This nation needs to protect its veterans

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Guest Column by Tim Walz

Veterans Day is the time to honor those who have served and sacrificed for our country. The single most important thing we can do today is to recommit ourselves as a nation to delivering on the promises made to those men and women who have risked life and limb in defense of freedom and democracy here and around the world.

Tim Walz

Tim Walz

We must deliver the benefits and care promised to every single veteran, and we cannot rest until that promise is fulfilled. We can do better. The information about deep and systemic problems in the VA that has come to light in the year following the crisis in Phoenix is unacceptable. As veterans wait for care, far too often a lack of accountability prevents us from addressing these critical issues.

Email newsletter signup

Last year, Congress passed into law The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.  This new law helped facilitate non-VA care for veterans who were waiting too long or lived too far to access care. The law required an independent assessment of VA medical care and established a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate access to care throughout the VA health care system. Finally, it gave the VA additional tools to hold bad actors accountable.

We have faced challenges in implementation of this new law, particularly as it relates to the Veterans Choice Program, and we must continue our work to ensure that veterans can get the care they need right away. While this new law made important short-term progress, it is only the beginning of what we need to do to reform the VA in the long-term.

We need to reform the policies, programs and culture of the VA. We need strong, visionary leadership that focuses on public service and superior results. We need new and innovative thinking that puts all generations of veterans first. And while I believe full-scale privatization of the VA would leave too many veterans unprotected and without the specialized care they need, we must develop public-private partnerships to deliver worlclass, patient-centered, convenient care to those who need it.

Like many who live in southern Minnesota, 5.3 million veterans live in rural communities across America. Delivering care to patients in rural areas presents unique sets of challenges. But health care providers in Minnesota are using innovation to deliver high-quality care to folks in their hometowns and we must replicate that for rural veterans as well.

We need to rebuild and restructure the VA so it meets the needs of all veterans who served, whether it was decades ago in the jungles of southeast Asia or those returning home from the deserts of the Middle East. Let’s continue to build a bipartisan coalition in Congress to design the future of the VA by taking the politics out of helping our veterans and doing what is right. The cost of taking care of veterans is one of the true costs of war.

We need a new era of transparency. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and the VA needs to adopt new practices that make critical information public in a timely fashion. Veterans and their advocates deserve the unvarnished truth.

We need a culture of integrity, accountability and superior results where veterans service organizations and veterans themselves help drive where we are heading and how to get there. Reforming the VA is a journey, not a destination. As new generations of Americans struggle with new conflicts in a fast-changing world, the VA needs the flexibility to adapt.

Our vision for the VA must be one where the VA serves as the veterans’ best advocate, supporter and partner from the very first day of civilian life. We must remove layers of bureaucracy that are too burdensome; unleash new technology to reinvent and reinvigorate VA’s benefits and health care delivery; integrate with the greater community, leveraging resources and complimenting what exists in a veteran’s hometown; create an organization that enables VA leadership to meet challenges before they become crises; ensure seamless comprehensive care and assistance across the whole range of veterans’ benefits and services.

Along this journey, we will not always agree on the best path, but we can all agree on the outcome. From the booth in a coffee shop in southern Minnesota, to the halls of Congress, to Pennsylvania Avenue, let us all honor veterans by exercising the rights they gave us and have a vigorous debate about how to achieve our shared vision.


Tim Walz, DFL-Mankato, represents the 1st District Congressional District of Minnesota.