Early last week, President Obama signed two more veterans bills into law, joining the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act signed in February. The Veterans Entrepreneurship Act increases small-business loan access for veterans looking to start small businesses. The second bill, the Veterans Identification Card Act, provides veterans a route to access a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) federal ID card. Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare already possess a federal VA ID, but for those who do not, these cards will prove veteran status for the purpose of establishing eligibility for a variety of federal and state benefit programs.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is pleased to see veterans’ issues being prioritized by the president and Congress. We supported the two bills signed into law as well as strongly supporting VA budget flexibility legislation and the VA Accountability Act, two measures that also took center stage this week.
Just over a year ago, Americans learned of secret VA waitlists, whistleblower retaliation and veteran patients dying while waiting to see a doctor. Despite these revelations, few VA employees have been held accountable for their negligence. IAVA believes the VA Accountability Act (H.R. 1994) will achieve the intended result of creating a VA workforce that is more safe, stable and productive. Holding negligent employees accountable for their actions should not be a partisan issue.
While IAVA applauds the House for passing the accountability bill, we were disappointed that the vote was mostly along party lines, which makes the prospects for Senate passage doubtful. IAVA and its members stand ready to work across the aisles and bring Republicans and Democrats to the table to find a way forward — just like we did for the Clay Hunt SAV Act — to ensure veterans receive the quality healthcare they deserve.
On a more positive note, the House and the Senate both passed legislation giving VA Secretary Robert McDonald the budget flexibility needed to improve veteran access to care, finally eliminating the patient backlog and fully reforming the VA. We supported McDonald’s call to increase VA budget flexibility to keep hospital rooms from closing, and in the interest of our veteran members facing urgent healthcare needs, we urge Congress to support this on a bicameral, bipartisan front.
Congress and Obama must understand the most consequential issues our community faces and work together to solve them. The issues that matter most should be front and center and they should be addressed in a manner that brings Democrats and Republicans together. Our veterans do not have the time or patience for political wrangling on Capitol Hill and expect leadership from Washington on their behalf. They have done their job in uniform and now it is time for Congress to do its job. We understand the concerns over the VA Accountability bill and the complexities that come with every policy change. But we also know from the passage of the Clay Hunt SAV Act that this Congress and president have gotten it right before — and they can get it right again.
We are all in this together — veterans, the VA, Congress, President Obama and the American people. We must stand united until our shared objective of fully supporting our veteran patients is realized.