Our commitment to the men and women who serve in our armed forces must not end when they return home from the battlefield. With thousands of new Veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, many coming home to Michigan’s 7th District, I am dedicated to providing our heroes with unrivaled healthcare and ensuring the promises we made to them are upheld just as they have upheld their commitments to our country.
Congress has an obligation to care for America’s wounded heroes when they return home from the battlefield. It is the least we can do to provide the highest quality medical care to the brave men and women of our armed forces when they are injured defending the freedoms we enjoy. I am fighting in Congress to improve Veterans care and make sure our heroes receive medical care that is thorough, meets world-class standards and is patient-centered. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States, and I believe we must maximize and improve this great resource.
In the 114th Congress, the President signed a House and Senate Conference report to address problems at the VA and ensure our veterans receive timely care. H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act, provides the VA Secretary with the power to bypass procedural hurdles and fire senior officials of the agency for poor performance. Moreover, the legislation grants expanded access to private sector health providers for veterans who have been waiting long periods of time for care. In order to eliminate the sunset date for the Choice Act, the House passed H.R. 369: Eliminating the Sunset Date of the Choice Act and the President signed it into law in April 2017.
The lack of patient-centered healthcare throughout the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) is continuously hindering veterans from receiving the quality care they need and deserve. The problem has been reported by veterans' service organizations, VA employees, and most importantly, veterans. These are systemic problems in VA culture and bogged down by a bureaucratic system that is unsure of the services it provides, leaving veterans to fend for themselves when it comes to their own healthcare choices.
Veterans are too often unaware of the services offered by the VA, disconnecting them with their own rehabilitation and treatment, which ultimately results in substandard care. This is especially true in orthotic and prosthetic care. To address the problem of inconsistency in orthotic and prosthetic care (O&P), in May 2017 I introduced H.R. 2322, The Injured and Amputee Veterans Bill of Rights to educate our injured veterans about the O&P care available to them through the VA. H.R. 2322 moves to empower injured and amputee veterans to advocate for themselves.
The legislation requires the VA to acknowledge and prominently print and display a list of rights that apply to every veteran at prosthetic and orthotic clinics around the country. These nine rights include the right to the highest quality O&P care, the right to select the practitioner that best meets their O&P needs including a private practitioner and the right to continuity of care in the transition from the Department of defense health program to the VA healthcare system. The bipartisan measure empowers injured and amputee veterans and puts them back in charge of their healthcare decisions.
In recognition of past, present and future Congressional Medal of Honor winners, I introduced, H.R.272, the Medal of Honor Priority Care. The bill elevates the Priority Group for Medal of Honor recipients at the Veteran’s Health Administration from Group 3 to Group 1. The 76 living Medal of Honor recipients have gone above and beyond the call of duty and distinguished themselves for gallantry and valor. They have received the highest award within the Armed Services and it is fitting that these brave soldiers be allotted first Priority Status when enrolling for their VA health care benefits. H.R.272 was included as part of a larger Veterans Health Care and Benefits bill, which passed the House on December 6, 2016 and was signed into law by the President Obama on December 16, 2016.
Also, during the debate on H.R. 2029, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2016, I offered an amendment to increase funding for programs that help veterans transition to the workforce. The amendment was adopted by the full House and inserted into the final bill, which also passed the full House in the 114th Congress.
The bureaucratic culture in the VA has led to long wait times and subpar healthcare for our nation’s veterans. In order to overhaul the bureaucratic culture and ensure VA employees are held accountable for their actions, the House has passed The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act and H.R. 27, The Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act. The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 provides the Secretary of the VA with increased flexibility to remove, demote or suspend any VA employee for performance or misconduct while H.R. 27 ensures that all reprimands and admonishments given to VA employees remain in their files as long as they are employed by the VA.
Another issue the VA has been plagued by is the administrations inability to recruit and retain top-notch candidates in their fields. In order to address the VA’s inability to recruit and retain the most qualified workforce possible, the House passed H.R. 1367. H.R. 1367 establishes a recruiting database to ensure candidates are aware of open positions at the VA. Additionally, this legislation creates opportunities for career training and establishes staffing, recruitment and retention programs in the VA to ensure the VA has the ability to retain the best and brightest employees possible.
It is imperative that we ensure our nation’s veterans have a smooth transition into civilian life. One key component to a successful transition out of service is to make sure veterans have access to the benefits they have earned, especially the GI Bill. Using the GI bill can be difficult and burdensome with additional restraints on when and how it can be used. In order to streamline this process, the House passed H.R. 3218: The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. H.R. 3218 removes the 15 year time restriction currently placed on veterans, their spouses as well as their children to use this educational benefit.
In addition to removing red tape that is often associated with the GI Bill, H.R. 3218 also makes other beneficial pro-veteran changes to the program. The bill includes a significant increase in GI Bill funding and moves to make it easier and cheaper for veterans to use their GI Bill to take national tests or tests that lead to a license or credential.
These are just some of the many issues Congress is working on to ensure we keep the promises we made to the selfless men and women in uniform.
03/10/2016 – H.R. 4336 Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act
05/13/2016 – H.R. 5228 To designate the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Traverse City, Michigan, as the "Colonel Demas T. Craw VA Clinic"
06/26/2016 – H.R. 5166 WINGMAN Act
06/26/2016 – H.R. 5343 VA Transparency Enhancement Act of 2016
01/13/2017 – Detroit Free Press: Legislators want more health data from VA hospitals
12/13/2016 – Detroit Free Press: Dingell, Walberg want answers on Detroit's VA center
11/11/2016 – Brooklyn Exponent: Honoring our Best
11/05/2016 – Daily Telegram: Family receives Purple Heart Medal for soldier lost in Korean War
10/05/2016 – WLNS: Walberg Honors Eaton County Vietnam Veterans
08/12/2016 – WLNS: Vietnam War vets get a “thank you” at Jackson County Fair
08/06/2016 – Hillsdale Daily News: Walberg honors Vietnam-era veterans
07/22/2016 – Ann Arbor News: Vietnam vets honored on 50th anniversary of conflict with ceremony in Saline
07/13/2016 – MLive: Walberg Supports Local Veteran Raising Awareness for PTSD
04/04/2016 – WXYZ: Walberg, Dingell Host Washtenaw County Veterans Fair
04/04/2016 – WLNS: Walberg Hosts Jackson Veterans Claims Fair
02/09/2016 – WILX: Walberg Helps Local Veterans Get Their Benefits