October 14, 2018

Serving those who serve us | Clarksburg Exponent Telegram

As a Republican from Georgia and a Democrat from West Virginia, we have our differences. We don’t always fall on the same side of every debate, and on Saturdays this fall, one of us will be decked out in red and black while the other is sporting blue and gold.

But we both believe the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. As chairman and as a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (VA), we are both well aware that America’s greatness is due in large part to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to defend it. We take the responsibility to serve those who have served us seriously.

Since the start of this Congress on January 3, 2017, the Senate VA committee has held more than two dozen hearings focused on the problems confronting the Veterans’ Affairs Department. We’ve heard from officials at the VA, as well as stakeholders like veterans’ service organizations and worked to figure out how we could address these challenges. Over the last 18 months, we have made significant progress, developing legislation and building consensus on proposals that are effective and meet the needs of veterans.

In 2017 and 2018, the Senate’s efforts on behalf of our nation’s veterans include the passage of 22 major pieces of veterans’ legislation — 22 of which have been signed into law — that reform the VA and strengthen veterans’ health care, benefits and services. Additionally, the Senate has confirmed 14 nominees to the VA and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to ensure strong leadership is in place to oversee the implementation of these reforms.

The reforms by our committee ensure our nation’s veterans have access to world-class medical care. We passed the VA MISSION Act which includes some of the most significant reforms to date to improve health care delivered both in VA facilities and in partnership with community care providers. The VA MISSION Act strengthened and expanded VA’s program for family caregivers to assist all eras of veterans.

Funding for the Veterans Health Administration has more than doubled in the last decade, and leaders within the VA need to be accountable for delivering better health care and better customer service to our veterans. We passed the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which finally gave VA leaders the tools to remove poor-performing or negligent employees and formalized a process for protecting the rights of whistleblowers. Since being signed into law, more than 2,800 permanent and probationary VA employees have been removed under the new authority.

For years, veterans have been waiting far too long for a decision from the VA on their benefit claim appeals. The VA’s woefully outdated appeals process led to a backlog of nearly half a million veterans waiting on a decision on their claims. With the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, we overhauled the appeals system to break down bureaucratic barriers and help develop an improved, more responsive and quicker system for veterans.

The jobs of the 21st century are ever changing, and today’s workforce never stops learning. To help our service members transition to civilian life and ensure they have education benefits that meet their needs, we passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act to make lasting reforms to the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. This is a truly meaningful victory for our veterans, who should have every opportunity available to them to pursue their desired profession and career after they return from duty.

There are no Republican soldiers or Democratic soldiers on the battlefield – only American soldiers. That’s why we work together in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to get results for all American veterans. We are proud of our bipartisan efforts on behalf of veterans in West Virginia, Georgia and across the country, and we are committed to putting their best interests firs

By:  Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Johnny Isakson