As we commemorate Veterans Day this weekend, communities will gather to honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s heroes. We will remember the brave men and women that have answered the call to duty, and we will thank them for their service. We must also remember the commitment that has been made to our veterans and their families.
Our nation, long ago, made a promise to honor and care for our veterans, to take care of our soldiers when they returned from battle. This foundational principle was outlined by President Lincoln during his second inaugural address, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Those words live on as the mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Yet, for decades, the VA has fallen short. An outdated model of veterans health that is “Mothership” focused on large hospital-centered care does not reflect modern medical technology and 21st-century healthcare. We no longer require rows of inpatient beds in massive hospitals, but rather a flexible system that addresses individuals’ unique needs.
Long wait times, insufficient staffing, antiquated IT systems, and claims backlogs. These are some of the real problems that my veteran brothers and sisters are facing every single day.
As lawmakers, creating a system that prioritizes choice and flexibility, accessibility and accountability is our mission. We are working to instill a new culture within the VA, a culture and a healthcare system worthy of the heroes that it serves.
In the past 11 months, Congress and President Trump have passed major reform measures championing a modern era of veterans healthcare. We understand that bad actors at the VA must be held accountable. We understand that greater coordination between the VA and the Department of Defense is required. We understand that a veteran’s hard-earned benefits shouldn’t have an expiration date, and we understand that veterans deserve greater flexibility to access their benefits when and where they need it.
That’s why we passed the landmark VA Accountability & Whistleblower Protection Act that creates a culture of responsibility and allows for the fast firing of lazy or inept VA employees. It’s why we passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement & Modernization Act, which streamlines the claims appeal process. It’s why we passed the Forever GI Bill, which eliminates the sunset on a veteran’s GI benefits, and it’s why we passed expansion of the Choice Act, which enables veterans to receive care from private health facilities within their communities.
These legislative measures represent an overall effort to prioritize patient-doctor relationships, and Secretary Shulkin is proving himself to be a trusted ally in our mission to improve and modernize veterans health.
I firmly believe that veterans should be able to receive care in their own communities. They shouldn’t have to drive hundreds of miles to a distant city to access their benefits, and I have cosponsored legislation that would permanently authorize the Care in the Community program.
Within the last year, veterans in Southwest Louisiana and Acadiana have seen new VA community outpatient clinics open in their communities. These state-of-the-art facilities in Lake Charles and Lafayette will touch the lives of many veterans and their families. Our local leaders, the Veteran’s Action Coalition, and the Mayor’s Armed Forces Commission deserve great credit for their diligent work to make these facilities a reality.
My office has also had the great honor to assist hundreds of Louisiana veterans who have faced issues with the VA, sometimes for decades. It is a true blessing to be part of that, and if I can assist you, please call my Lafayette or Lake Charles office.
It is uplifting to know that these efforts to modernize and improve veterans healthcare enjoy bipartisan support from my colleagues. As a veteran and a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I will continue to work on behalf of our nation’s heroes.
Veterans and their families have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We must uphold our promises to them.
This article originally ran as an op-ed in the American Press. Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) is a U.S. Army veteran and represents Louisiana’s third congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.