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Ann Arbor News: Keeping the promise to our veterans

November 11, 2015
Opinion Editorial
Michigan is home to an estimated 680,000 veterans. In exchange for their selfless service to our country, we have an obligation to provide world-class care when they return home from the battlefield.

Sadly, far too many of our veterans are falling through the cracks as they start the next chapter of their lives. In fact, many who qualify for benefits don't know they're eligible or aren't taking advantage of them.
To help raise awareness and ease paperwork and other barriers, I've held Veterans Fairs so far this year in Eaton County, Jackson County, Monroe County, and one in Washtenaw County along with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, the Veterans Benefits Administration – Detroit Regional Office, and many other organizations were on hand to connect veterans and their family members to health care resources, compensation and pension benefits, and employment services.

On the legislative front, the House has passed numerous bipartisan bills to improve access to mental health care, put veterans back to work, and assist veteran entrepreneurs to start and grow small businesses.

For example, President Obama signed the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act into law in July, which makes it easier for veterans to access capital to start small businesses by waiving fees when applying for an express loan through the Small Business Administration.

Earlier this year the President signed into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which expands mental health care and suicide prevention resources.

The Hire More Heroes Act, which unanimously passed the House, incentivizes small businesses to hire more of our nation's veterans. It exempts veterans already covered by the VA or TRICARE from counting towards a company's 50-employee threshold under the Affordable Care Act.

While these are just a few of the steps we've taken so far this year, much more needs to be done to ensure America's heroes have access to the high quality care and resources that they deserve.

Ultimately, we need to reform and modernize the VA for the 21st century to reduce wait times and cut red tape so veterans across the country are not trapped by the very system that is supposed to be helping them.

Caring for our veterans is an issue that knows no political parties. On Veterans Day, and every day, we must continue working together to keep our promises to the men and women who put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms.

Tim Walberg is the U.S. Representative for Michigan's 7th congressional district. This op-ed originally appeared in the November 11, 2015 edition of the Ann Arbor News.