There is no greater honor than having the opportunity to represent more than 88,000 veterans in Southwest Florida.
The debt we owe to these warriors cannot be overstated. From Normandy to Mosul, our service members have fought to keep Americans safe and our country strong. The success of the great American experiment has relied on the selflessness and patriotism that these brave men and women have exhibited both in times of war and in times of peace.
While our nation will never be able to fully repay these heroes for their sacrifice, Washington needs to show that all of America is grateful.
In the halls of Congress, where partisanship too often impedes progress, we have been able to break through the gridlock and advance common-sense solutions that give veterans the care and respect they deserve.
For example, later this month every veteran – past, present and future – will be able to go online and order brand new identification cards free of charge.
For too long, veterans across this country have been unable to prove their military service without hauling around documents that contained their sensitive personal information. The Veterans ID Card, which is the direct result of legislation I introduced in Congress, will help veterans get services more quickly and with fewer paperwork headaches.
And when it comes to restoring accountability to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, we have been able to get legislation signed into law this year to give the VA secretary the tools necessary to fire or discipline employees who do not meet the standards our veterans deserve.
This bipartisan measure also strengthened protections for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing within the VA.
It is clear Washington still has plenty of work to do to help veterans. Three specific areas that need to be addressed immediately include:
▪ Access to quality health care: More than three years after reports that VA employees falsified records of how long veterans were forced to wait for care, a staggering 75,000 claims are still backlogged. This is unacceptable.
This week, I voted for legislation to allow VA health professionals to provide tele-healthcare to veterans across state lines without needing to physically be at a VA medical center. This change is a positive step to help make lifesaving resources readily accessible to those who need them most.
▪ Suicide prevention: The veteran suicide rate is 22 percent higher than the civilian population’s suicide rate.
More than a year ago, we learned that 30 percent of calls to the VA’s suicide prevention hotline were going unanswered or were being sent to a backup phone call center where staff were not adequately trained to handle the calls. It’s why I voted for legislation this year requiring the crisis hotline to be staffed around the clock by trained professionals and adhere to all requirements of the American Association of Suicidology.
▪ Homelessness: The more than 39,000 veterans homeless on any given night need our help.
Earlier this year, I supported a bill to provide $7.3 billion to fund treatment, housing, and job training programs for homeless veterans. Homeless veterans need our help to get back on their feet.
President Coolidge once said, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.” We must never forget. Our veterans had our back. Now we need to have theirs.
Congressman Vern Buchanan represents Florida’s 16th Congressional District, which includes all or part of Manatee, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties. He is a former member of the House Veterans Affairs committee and served six years in the Air National Guard. Bradenton office: 941-747-9081.