Keeping our Promise to Veterans

Freedom Card

Those who have served our nation in our armed forces deserve uncompromising support for themselves and their families as they return into civilian life.  It is our responsibility to make sure that these heroes have the access to comprehensive medical, emotional, and financial care to help them lead healthy lives.    As a former member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a current member of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the VA, I have had the opportunity to participate in many Congressional hearings and ask the tough questions to VA senior officials.  For example, last year, as a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I secured the first under oath admission from the VA that wait times contributed to the deaths of veterans.

More than 300,000 veterans may have died waiting for health care from the U.S. government, according to a recent VA inspector general’s report. It’s inexcusable and dishonors the service of every man and woman who has defended our freedom and security. To ensure that our veteran’s receive the health care that they have earned, I introduced legislation to establish a new Veteran Freedom Card. Simply, if a veteran wants to stay in the VA, they can stay in the VA. If a veteran prefers receiving their health care through private providers in their communities, they have complete freedom to do so. No permission needed. It’s a right that has been earned through service to country.

The measure also ties future funding for specific VA hospitals to the rate of patient attrition at each facility as a result of the implementation of the new Freedom Card. Very simply, if a VA hospital or facility sees a decline in patient load because veterans leave the system and choose private care, then the hospital budget should be reduced proportionately. AMVETS, a leading veterans service organization with more than 250,000 members nationwide, has publicly endorsed the Freedom Card calling it a “viable solution to an unacceptable situation.”

Claims backlog

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I successfully worked to provide the VA with the resources necessary to fully clear the benefit claims backlog at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and ensure that it has the means moving forward to prevent falling once again into a backlog.  I am also acutely aware that we’re facing a significant increase in appeals of claims, which creates increased workload at both the regional offices and at the Board of Veterans Appeals.  Accordingly, for fiscal year 2016, Congress provided funding for VBA and the Board of Veterans Appeals above what was requested by President Obama and VA Secretary McDonald.

Medal of Honor stipend

I’ve worked with Senator Lindsay Graham to introduce legislation that would increase the monthly stipend paid to a Medal of Honor recipients. This increase will better enable these heroes to reach out to Americans across the nation, representing the valor and honor of military service to hundreds of thousands of people by sharing their personal stories, dedication to serve  and love of country.

Transitioning service members and student veterans

I’ve focused my efforts this Congress on supporting service members as they transition out of the military as well as our student veterans.  For example, I’ve introduced H.R. 2465, the Student Veterans Housing Support Act, which makes improvements to the monthly housing stipend payable under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Additionally, in July 2015, I led a delegation of 20 Florida state legislative and industry representatives to Ft. Lee, Virginia, for briefings and discussions with the Army on smoothing the credentialing and licensing of service members as they transition from military to civilian life.