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Johnson: An obligation to our veterans

by Minden Press-Herald

Rep. Mike Johnson

Most Americans revere and deeply appreciate the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Our veterans put country before self, leave behind loved ones and endanger themselves to ensure our nation remains safe and well protected. As a country, it is our obligation and our pleasure to honor their service and support them when they come home.

Too often, however, veterans face a different battle upon their return. They often receive sub-par healthcare, find it increasingly difficult to obtain meaningful employment or are blocked by government bureaucracy when trying to receive the benefits they so rightfully deserve. This is unacceptable. That is why I, along with my colleagues in Congress, have passed multiple pieces of legislation to better serve our veterans and address the serious concerns plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Just this week, the House passed the VA Accountability Act of 2017. This bill increases the VA Secretary’s flexibility to remove, demote or suspend any VA employee for failures in performance or for misconduct. In recent years, there have been numerous reports of VA employees manipulating wait times to hide the lack of care they were actually administering. In some tragic cases, these excessive wait times actually cost veterans their lives. In other instances, poorly performing employees were shielded from disciplinary action by arcane civil service rules. Shamefully, even employees who committed armed robbery or participated in surgery while intoxicated were difficult to dismiss or punish.

The VA Accountability Act addresses these issues and makes it easier to terminate unethical employees from the VA, thus holding the entire department to a higher standard and increasing the quality of care our veterans receive. Additionally, this bill improves protections for whistleblowers and prevents VA scandals from going unreported. Our veterans deserve the highest quality of care and we simply cannot ensure that quality when bad actors are protected by big government.

Unfortunately, the problems of government bureaucracy are not limited to veterans’ healthcare. The bureaucracy can also have an adverse effect on veterans’ benefits. To mitigate some of the hardships in filing claims, the House passed the WINGMAN Act. This bill increases the ability of Congress to assist veterans with VA claims by allowing congressional staffers— like those in my Bossier, Natchitoches and Leesville offices— to monitor the status of a veteran’s claim on the VA database. Access is Read-only, which further protects veterans and ensures no changes can be made to a claim.

As we work to reduce bureaucracy, attention is also being paid to the challenges many veterans face in their transitions back to civilian life. The adjustments can be difficult, and finding work can be even harder. In February, the House passed the Boosting Rates of American Veteran Employment (BRAVE) Act, which allows the VA to give preference to government contractors who provide full-time employment to veterans. Our men and women in uniform have unique skills that set them apart from many in the workforce and that distinction should not be undervalued.

The brave soldiers who have served our country have fulfilled their duties. I believe it is our solemn duty to fulfill the promises we made to them and ensure they receive the best care we can offer upon their return. We cannot prosper as a country when those that gave their all to protect it are suffering. Our veterans answered the call, and now we must do the same.

Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, is the U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 4th congressional district.

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