The Ripon Forum
Volume 41, No. 2
April - May 2007 Issue
Unfortunately, that’s not what they’re receiving.
by GINNY BROWN-WAITE
Iwo Jima. Normandy. The Chosin Resevoir. Baghdad. Khe Sanh.
These hallowed battlegrounds are where American soldiers fought with honor and distinction on behalf of freedom and equality. These military heroes fought the enemy on foreign shores, oftentimes laying down their lives in the cause of justice.
America’s national security is preserved when we have men and women willing to pay the price, bear the burden, and meet the demand of keeping our country safe and secure. We all owe a great debt to those who have worn the uniform in defense of America.
Congress must guarantee that the needs of these brave heroes are met when they finish their duty and are welcomed back into our local communities. With the thousands of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, there is an urgent need to provide proper and timely care to our returning servicemen and women, as well as continue the outstanding care provided to older veterans.
When these veterans return from the battlefield, it is our collective duty to ensure that they are provided the care and support they so richly deserve. As any veteran knows, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the federal agency that provides medical care and benefits for our veterans. They have an awesome responsibility to provide the best services to the men and women who sacrificed for our nation in times of conflict.
With the thousands of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, there is an urgent need to provide proper and timely care to our returning servicemen and women, as well as continue the outstanding care provided to older veterans.
The good news is that in just the past six years, funding for the VA has nearly doubled, and now approaches $90 billion annually. These funds go toward increased mental health care, construction of VA hospitals and Community Based Outpatient Clinics, greater disability benefits, and top-notch health care. Congress has clearly met the immediate needs of our nation’s veterans.
While these record budget increases for veterans are welcome, Congress must also continue to provide strong oversight of the VA. One of the most problematic areas of the VA has been the lack of adequate controls over information technology (IT) security at VA hospitals and clinics. In the past several years the VA has lost the personal data of millions of veterans and their family members, health care providers, independent contractors. This is unacceptable behavior.
As the Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the Subcommittee recently held a hearing to address the loss of more than 1.8 million electronic records at the Birmingham VA facility. These records included both patient and provider information and might have opened up doctors to possible Medicare and Medicaid fraud in the future.
It was clear to me from this hearing that there is a culture at the VA that says, ‘do as you wish, not as the regulations say.’ For far too long there have been serious IT breaches, with significant losses of personal data, and little change in the culture or administration. I can tell you that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is fed up with the foot dragging and will be taking further action to make positive changes within the VA.
Another issue that is vitally important to American veterans is finding quality employment after leaving military service. For far too long, many employers have overlooked one of the most skilled segments of the workforce – our nation’s veterans. Veterans often face serious difficulties transitioning expertise gained during their service into private sector skill sets. At the end of last year, I successfully passed legislation that helps veterans transfer skills learned in the military into the private sector.
My legislation requires the Secretary of the Department of Labor to select at least 10 military occupational specialties that have skill sets similar to civilian occupations in areas of high worker demand or industry growth. The Secretary will work with each state to identify local requirements for obtaining certifications, credentials, or licenses in areas relevant to these occupations.
I can tell you that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is fed up with the food dragging and will be taking further action to make positive changes within the VA.
Finally, the project will devise strategies to help military personnel overcome any obstacles or burdens created by these requirements. My legislation will help transition veterans into high-paying and quality employment positions.
Since I joined the U.S. House of Representatives four years ago, I have used my seat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to fight for veterans in my district and throughout the nation. Our nation made a solemn promise to these men and women when they signed up to defend America that they would be cared for when their service was complete. I will do everything in my power to ensure that promise is kept and our veterans’ needs are met.
Ginny Brown-Waite represents the 5th District of Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the Ranking Republican on the House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.