Government has few more sacred obligations than caring for the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country. When you hear the stories of our veterans, you know that we owe them a debt we cannot ever repay. But we can try harder.
Improved Access to Health Care
Unfortunately, programs meant to support veterans in Connecticut and across the nation have been underfunded and mismanaged. The reports this spring of delayed care and improper conduct at our VA health facilities are simply unacceptable. Our veterans have selflessly served in defense of our freedom and our country – it is our duty to treat and support them when they return home. Since the first reports of falsified records at the Phoenix facility, I have been actively pursuing answers, calling for increased accountability, and seeking solutions to the underlying problems in order to improve the VA system for our veterans.
I quickly called on the Secretary of the VA to make public the findings from audits of Connecticut’s VA clinics to ensure Connecticut veterans are receiving timely care. Fortunately, the findings from this audit indicate that our state’s veterans at the West Haven VA have largely been spared the delays and culture of dishonesty that have permeated other facilities around the country.
Nationwide, however, the audit's results were far more troubling. It revealed that tens of thousands of veterans have been waiting more than 90 days for an appointment. Many more have requested care, but have yet to even make it onto a waitlist.
I believe we must hold those responsible for these terrible abuses of the system accountable, and we must create effective solutions to these problems and mobilize the resources necessary to implement them now. In response to this crisis, I voted for the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act (H.R. 4031), which will enhance the Secretary’s authority to rapidly remove employees of the Senior Executive Service based on their performance. We need to hold these managers accountable when their employees abuse the very systems we use to ensure our veterans get timely care
I also voted in favor of the Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014 (H.R. 4810) to allow veterans who have experienced extended wait times, or live far away from VA clinics, to seek care outside of the VA system. While the VA works to combat these issues and reduce wait times for everyone, this is an important stop-gap measure that can ensure our veterans do not go without medical care. I have also supported Congressional efforts over the past year to address the backlog of disability claims that has plagued the VA system, and I will continue to support the actions and resources needed to resolve this continuing issue.
Congress will continue to work to address and resolve these issues within the VA. I will remain committed to finding the root of the problems, correcting them, and preventing them from surfacing in the future.
Improved Access to Educational Opportunities
I was proud to help pass the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvement Act (S.3447), legislation that will make it easier for veterans to use the 9/11 GI Bill. This law expands access to non-tuition education assistance and extends the program to veterans seeking training that will place them directly in the work force.
I also joined my colleagues in passing the Veterans Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 2481), which creates a new office within the VA to administer existing vocational, educational, and other assistance programs for veterans. It also clarifies foreclosure and refinancing protections for veterans, extends homeless veterans reintegration programs until 2018, expands education benefits for certain survivors of deceased servicemembers, and protects the rights of active-duty members of the military in child custody cases when the servicemember is deployed.
Improved Access to Housing
Last year, I joined bipartisan majorities in the House of Representatives in passing two bills to help ensure our veterans always have a roof over their heads. The Homes for Heroes Act (H.R. 384) establishes a special assistant for Veterans' Affairs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to ensure veterans receive fair access to federal housing and homeless assistance programs. The Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act (H.R. 1742) excludes a disabled veteran's service-related disability benefits and in-home care expenses from being considered when calculating income eligibility for Section 8 rental assistance and public housing programs. This will help make more veterans eligible for federal housing aid.
Improved Access to Mental Health Care
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking a severe toll on the mental health of our servicemen and women. Increased reports of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among our nation’s veterans have caused me to double down on my efforts to ensure that veterans have access to appropriate mental health care. Since I came to Congress, I have worked on a number of pieces of legislation including the Veterans Mental Health Screening and Assessment Act and the Sergeant Coleman S. Bean Reserve Component Suicide Prevention Act, both of which require service members to participate in confidential screenings with licensed mental health professionals. Mandatory screenings can reduce the growing rates of suicides amongst service members while fighting the debilitating stigma of PTSD. Veterans deserve our support as they recover from battle and I am committed to addressing the PTSD epidemic head-on.
Sharing Your Story
I encourage local veterans to participate in the Veterans History Project a campaign organized by the Library of Congress that seeks to preserve the stories of veterans throughout the country as part of the national archive. One way to honor and give thanks to our war veterans is to have their personal experiences recorded as part of our permanent historical record. The collection of memories we have already gathered from the fourth district is priceless. If you would like to participate in the Veterans History Project, please click here.
I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and with the Obama administration to ensure that we are doing all that we can to honor the commitment and sacrifice made by our American heroes. Please read my Veterans' constituent services page for a collection of links to online resources for veterans.