Supporting our veterans is important

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 18, 2015

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

Last week we celebrated Veterans Day, and we honored the men and women who have served in the United States military. These are the individuals who throughout our nation’s history have put country above themselves.

I had the honor of attending a number of Veterans Day ceremonies in Southwest Alabama. One of the events I took part in was a ceremony at Daphne High School. One of the speakers asked anyone who had a veteran in their family to stand. Every single person in the room rose to their feet. It was quite the eye opening moment.

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Here in Southwest Alabama, we are so fortunate to be home to more than 50,000 veterans, and my office has made veterans issues one of our top priorities. In fact, over eighty percent of the constituent work done in my office is related to issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Unfortunately, the VA is leaving far too many veterans behind. The broken bureaucracy at the VA has resulted in secret waiting lists, poor medical care, and veterans literally dying while they wait for care. Despite major reforms and new leadership, the problems don’t seem to be improving. That is unacceptable.

We shouldn’t keep sending veterans into the VA health care system and expecting different results. Instead, I think we need to consider fundamentally changing the way we care for our nation’s veterans.

Last year, Congress created the VA Choice Card program, which was designed to increase veteran access to private medical care. Unfortunately, the VA has interpreted the law in a way that is very narrow and does not apply to most veterans.

That’s why I introduced H.R. 1096, the Real Choice for Veterans Act. This bipartisan legislation has support from all across the country, including co-sponsors from 19 different states. It would expand the VA Choice Card program and ensure that more Americans have access to private care.

I don’t think we need to stop there. I think we need to give every veteran, regardless of where they live, a VA insurance card and allow them to seek care from their local communities instead of traveling miles out of the way to receive care. The VA would cover the cost for the medical care and reimburse the medical provider, in the same way the Choice Card currently works.

By creating competition and allowing veterans to use doctors in their local community, I think our veterans would get much better care. I also think it could save the taxpayer money by scaling back the massive VA bureaucracy and getting the federal government out of the health care business.

In addition to expanding access to private health care, I believe we must also focus on helping veterans integrate back into the private sector after their military service is complete. We should simplify the certification process for certain skills that a veteran may have from their military service. We shouldn’t force veterans to take costly training classes when they already mastered the skills during their military service.

We must also do more to encourage businesses to hire and promote veterans. It is a shame that so many veterans have a hard time finding work when they possess unique skills and character traits that can only be gained through military service.

Ultimately, there is no greater responsibility of the Congress than to take care of our nation’s veterans. We should never forget the courage, sacrifice, dedication, and unselfish nature of all those who have served our country.

Let’s not just set aside one day every year to honor our nation’s veterans. I hope you will join me in committing to support our local veterans each and every day. It is the least we can do.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.