Opinion Pieces

Goldendale Sentinel Guest Column: Veterans' Medical Needs Require Closer Attention

For more than 200 years, millions of men and women have become American heroes by bravely serving our nation in the armed forces. Yet the service of these individuals is formally marked only twice a year—Veterans Day and Memorial Day. As your representative in Congress, I continue fighting to ensure that the memories of those who died in service, as well as the veterans who made it home, receive the respect they deserve and the support they were promised during the rest of the year. Whether it is responding in a timely manner to disability claims, or making sure that veterans have access to basic health care, we have a duty to support our heroes who have fought to preserve our way of life.

One of the most pressing issues facing veterans today is the amount of time they must wait when filing a disability claim. Alarmingly in the last four years, the number of backlogged Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) compensation claims has grown by 2,000 percent. The average wait time for a claim to be processed is 320 days and in some areas of the country, folks are left waiting for years. Our government is unfortunately letting down our veterans in this regard.

This backlog needs to change, and I believe the change needs to come from the top. On May 28, I joined several other Members of Congress—both Republican and Democrat—in urging the President to take direct action to eliminate the years-long line that our veterans are facing. For our veterans who live in Goldendale, Vancouver, Bingen, and across our region, we must fix our backlog mess and start processing these claims in a timely fashion again.

Along with working to shrink our VA backlog, I have worked to make sure that our veterans have more access to basic health care.

Shortly after taking office in 2011, I learned about a promising VA program aiming to send “mobile medical units” into our rural communities to provide basic health services to veterans. Many of our veterans must travel over 50 miles for basic health needs. Unfortunately, these mobile units aren’t living up to their intended purpose. Rather than regularly visiting remote areas to provide flu shots and fill prescriptions, these units often sit unused in a parking lot for weeks and even months at a time. On June 4, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a provision I authored that would investigate why these taxpayer-funded resources are sitting unused. I hope the Senate will quickly consider and pass this commonsense measure to inject accountability and fix this shortfall in veteran services. With more than 40 percent of our nation’s veterans living in rural areas, we need to use every tool at our disposal to help provide them quality care.

Lastly, we need to make sure that our veterans can keep pace with rising costs. In recent months, I voted for and the House passed the American Heroes COLA Act. This legislation would make permanent the annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) benefit for veterans. Making sure that our disabled veterans can afford to pay for their medication, put food on their table, and put gas in their car shouldn’t be susceptible to politics and posturing in Congress. This bill ensures that payments to veterans are tied to rising prices.

Our veterans deserve the utmost respect for the sacrifices they have made for our country. I’ll continue pushing for improvements, reforms and action that allows us to better respond to the needs of our vets.