Let’s Honor Our Vet­er­ans By Work­ing To­gether, Solv­ing Prob­lems

The Washington Times Daily - - Life -

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.

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