Taking better care of our veterans

By Congressman Bradley Byrne

I’ve held over 75 town hall meetings since being elected to Congress, and these meetings allow me to get a feel for what issues are most important to the people I represent. At every single town hall meeting, I get at least one question about problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

We have all read different stories about the VA in the newspapers – stories about secret wait lists, VA employees stealing drugs, veterans dying while waiting for care, and doctors overprescribing pain medication.

During my town hall meetings, veterans stand up and put a real, human face on the horrible problems at the VA. I have seen veterans literally break into tears when talking about the lack of timely care or bureaucratic roadblocks. The stories are heartbreaking.

Our veterans deserve better than this. The culture of complacency and lack of accountability at the VA is simply unacceptable.

Now, I know not everyone who works in the VA system is a bad actor. There are certainly people who work tirelessly day in and day out to serve our veterans. Unfortunately, their stories are overshadowed by the widespread challenges.

Ultimately, I think we need to fundamentally reconsider the way we care for our nation’s veterans. These men and women have put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms, and we should do everything we can to ensure they receive the care they deserve.

I recently introduced H.R. 1032, the Full Choice for Veterans Act. This short, two-page bill would change the law to ensure every veteran eligible for VA care is also able to seek medical care from private doctors, specialists, and hospitals in their local community.

In other words, my bill would give veterans access to private, local medical care instead of forcing them into the broken VA system. Giving veterans the choice of private care will allow them to receive more timely access to better care.

Congress passed a law a few years ago to create a similar program, known as the Veterans Choice Program. Sadly, the VA put up restrictions that created confusion and greatly limited veterans access to private care. My bill would do away with those restrictions and open the program up to all veterans eligible for VA care.

By doing this, I think we will see two major benefits. First, we will get better and timelier care for our veterans in their local communities instead of forcing them to drive out of the way to a VA hospital or clinic. Second, we will save taxpayer money by cutting back on the bloated VA bureaucracy.

Giving veterans greater access to private medical care is something President Trump talked about repeatedly on the campaign trail, and I hope I can work with his Administration to actually give veterans the choices they deserve.

President Trump’s pick to lead the VA, David Shulkin, was recently confirmed by the Senate, and I stand ready to work with him and his team to succeed where his predecessors have failed in changing the culture of complacency at the VA.

Until the system changes, I will also continue working to ensure the current VA system works for our veterans.  If you, or someone you know, is having a hard time navigating the bureaucracy at the VA, I hope you will encourage them to contact my office at 251-690-2811. My staff and I stand ready to help.

There is no group more deserving of timely care and treatment than those who have served our country. By giving them greater choices and access to private care, I think we can do right by our veterans.