The intent of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is to fulfill President Abraham Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.”
The VA Mission Act signed by President Donald Trump on the anniversary of D-Day last week fortifies that mission statement. Its major component gives veterans access to private-sector health care, should they choose to seek medical care outside of the VA.
The legislation had widespread support from veterans, including 38 Veterans Service Organizations. It passed the Senate by a vote of 92-5.
Louis Celli, American Legion executive director of Government and Veterans Affairs, explained last month how the legislation targets the inadequacies of the current system. While including provisions to consolidate community care programs into a single, streamlined service, it also provides sufficient funding to extend the program through the next year, expands comprehensive assistance, strengthens ability to recruit, hire and retain quality medical personnel, and reforms the VA’s health care infrastructure.
Keith Harman, national commander of the 1.7 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the bipartisan bill is critical to ensuring veterans have timely access to the care they’ve earned and deserve. When it comes to veterans issues, he said leaving politics at the door is something that Congress was elected to do.
“VFW members around the country have made it clear that the VA health care system must be improved, not dismantled,” said Harman. “This agreement strikes a balance between improving access to VA doctors and leveraging the capabilities of the private sector when VA is unable to meet veterans’ health care needs.”
Improving the VA care programs was a top campaign promise of Trump during his 2016 run and continues to be a priority on the presidential agenda. In the signing ceremony at the Rose Garden last week, Trump said no one who defends our country should have to fight for their lives or be denied treatment care.
“They put everything on the line for us,” he said. “When they come home we must everything we can for them. With this signing we take one more crucial step in fulfilling our duty to you.”
Trump emphasized it was critical for veterans to have choice within their medical care, and if the VA can’t meet veterans’ needs in a timely manner, they will have the right to go outside to a private doctor.
“If they’re waiting on line for nine days, and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves and we pay the bill?” Trump asked. “It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the VA Mission Act, calling it “a horrendous piece of legislation that will set the only health care system tailored to veterans on a path of total privatization.”
It charged Congress with abdicating its responsibility to protect veterans by “passing the buck.”
Two veterans who disagreed with the AFGE negative assessment, Martha McSally of Arizona and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, were at the signing ceremony last week. When it comes to military matters, both have literally been on the frontlines.
McSally, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, was the first female commander of a U.S. Air Force fighter squadron and became one of the highest ranking female pilots in its history, rising to the rank of colonel while serving from 1988-2010. She was the first American woman to fly in combat, providing close air support over Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Southern Watch.
Ernst served as logistics officer and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. She served 23 years between the Army Reserve and the Guard and spent 12 months in Kuwait in 2003-04 as the company commander of the 1168th Transportation Company during the Iraq War.
“Passing the buck” to quality individuals like McSally and Ernst, who have the best interest of veterans in mind, is a good thing.
When they speak — or vote as elected officials — their judgments should be respected and carry value.
By Jim Zbick | firstname.lastname@example.org