Wicker reaffirms commitment to VA reform

Published 7:00 am Thursday, November 12, 2015

Last year’s enactment of the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act” was just one step toward reforming the broken VA system. Implementation of the law – which seeks to ensure that veterans receive the high-quality health care they deserve – remains a top priority.
Putting Veterans’ Concerns First
Hillary Clinton was misguided in her recent description of the VA scandal. She said, “It’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” The shocking fact that veterans died waiting for care cannot be understated. Americans need an honest look at the department’s systemic problems of mismanagement and negligence so that appropriate corrective measures can be put in place. Those that have served our country should be able to make timely appointments and have access to the best doctors. The “Veterans Choice Act” should help facilitate this flexibility and quality of care.
A number of Mississippians have contacted me regarding their health-care experiences at VA hospitals and clinics. I recently had an opportunity to convey their concerns directly to Dr. David Shulkin, VA’s Under Secretary for Health. In his new role, Dr. Shulkin is responsible for overseeing more than 1,700 care sites with over 300,000 employees. His leadership will be a crucial part of restoring accountability within the VA system.
Honoring Generations of Service
We are reminded every day of the great sacrifices that our veterans have made. This is especially true on November 11. Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I. Since then, generations of Americans have fought for freedom around the globe, including today’s soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How we treat our troops and veterans will have a lot to say about the future of our all-volunteer military force. I am encouraged by the support for our veterans in the Fiscal Year 2016 “National Defense Authorization Act.” The bipartisan bill contains important changes to the military retirement system, expanding benefits and giving service members more value and choice. Other provisions were inspired by a bill I coauthored to improve mental health screenings for service members and veterans. It would require the Secretary of Defense to ensure more comprehensive training for our military health-care providers.
Supporting Troop Readiness
I was disappointed that President Obama decided to veto the defense bill last month because of political disagreements over domestic funding. In response, the House of Representatives has passed a revised version, and the Senate is expected to do so soon. The next step should be to pass an appropriations bill to fund the defense budget. Senate Republicans have tried to bring a defense appropriations bill to the floor for consideration, but Senate Democrats have blocked these attempts three times. We were successful, however, in advancing the appropriations bill for military construction and veterans, which should get a final vote in the coming days.
On Veterans Day, we can honor the legacy of brave Americans by supporting our country’s military readiness and leadership. Passing defense authorization and appropriations bills would reaffirm our steadfast commitment to our troops and military families.
So would efforts to ensure that the “Veterans Choice Act” continues to pave the way for meaningful reforms in the VA system. It is our turn to fight for those who have fought so courageously for us.

By Senator Roger Wicker

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox