Bipartisanship and progress in Washington are about as rare as empty bellies and productive political conversations at Thanksgiving dinner — except when it comes to reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs. For that, we should all give thanks.
Over the past few years, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come together to effect real, positive changes for veterans’ health care. That’s as it should be.
Veterans didn’t have an R or D after their names when they put on the uniform and swore an oath to defend our country. They came from diverse backgrounds. They had different beliefs. But they served for the entire United States of America and they all deserve to be properly cared for.
This has been the motivating principle behind VA reform efforts over the past several years, and it should continue to drive the agenda when the 116TH Congress convenes in January.
The new Congress has a good foundation to build on. In response to the wait-list scandal first uncovered at the Phoenix VA Hospital in 2014, Congress that same year passed the first major piece of bipartisan veterans legislation, the VA Choice Act.
It is painful to recall, but veterans literally died while waiting for care. Appalled lawmakers set out to make it easier for veterans to more swiftly access quality care in their communities.
Although the execution of the Choice Act was far from perfect—unacceptably long wait times and budget issues persisted—the spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship was there. And that’s a recipe for success.
In the past two years, other widely supported measures have improved transparency and responsibility at the department.
The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act made it easier to fire bad VA employees, who will no longer get to keep their bonuses or continue getting paid while appealing terminations. It also afforded greater protections to the many good employees who speak out when they see illegal, negligent, or dangerous practices.
In June, President Donald Trump signed into law the MISSION Act, which corrects many of the Choice Act’s flaws by consolidating the VA’s community care programs, mandating clear standards for veterans wanting to access care outside of the VA system, and launching a much-needed review of the department’s infrastructure. It also improves the record-sharing and reimbursement systems for community providers.
The legislation received the endorsement of dozens of veterans groups and enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in the House and Senate. But it has yet to be fully implemented and Congress must remain vigilant to ensure these reforms are properly executed this time around.
A transition of power from one party to the other on Capitol Hill shouldn’t stand in the way of the forward momentum we’ve built. Concerned Veterans for America will continue working with anyone who wants to improve the lives of our nation’s veterans. And it’s heartening to see that lawmakers appear willing to do the same.
This past week, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano of California, a senior member on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, wrote, “Democrats and Republicans have been able to work together to address the needs of veterans and make improvements to make the VA work more effectively … The 116th Congress will be no exception.”
His calls for collaboration and bipartisanship are encouraging, and we hope he’s sincere. We know we are. As the new Congress approaches, we look forward to working with him and others in Washington and throughout the country to truly transform the VA to meet the needs of today’s veterans.
Nathan Anderson is deputy executive director of Concerned Veterans for America and an Army Green Beret.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.