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Fighting for our Veterans

May 24, 2013
Column

Memorial Day is a time set aside every year to honor and remember those who gave their lives in service to our nation.  We also thank all of our veterans who have defended our freedoms.  While we can never adequately express our gratitude for the sacrifices of America’s veterans, I am working with my colleagues to ensure our heroes have access to the care and resources they deserve.

Distance to the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) facility is one of the greatest obstacles to quality care for veterans in rural areas such as Nebraska’s Third District.  It is not unusual for veterans in rural Nebraska to travel three hours one way to get care at the VA Hospital in Hot Springs, South Dakota. 

Even though veterans in rural Nebraska are already forced to travel too far for care, the VA is considering reducing services at the Hot Springs facility which would force its Nebraska patients to travel even farther to Rapid City or Fort Meade.  The extra time and money veterans would have to spend getting to another VA hospital could also cause many to choose to delay or even go without the care they require.  Forcing men and women who have served our country in uniform to make such a choice is no way to honor their service.

I know an 89 year-old World War II veteran who must travel about 125 miles round trip from his home in Merna to North Platte for primary care at the VA clinic.  Fortunately, this veteran is still able to drive himself, but those who cannot must find a family member, friend or other means of transportation which can be difficult.

As Co-Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Rural Veterans Caucus I have worked with my colleagues to draw attention to these issues and insist the VA consider the needs of rural veterans when making decisions regarding service locations.  The House of Representatives also recently passed several bills to address the needs of veterans.

Earlier this week the House passed H.R. 1412, the Improving Jobs Opportunities for Veterans Act which would encourage more private sector employers to hire veterans for on-the-job training programs.  This bill would increase the VA’s share of the full wage paid to veterans participating in on-the-job training programs with private employers from 15 percent to 25 percent.  On-the-job training will make it easier for more veterans to find gainful employment in the private sector and ease the transition to civilian life.

The House also passed H.R. 570, the America Heroes Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Act to permanently provide automatic increases in disability compensation indexed to Social Security cost of living increases.  Not only would this no longer require disabled veterans to rely on Congress to pass an annual COLA, it would provide for an increase in the special monthly compensation rates for severely injured veterans of about 30 percent for four years beginning in 2014.

Finally, the House passed H.R. 1344, the Helping Heroes Fly Act to direct the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to provide expedited passenger screening at airports for severely injured or disabled veterans and members of the Armed Forces and their families.  Each of these bills passed with broad bipartisan support and would help improve the opportunities and quality of life for our nation’s veterans.

As you celebrate with friends and family this Memorial Day please take time to remember and honor our veterans and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in support of our freedom.   

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