Let’s improve attention for state’s Vets

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2017

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

In my office, there is no greater priority than ensuring veterans are appropriately taken care. These men and women sacrificed so much for our country, and it is imperative they receive the attention, help and care they deserve and were promised.

Recently, we had a number of important breakthroughs for veterans in Southwest Alabama. From legislative victories in Washington to progress right here on the Gulf Coast, I want to briefly update you on some of the recent improvements for Alabama’s veterans.

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Most notably, last week we broke ground on the new VA outpatient clinic in Mobile. Building a new clinic has long been at the top of my priority list since being elected to Congress. I have held multiple meetings with VA officials, sent letters to VA leadership and demanded progress. As those shovels hit dirt last week, it was a major accomplishment.

The clinic will replace the current outdated and small clinic on Springhill Avenue. That building was never intended to serve as a VA clinic, and it lacked many of the basic infrastructure needs for a clinic serving around 11,000 veterans a year.

The new, 65,000 square-foot clinic will be conveniently located right off Interstate 10 in Tillman’s Corner. This location should be easy for local veterans to access, and the clinic will have adequate public parking.

The new clinic will provide space for primary care, audiology and speech pathology, education, eye clinics, mental health, patient advocacy, radiology, Veterans’ Service Organizations and women’s health.

The clinic should be up and running by the end of 2018 or early 2019, depending on construction conditions. Rest assured, I will continue to provide diligent oversight throughout the construction process to ensure things move forward.

Other positive developments for our veterans came in the form of new, bipartisan legislation passed in Congress. Despite the reporting by the national news media, Congress has actually come together in a bipartisan way on multiple occasions this year to pass bills important to veterans.

For example, we passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. This bill makes it easier to remove or demote VA employees who simply are not getting the job done. The bill also increases protections for whistleblowers who speak out about problems at the VA. VA employees should work in a culture of accountability and openness instead of a culture of complacency and deceit.

Also this year, President Donald Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 into law. This landmark legislation removes time restrictions relating to the use of benefits under the GI Bill. Instead of the current 15-year timeline, the bill clarifies that veterans may use their GI Bill education benefits for the duration of their life.

Just as important, the bill helps cut down on bureaucratic costs and confusion by consolidating the programs into just a single program relating to the GI Bill. The federal government, VA included, could always use more simplicity and less bureaucratic mess.

Finally, Congress recently passed legislation to ensure funding for the VA Choice Card program does not expire. This program is important because it increases veteran access to private medical care outside of the VA system. I am committed to making even more reforms to the program to ensure every veteran has the option of seeking care from doctors and hospitals in their local community.

As you can see, taking care of our veterans has been a top priority, but also a bipartisan issue that brings Republicans and Democrats together. We must continue working to reform the VA and take care of those who have given so much to our country.