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protect Act (H.R. 1181), which I joined in introducing, to protect veterans’ constitutional rights from being taken away without due process. Learn more, here.
These common sense reforms are just the tip of the iceberg. As the Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, I am committed to continuing to chip away at the challenges facing our warfighters when they return home, as well as to bringing much-needed accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital system. Heroes like Joe deserve to get the care they have earned, when they need it. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to shake up the system so we can continue to improve the quality of life and care for our veterans.
So here is what I offer to our nation’s veterans – We are grateful for you. Our nation called. You were the ones who answered. You put on the uniform of this country and kissed your family goodbye. Our veterans are remarkable for not seeking any special attention for what they have contributed to this country. Yet they have a right to the best our nation can provide: to uncompromised care, excellence in hospital care, and benefits without strings.
So here is what I want our veterans to know: just as you have fought for America, we will fight for you.
Congressman Brad Wenstrup is a United States Representative from the state of Ohio.