As a nation, we have an obligation to care for those who have risked their lives and made painful sacrifices for our families and our freedoms. I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure all our veterans are receiving the support and benefits that they deserve and have earned. We will not find solutions to our fiscal challenges by chipping away at the benefits promised to these brave men and women.
One of our top priorities must be providing veterans with the best possible medical care. Like many Americans, I was appalled by revelations in 2014 that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials manipulated records at healthcare facilities across the country to conceal or falsify long wait times. In the 113th Congress, I supported the passage of legislation (Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act) that allows veterans facing long wait times or geographic barriers to care through the VA to immediately obtain medical services through non-VA providers. It also addresses long-term capacity issues by authorizing the VA to hire more providers and lease 27 new facilities, and it increases accountability by authorizing the VA Secretary to fire or demote any senior official based on their poor performance. As implementation of the new law moves forward, I will keep fighting to ensure our veterans have timely access to the care they need.
I also believe we need to promote greater access to educational opportunities and job-training programs for unemployed veterans and servicemembers transitioning back into civilian life. Across all age groups, more than 500,000 unemployed veterans are currently struggling to find work. This is unacceptable. To help veterans find long-term, good-paying jobs, I introduced the Manufacturing Jobs for Veterans Act to accelerate skills training for veterans in manufacturing career pathways and to encourage manufacturers to recruit, hire, and train our heroes. I am also a cosponsor of the Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act, which would reauthorize and strengthen successful programs such as the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), provide support to veteran-owned small businesses, and create a new online portal for veterans seeking information on federal employment and job-training resources.
Among my other key priorities in Congress are:
- Reducing the VA’s Disability Claims Backlog. After a decade of war, it is unacceptable that some veterans are being asked to wait hundreds of days for their disability claims to be handled. In 2013, I joined more than 150 of my colleagues in calling on President Obama to take direct action to end the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. In 2014, I voted to increase funding by $20 million to address the backlog by providing the VA with additional resources for digital scanning of health and benefits records, staff overtime, and centralization of the VA mail system.
- Advancing Equality for LGBT Veterans. More than 1 million veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) have served our nation, and many of these heroes continue to face unique challenges and discriminatory laws that prevent full access to VA benefits and services. That’s why I introduced the Voices for Veterans Act to add LGBT veterans to the membership and scope of the VA’s Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans, which advises the VA Secretary on the needs of minority veterans with respect to compensation, health care, rehabilitation, outreach, and other VA benefits and services.
- Ending Veteran Homelessness. While veteran homelessness has dropped nearly 25 percent since 2010, more than 55,000 veterans still remain homeless today. To help end veteran homelessness, I have urged the House Appropriations Committee to provide robust funding for the HUD-VASH program, which helps homeless veterans become self-sufficient by combining rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with case management and support services from the VA. We must continue to support this life-saving program as more of our servicemembers return home.
- Expanding Access to Care for Victims of Military Sexual Trauma. I am deeply concerned that the VA is denying access to care for too many victims of military sexual trauma (MST) due to ongoing difficulties with the reporting and documentation of sexual assault in the military. I fought to expand access to mental health services and other necessary care for victims of MST by cosponsoring the Ruth Moore Act, which passed the House in 2013, and I have repeatedly called on the Obama administration to reduce the unfair evidentiary barriers placed on MST survivors in filing disability claims. I will keep fighting to improve the lives of the thousands of veterans who have suffered from sexual assault in the military.