On Caring for Our Veterans
Those who serve our nation in the armed forces are deserving of the utmost respect and care. It is a disgrace that we have so many veterans who are homeless, suffering from untreated illnesses and who suffer daily. Many have benefit claims that have languished for years, wait months for needed medical care or are neglected altogether. I propose the following to dramatically change how we treat our veterans:
- REVERSE THE BURDEN OF PROOF FOR VA BENEFIT CLAIMS
Currently, we place the burden on our veterans to prove that a debilitating injury or illness is “service connected” (i.e., related to their time of service military). For many of our veterans, particularly those who manifest injury or illness long after their years of military service, this burden can be almost impossible to meet. Veterans are required to chase down affidavits from former leaders and ferret out information about the actions or movements of their former military units. This has caused many claims to languish in limbo, sometimes for years. I propose that regulations be changed to place the burden of proof on the VA. In other words, the presumption would be that a claimant IS ENTITLED to the benefit unless the VA can prove, WITHIN 90 DAYS, that the injury or illness is NOT service connected. If the VA cannot meet this burden, or chooses not to pursue a denial of claim, the veteran will receive the benefit. This simple change would clear the backlog of claims in very short order and provide to those who have served our country much needed help.
- ALLOW VETERANS TO VISIT PRIVATE MEDICAL PROVIDERS WHENEVER NECESSARY
Too many veterans are waiting for long periods of time for medical treatment at VA hospitals because of the shortage of VA providers. I propose legislation that expands and improves on the ability of veterans to seek care at private providers when they would have to wait a long time to see a VA provider, when unique or expert medical care is needed, or when the veteran would have to travel a long distance to seek care from a VA facility. I would also seek to ensure that such benefits extend to mental health and addiction care and counseling. Furthermore, I would drive legislation that would make it UNLAWFUL for a private medical care provider to deny care to a veteran merely because such would be paid for or reimbursed by the VA or any other governmental entity.
- FUND THE VA COMMENSURATE WITH OPERATIONAL BUDGETS
For too long, we have been willing to send men and women to war without considering the consequences that such actions might have on our service members. Congress has historically been far more willing to fund military actions overseas, than to fund the VA for the care needed by those who execute these military operations. I will champion legislation that MANDATES that ANY future budget or appropriation for military operation MUST CONTAIN SUFFICIENT FUNDS for the VA to care for the members involved in that military operation. Such funds must be disbursed and transferred to the VA AT THE TIME OF THE MILITARY APPROPRIATION, and cannot be diverted from the VA due to other budgetary constraints or cuts. No longer will we be able to balance our budget on the backs of our service members. Put simply, if we cannot afford to care for the people who go to war, then we cannot afford to go to war in the first place.