Our Job Is Not Yet Done
Veterans Day provides us the opportunity to stop and take a moment to thank those who have served our nation as members of our Armed Services. These men and women, and their families, have made great sacrifices to defend the United States and deserve our utmost gratitude.
As Vice-Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I have made it a priority throughout my tenure in Congress to work with my colleagues to ensure the needs of our veterans are met. Earlier this year, legislation I sponsored was signed into law that directed the VA to obtain and distribute comprehensive information about institutions of higher learning, so our service members could make more informed decisions when they choose to use their Post-9/11 GI benefits. In addition, the House recently passed the Veterans Economic Opportunity Act to improve our service members’ access to educational and medical benefits, as well as professional opportunities. Congress is also working with the VA to improve the processing of veterans’ disability claims to reduce the backlog and ensure claims are processed in a timely and accurate manner. However, there is more we can do to assist our service members, especially when it involves the invisible wounds of our recent wars.
Technological advances have made it possible for men and women to survive injuries on the battlefield that would have previously been fatal. As our nation’s heroes reintegrate into society, they are faced with physical, mental and social challenges that have not been addressed in years past. Injuries, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, are sometimes ignored or overlooked due to the stigmas associated with seeking treatment. There has also been a sharp rise in suicide rates among veterans as the war in Iraq has come to a close and the conflict in Afghanistan winds down. While the VA has committed to hiring more mental health professionals to meet the growing need, we as a country must also be there to support our veterans.
Free, confidential counseling with a trained VA staff member is only a phone call, text message or email away. One such resource is the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800273-8255), which offers 24-hour support for all veterans and service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve. It is important that we are not only aware of these resources, but also encourage our service members and veterans to utilize them, especially in times of need.
We must also remain committed to ensuring veterans receive appropriate treatment for their service-connected injuries. At a recent Congressional hearing, my colleagues and I learned that the VA’s use of prescription opiates to treat pain has tripled since September 11, 2001. We received testimony from veterans who described their frustrations and difficulties navigating the VA health system in efforts to find relief from their pain. We also heard from widows of veterans who had died due to overdoses as a result of the number of different prescriptions they had received. Dr. Robert Jesse, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health at the Veterans Health Administration, promised the VA was committed to righting their practices, so others would not find themselves in similar situations. I echo this promise and will continue to work to ensure our veterans receive the appropriate care and treatment they deserve.
Let us always remember the importance of remaining vigilant and supporting our heroes upon their return home. Today and every day forward, take a moment to thank those who have answered the call of duty and offer your support in their times of need. It is up to all of us, as well as our future generations, to honor their sacrifices, as well as the principles and freedoms they have protected.