Wednesday, 24 April 2024

Thompson: Working to improve veterans' services

Veterans Day is an opportunity to honor our nation’s heroes and what they have done for our great country. While one day is never enough to appreciate the sacrifices these individuals have made, we should all take time today to think of and thank our veterans.

But today should be about more than what veterans have done for us. It should also be a day to consider what we are doing for our veterans. Are we providing them with the support and benefits they deserve?

As your congressman and a combat veteran of the Vietnam war, I frequently ask myself that question. Whether at Walter Reed Army hospital speaking with a soldier wounded in Iraq or at a town hall meeting talking with World War II and Vietnam veterans, I question whether our government is providing each of our veterans with quality care and support.

Regardless of your opinion on the war in Iraq, there is no denying that our troops are doing a great job. There’s also no denying that our ongoing involvement in this war has placed an enormous strain on our veteran services system. Thousands of service members have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious physical injuries and psychological trauma. More will follow them. Some of them need extensive treatment and care for their injuries, possibly for the rest of their lives. Others need significant help transitioning back into civilian life.

Unfortunately, too many of our veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are not getting the quality health care and support they deserve. Some aren’t getting the appropriate treatment they need to recover from their injuries. Some are struggling to transition back into the workplace. Some are facing mountains of paperwork and red tape before they can get care. And many who cannot return to work are struggling to pay their bills.

This strain is not only impacting our new veterans and their families; it’s affecting our older veterans as well. I hear from many veterans of previous wars who wait months before they can get an appointment with a physician. Sometimes they have to travel long distances to find a veterans health care facility that can give them the treatment they need.

There is clearly much more Congress can do to fulfill our civic and moral obligation to our veterans. And this Veterans Day, we can say we are making progress. Over the past year, Congress has worked to significantly improve how our country provides all our veterans with services and benefits.

Most important, Congress is in the process of creating historic increases in resources available for our veterans. This year, Congress voted for the single largest increase in veterans’ funding in the 77-year history of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans of Foreign Wars said “the record funding level acknowledges the deep debt this nation owes to its defenders.” The American Legion called these improvements “an impressive commitment to this nation’s service members, veterans and their families.” This funding will help improve health care benefits and facilities and add 1,100 more case workers to the VA’s staff.

But funding alone is not enough. We are making strides to address the inadequacies of the veterans health care system brought to light in part by the Walter Reed scandal. We’re also working to provide better health care programs for combat veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. And last week, the House passed a bill that would help thousands of California veterans achieve the goal of homeownership.

We are taking the necessary steps toward providing each of our veterans, including the more than 50,000 veterans in the 1st Congressional District, with the quality care and support they deserve. Veterans kept their promise to serve our nation and we must keep our promise to them. Today, help keep this promise by showing your appreciation to those who answered the call of duty.

Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) represents District 1, which includes Lake County, in the U.S. House of Representatives.


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