Our veterans have served our country, and we must show our gratitude by honoring our commitments to them. It is not enough to merely talk about supporting our troops. We must show the brave men and women who have served our nation that we appreciate their service by honoring our commitments to them. We must also show that appreciation by ensuring that they have access to the quality health care, education, and other benefits that we promised to them.
My husband is a Vietnam-era veteran, and I was proud to be a military spouse.
I am keenly aware of the sacrifice these men and women and their families make. While it is an honor to serve, they continuously experience many challenges. Leaving loved ones, moving the family frequently, accepting difficult assignments because they cannot turn them down, fighting wars that strain marriages and often terrify the children—all these situations leave lasting scars. Troops and their families miss birthday celebrations, weddings, births, and funerals. Americans owe more than words of thanks, and we know it. That’s why you never hear citizens demand that we cut military and veterans benefits. People know that they were earned. I oppose any tampering with these hard-earned benefits, and believe that such cuts would be detrimental not only to the individuals involved, but also to our military and our nation.
Americans are upset when they find out that troops and vets are not receiving excellent treatment. People are as outraged now about the Phoenix VA Hospital as they were when they found out about the poor conditions at Walter Reed. I was serving on the House Armed Services Committee then as now, and both times, people wanted us to fix it fast. We did fix Walter Reed, and now we’re working to correct the unacceptable wait times and claims backlog at the VA. I’ve cosponsored the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act, introduced by Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL.). This bill would address wait times at Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities by making the standard for access to medical care 30 days from the date the veteran contacts the VA. To increase accountability at the VA, I also voted to pass H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014. This bill gives the Secretary of Veterans Affairs greater authority to remove Senior Executive Service personnel for poor performance, enabling the Secretary to hold them accountable for mismanagement.
Below are some other key accomplishments for veterans during my years in Congress.
- I pushed hard to regain full in-state access to medical care for New Hampshire’s veterans, and, as a result, the Manchester VA Medical Center built a new mental health facility, they contracted for inpatient care with Concord Hospital, and a new Vets Center clinic opened in Conway.
- This year, I introduced the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which would help the Department of Veterans Affairs improve service to rural veterans. New Hampshire is a rural state, and many veterans live in places far from health services. Congress has appropriated millions to remove barriers to quality care, but the VA Inspector General found that not all of the funds were well directed. We need to make sure these funds are being used to improve care and services for rural veterans.
- I amended the FY10 Defense Authorization to prohibit the use of open-air “burn pits” for solid waste disposal in war zones, and last year strengthened that legislation by extending the list of prohibited items. There is evidence that some who were exposed to the dangerous toxins released in the smoke have become ill or have died. One of my early initiatives was the establishment of a burn pits registry to track veterans who were exposed, and the Department of Veterans Affairs will open one this year.
- I introduced a bill, now law, to prevent the government from collecting debts against the families of soldiers killed in combat or who died from combat injuries.
- I supported the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, now law, which rewards the sacrifices of our military families by providing long-overdue assistance to caregivers.
- I am an original cosponsor of the updated GI Bill of Rights, which fully restores education benefits to veterans and ensures that today’s veterans will have the same opportunity to attend college as their grandparents. In this Congress, I voted for H.R. 357, the G.I. Bill Tuition Fairness Act, which passed the House. It requires courses of education provided by public institutions and approved by the VA to charge veterans tuition and fees at the in-State tuition rate.
- Last year, I voted for the Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act, which passed the House and is now law. It will improve and increase the availability of on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs carried out by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- I supported the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act, which provides our returning soldiers with better access to services, counselors, and patient advocates.
- I have also supported legislation to better address traumatic brain injury (TBI), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide prevention, as well as to extend eligibility for health and rehabilitation benefits. Last year, the Defense Appropriations Act of 2013, now law, included my amendment to fund a study of a promising and innovative treatment for PTSD and TBI. This therapy, the Therapeutic Service Dog Training Program, teaches service members suffering from PTSD or TBI how to train service dogs for physically disabled veterans, and participants are reporting great improvements in their symptoms and ability to interact with their families and others.
- I included language in the FY10 Defense Authorization to hold reckless defense contractors accountable if they endanger our troops through gross negligence.