Wicker Confident in New Laws Benefiting Veterans
White House, Congress Have Kept Veteran Care a Top Priority
November 13, 2017
We have many reasons to celebrate our veterans on Veterans Day. The entire month of November has – for the first time – been named National Veterans and Military Families Month by the President. Our veterans have offered us some of the greatest gifts, protecting this nation and its freedoms. But our gratitude comes with responsibility. What do we offer these courageous Americans in return?
We can certainly answer that question better today than we could a few years ago. An unwavering commitment exists to right the wrongs of the past mismanagement and negligence that plagued the VA system and disrupted veterans’ access to care. Real VA reform is a top priority for the White House, and it is a top priority for the Republican-led Congress.
More Health-Care Choices, Accountability
Congress has passed seven new laws this year in an effort to improve health care and benefits for our veterans. One of these laws improves the Veterans Choice Program, allowing veterans to choose non-VA care when they face long wait times or long drives to the closest medical center. Another updates the GI Bill by giving veterans more time to use their education benefits and extending those benefits to Reserve and National Guard soldiers deployed after Sept. 11, 2001.
Other new laws promote greater accountability and efficiency within the VA, illustrating the widespread resolve to weed out systemic corruption. President Trump has signed a bill that gives the VA Secretary the power to remove VA employees based on misconduct or poor performance. He has also established an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection to help fortify a culture of integrity and its capacity to take root in the VA system.
Improvements Needed at Mississippi’s VA Hospitals
These federal measures are important, but successful reform will also take continued diligence at the state and local levels. I was disheartened but not surprised based upon my discussions with veterans to learn recently that our state’s two VA medical centers have received low internal rankings by the VA again this year. I have written to VA Secretary David Shulkin to inquire about these performance concerns and ask for prompt action to improve the Jackson and Biloxi hospitals. Additionally, I have invited the Secretary to visit our state to ensure these concerns receive prompt attention and that our state’s nearly 200,000 veterans have access to the quality care they deserve.
One Mississippian ready to serve on behalf of our veterans is Randy Reeves of Madison. As the head of the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board and a veteran himself, Randy is an excellent pick to be the VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, a role that is responsible for overseeing burial services and national cemeteries for veterans and their families. The Senate unanimously confirmed his nomination on November 8.
Mississippi’s veterans and military families hold a special place in our communities. These men and women have fought for us, and we need to fight for them. That fight includes restoring confidence in the VA system and making good on our promises for better health care and benefits.