Let’s Honor Our Veterans By Working Together, Solving Problems
Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
The 24/7 news cycle is filled with noisy partisan battles, but we can’t let that drown out the urgent need to work together and solve problems. Especially when it comes to our veterans. The VA claims backlog is one of those problems. Despite some progress this year, too many of our veterans remain stuck in this backlog -- and they deserve better. Delayed care is denied care.
That’s why earlier this year I introduced the VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency Act, or VA CORE, which will help tackle the backlog. It passed the House with bipartisan support as an amendment to the Defense reauthorization bill.
VA CORE directs the Defense Department to enact an efficient, electronic transfer of veterans’ records – instead of the outdated paperwork process that is currently used. Federal agencies need to leave paperwork in the past and adopt an efficient, electronic approach.
As Arizona’s only member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am working every day to solve problems like these on behalf of my state’s more than half-million veterans. And my congressional district -diverse, sprawling and mostly rural -- holds its own unique challenges for our veterans.
Arizona’s District One has 12 Native American tribes -- about 23 percent of the district’s population. Among those tribes is the Navajo Nation, the largest land-based tribe in the United States.
The Navajo Nation recently lowered its flags to half-staff to mourn the passing of a hero -- Navajo Code Talker Nelson Draper Sr., who died at 96.
When World War II started, Nelson was a young man living in Chinle on the Navajo Nation. He joined the Marines to train as a Code Talker and participated in many battles on the Pacific. After the war, he stayed with the Marine Corps and offered a lifetime of service to our country.
Many of us are familiar with the noble legacy of Code Talkers like Nelson Draper Sr. -- heroes whose unbreakable code saved countless lives in World War II. But fewer people are aware that Native Americans in general have a greater proportion of veterans than the rest of the U.S. population.
Yet when these veterans return home to their tribal communities, they may lack access to the facilities and care they need. Arizona, for example, has more than 10,000 Native American veterans -- but not a single veteran nursing home on tribal land.
A recent effort to build a veteran nursing home on the Navajo Nation failed because of a simple oversight in federal law: Construction on tribal land is ineligible for the 65 percent VA construction reimbursement and per diem grants that support such projects on land owned by states, territories or the federal government.
Tribal communities are often in remote areas and provide a unique cultural support system, so it’s important to keep these veterans near their families while in nursing care. That’s why I recently introduced a bipartisan bill to boost tribal construction of veteran nursing care homes.
My bill would designate that veteran nursing care homes built on tribal land qualify for those VA construction funds and per diem grants. It’s a simple fix, and it’s the right thing to do – and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree. I am also proud and grateful that the Navajo Nation and Inter Tribal Council of Arizona have passed resolutions of support for my bill.
We have a duty to solve these problems and keep the promises we’ve made to those who have served and sacrificed for us all. Helping our veterans isn’t a partisan issue -- it’s a national responsibility.
U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is Ranking Member of its Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.