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Jackson Cit Pat: We must remain committed to caring for members of Armed Forces after they return home

November 11, 2013
Opinion Editorial

During a recent visit to Walter Reed National Medical Center, I met 24-year-old Sgt. Christopher Hemwall from Monroe as he underwent rehabilitation. In March 2011, he was shot three times in an ambush while serving in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province.

Eventually, Sgt. Hemwall's right leg had to be amputated below the knee after an experimental treatment failed.

Yet, in spite of these hardships, he remains committed to serving our country again after his rehab. As a nation, we must remain committed to caring for Sgt. Hemwall and all our nation's brave servicemen and women.

The dedication of soldiers like Sgt. Hemwall to our nation makes recent reports of reckless spending at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) even more egregious.

On October 30, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform looked into the July and August 2011 human resource employee training conferences, which took place in Orlando and included mismanagement of funds, unethical behavior, and cost taxpayers more than $6 million.

During the hearing I had the opportunity to ask the current VA Assistant Secretary for Human Resources why conference planners were not concerned about establishing and staying within a budget, and I expressed my concerns over wasteful spending that included $50,000 alone on a parody video and $98,000 for promotional items including water bottles, fitness walking kits and hand sanitizers.

Conference planners also traveled to Dallas and Nashville looking for the right city to hold their event while they enjoyed helicopter rides, spa treatment and shows.

Meanwhile, the overnight conferences to train human resource staff included DJ's, karaoke and game nights. All this while 700,000 veterans benefit claims are pending and more than half of that number will wait over 125 days for their case to be resolved. This is unacceptable.

With thousands of new Veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan – many proudly coming home to Michigan's 7th District - I am dedicated to providing our heroes with the highest quality medical care and resources as they transition into the job market in addition to conducting oversight over the VA and rooting out wasteful practices.

Last Congress, I co-sponsored, the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act, to help address veteran unemployment, which the President signed into law. In May, the House advanced H.R 1412, the Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act, which would expands existing job training programs for our returning veterans.

Most recently, I helped pass a bipartisan group package of bills to assist our nation's Veterans, including legislation to address the disability claim backlog at the VA, improve vocational and educational opportunities, and help vulnerable disabled Veterans maintain housing.

As your representative in Washington, I'm dedicated to upholding our nation's commitments to Veterans every day.

Veterans benefits are deserved and earned through service and sacrifice. After all, less than 1 percent of the population currently defends our great country and its important that both Republicans and Democrats strive to give those men and women the tools they need to be successful when they come home.

It is the right and honorable thing to do and Congress must continue to fulfill their responsibility to do so.

To read the original article at Jackson Cit Pat, please click here.