Keeping Faith With Our Veterans
Green Bay Press Gazette | U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher
I recently had the honor of welcoming a group of American heroes who journeyed from Appleton to Washington, D.C., aboard the Old Glory Honor flight.
It was truly an extraordinary thing to see — generations of northeast Wisconsin veterans, representing every major conflict since WWII, visiting the very monuments that honor their courage. Each veteran — regardless of age, military branch or rank — was united by a shared experience of service and sacrifice.
The honor flight is just one of many remarkable ways northeast Wisconsin supports its veterans. Despite all of the good work being done here in our communities, too often bureaucracy and failures in Washington impede our ability to give our veterans the quality and timely care they deserve.
Almost weekly, it seems there’s another headline in the news about the urgent problem of veteran suicide that is taking the lives of 20 veterans per day or the long wait times at VA hospitals that prevent many veterans from getting the treatment they need.
While these headlines may be discouraging, one of my biggest observations from my first few months in Congress is far more encouraging: If there’s one thing that unites the country in an otherwise divided time, it is our unwavering support for and appreciation of our veterans’ sacrifices.
This is why I was pleased this week when Congress and the president answered a bipartisan call to action and took a step toward fixing our broken VA system by passing into law the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.
The new law gives the VA the legal authorities it needs to remove, demote, or suspend underperforming employees. It also provides expanded protections for whistleblowers and gives the VA the authority to reduce pensions or bonuses for employees who engage in misconduct.
This is great news for veterans across Wisconsin and the country. It means we are making huge strides in improving the quality and timeliness of the care our veterans receive. It also means we are beginning the process of truly holding employees at the VA to the same standard as everyone else — that if you don’t do your job, you will lose it. Why should government employees work under a different set of rules than the taxpayers?
Of course there are many dedicated public servants who work at the VA. But we’ve seen too much institutional failure to continue business as usual. With long wait times for appointments and an ever-present backlog of claims, the VA needs employees who are there to serve veterans.
The administration has also proposed a long-overdue reform agenda that includes expanding community care options for vets, modernizing the VA’s information technology infrastructure, and restructuring the department’s workforce to promote efficiency. I look forward to working with Secretary David Shulkin on these and other vital initiatives aimed at bringing the VA out of critical condition.
While fixing the VA is an important step, there is a broader sense in which we must keep faith with our veterans. Our servicemen and -women swear an oath to defend our nation, sacrificing their lives if necessary.
As citizens, we have a duty to them, as well, one that goes far beyond flying the flag in our lawns and taking care of them when they come home. In addition to providing world-class care for our veterans, we must also provide for the men and women who are currently in uniform doing dangerous work to keep us safe.
Simply put, when we send our nation’s best into harm’s way, it must be with best-in-the-world training, equipment, and forces. It’s why I’m committed to ending destructive defense cuts, rebuilding the military, and restoring peace through strength. After all, keeping the country safe should be the first and foremost function of the federal government.
Coming together to fix our country’s problems will not be easy. Yet when I think about the service and sacrifices of the heroes I met from northeast Wisconsin last week, the obstacles we face today seem trivial. Through our hard work and willingness to put country ahead of politics, we can fulfill our duty and keep faith with our veterans.