One of the most rewarding parts of my job as the representative for Alabama’s Second District is representing a large veteran population and advocating for their proper treatment and care. As a nation, it is critically important that we do all we can to care for our veterans and ensure the integrity of their service and sacrifice. When it comes to VA care, the very best is the only acceptable standard, and we have a very long way to go before this is achieved.
Improving services for Alabama veterans will always be a top priority of mine in Congress. As a member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Subcommittee for the 116th Congress, I am in a unique position to have consistent oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs and its health care systems. In this role, I will not stop pushing for badly needed improvements and higher standards at the VA facilities Alabama veterans should be able to count on.
During a recent MilCon-VA hearing, we reviewed the VA’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget. In the last decade, the VA’s budget has grown significantly. Last year, President Trump signed into law the largest VA budget in history, and this year, the VA budget request is 9.5% higher than it was last year. I believe this increase over the last several years is a true and unfortunate testament to the fact that our country’s veteran population has been grossly underserved for many years. These additional resources and continued improvements are warranted.
At the hearing, I had the opportunity to speak directly to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. I told him that my only goal with the VA’s 2020 budget is that our veterans are finally cared for properly. The men and women who served our country should receive the level of care that was promised to them – no excuses.
During the hearing, I also discussed concerns related to the VA Choice Program’s reimbursement policy with hospitals that care for veterans who receive medical services outside the VA. Just last month, a rural hospital in our district called the VA invoice line and received an automated response stating that the VA was just now processing claims from April of last year. This situation is unacceptable and serves as another example of how the VA must be improved.
In the Second District, we know all too well that there are very real problems facing our small, rural hospitals. These hospitals should not have to worry about being reimbursed by the VA for veteran care, but unfortunately, this is a big problem. I know our rural hospitals hate to close their doors on the veteran community, but they simply cannot afford to continue providing care without being reimbursed by the VA in a timely manner. I was glad to have the opportunity to bring this serious issue to Secretary Wilkie’s attention, and I hope we will soon see the problem addressed.
The road to finally providing proper VA care to veterans is a long one, but our heroes deserve absolutely nothing less than the best we can give them. I am grateful to have a seat on the MilCon-VA Appropriations Subcommittee where I can interact directly with Secretary Wilkie and other top VA officials. I will continue to make the case to these leaders that veterans in Alabama and across the country face unacceptable challenges when it comes to receiving proper care through the VA. I am hopeful that, with hard work, consistent oversight, and a healthy budget, we will finally accomplish meaningful improvements on behalf of our nation’s veterans.