Scott Tipton
Valley Voices

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May 25, 2014
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Vail Daily column: Stand up for veterans

The American Dream has come at an incredible cost. Since the founding of our nation, a small, important group of Americans have answered the call to serve our country. Because of the sacrifice of these special few Americans, we can wholeheartedly say that the world is a better place.

Today, we come together as a nation to give tribute to those who paid the ultimate price in defense of freedom — in defense of that dream. No words can sufficiently express the gratitude we have for our troops, especially for those who have died in the service of our nation.

These brave, selfless individuals share a sacred bond. It’s an immortal, patriotic bond that lives among their ranks from generation to generation. It lives on today between veterans and their fallen peers — between those who have stood together in defense of us all.

This Memorial Day, I believe the best way we, as a nation, can honor these fallen heroes is to stand up for their brothers and sisters in arms and fix the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The way that veterans have been treated by the VA is an outrage and a failure by our government to honor its commitment. That ailing vets have been forced to wait ridiculous amounts of time to receive the care they were promised, enduring additional pain and suffering and even losing their lives, is beyond troubling.

Across the nation, nearly 350,000 veterans who have filed disability claims with the VA are waiting longer than 125 days to receive their benefits. These delays often cause additional pain and suffering, lead to medical complications and are literally a matter of life and death as we’ve seen in Phoenix, Fort Collins and elsewhere.

REFORM NEEDED

The problems at the VA are systemic, and without necessary reforms and changes will never be fully fixed.

It defies logic that under the current system, when a senior executive at the VA fails to do their job, they are more likely to be rewarded and promoted than fired. This week the House passed legislation (H.R. 4031) to stop this mind-boggling practice by empowering the secretary with greater flexibility to fire senior executive staff members who fail to do their jobs. This bill is a needed step in the right direction to help bring about accountability at the VA.

When those who are supposed to be helping our vets at the VA fail to do their jobs, they need to be fired.

We’ve heard countless stories from veterans in our district that have experienced delays, cancellations or a lack of response all together at the VA. Matters are made even worse when a veteran has to drive several hours while ill to get to their appointment, only to find out when they arrive that it had been canceled without any notice given. This is happening here in the 3rd District and across the nation, and it has to stop.

There is a solution to help address the VA’s healthcare delivery challenges. I am working to advance legislation with my rural colleagues to allow veterans to access healthcare in their own backyard, rather than having to travel to regional VA facilities, sometimes at great distances.

The Healthy Vets Act (HR 635) would clear hurdles standing in the way of veterans from accessing local care providers. I believe this solution would help ease the strain on regional VA facilities, improve appointment times and ensure that veterans are able to access the care they need, when and where they need it.

This commonsense solution, based on the premise that veterans — regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas — should be able to access their benefits in a way that works for them, deserves greater attention.

Let’s remember the promise this nation made to those who have served. We must work to make good on that promise by ensuring our veterans receive the benefits and care they and their fallen brothers and sisters in arms earned.

Scott Tipton represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes western Eagle County. If you are having an issue with Veterans Affairs, Tipton’s office may be able to help and can be reached at 719-542-1073.

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The VailDaily Updated May 25, 2014 09:08PM Published May 25, 2014 04:57PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.