Keeping Our Nation’s Promises to Veterans
Word on Washington
Eastern North Carolina has strong ties to our nation’s military. Over 55,000 veterans from World War II through Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war in Afghanistan reside in the Seventh Congressional District. Our retired service members deserve our nation’s steadfast support. As a Senior Member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have fought to ensure that our veterans receive the services and care they have earned and deserve. Efforts I have championed include fighting for funding for tuition assistance and veterans health care, as well as facilitating outreach to our veterans on the benefits available to them and working to reduce the backlog for veterans claim benefits.
The GI Bill has provided education benefits to veterans and their families since the 1940s. Continuing their education, veterans are able to prepare to transition to civilian life or provide these benefits to their family members. In an ever-increasingly competitive global economy, higher education through the GI Bill is vital. Recently, tuition assistance services halted as a result of sequestration, which I opposed. This suspension of benefits was unacceptable and caused confusion and uncertainty for our veterans and their families. I was pleased to vote to restore these benefits and all branches have resumed offering tuition assistance. In addition to fighting to reinstate tuition assistance, I have co-sponsored legislation to ensure veterans receive adequate funding to cover tuition costs. The Veterans Education Equity Act provides equity in the formula for payment of tuition and fees for veterans attending public universities outside their state of residence. The bill also ensures benefits increase with average rises in tuition costs.
Like tuition assistance, providing veterans’ health care is an important promise our nation has made. I continue to build upon my commitment to increase the number of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) facilities that are available in Eastern North Carolina. I am pleased that the Wilmington VA Super Clinic will be officially opened later this month. This 100,000 square foot facility will provide vital services to our veterans in several counties. I also support a robust veterans budget that ensures adequate health care, and does not increase TRICARE premiums. Furthermore, improving mental health care for our veterans who have recently returned from active duty, as well as for those who have served in past conflicts, continues to be one of my top veterans’ priorities. Major progress has been made to address problems posed by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and I continue to bring more attention to this important issue.
Tuition assistance and health care benefits are important to our veterans, but we also must have outreach to ensure our veterans are aware of and are able to access these services. That is why I authored the Veterans Outreach Improvement Act. Through grant opportunities the VA could partner with state and local governments to reach out to veterans and their families to facilitate receiving the benefits for which they are eligible. The Secretary of the VA could direct grants to states with large and growing populations of veterans in order to increase outreach where it is most needed. In addition, grants could be used for education and training of state and county officials to gain accreditation and for continuing education.
Once veterans are aware of the benefits available and due to them, it is important that we remedy the backlog of veterans claims so they can receive the benefits they have earned and deserve. It is essential that we address the unacceptably large backlog of claims in order to get veterans the benefits they have earned faster. I am working to promote a series of bills which represent a coordinated effort to put forth a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach to address the backlog. These bills work to ensure the VA has the needed information to accurately process claims by requiring better interagency collaboration between VA and entities such as the Department of Defense. The bills also require the VA to look at better ways to process claims in an electronic system, and require the VA to track information in a more efficient and effective way that is provided to the public.
As the ranking member on an Armed Services Committee, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that programs serving our Veterans like tuition assistance, health care, and outreach receive needed resources. It is important that our country keeps the promises made to our service members. Throughout their time in uniform, the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces have never given up when defending American freedoms and ideals; our nation cannot give up on them.