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Fulfilling Promises To Veterans - Congressman Jim Banks
Updated July 29, 2017 2:15 PM
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(UNDATED) - While health care, tax reform and national security have dominated the headlines in 2017, significant progress is being made on another critical policy area. Working with the Trump Administration, Congress has taken several important steps to prioritize our veterans and improve the care and benefits they receive.

For too long, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has struggled with long wait times, backlogs, below average care and even employee misconduct. While the vast majority of VA employees are hardworking and committed professionals, the VA's sprawling bureaucracy created a dysfunctional system that has failed many of our veterans.

Earlier this year, Congress passed the VA Accountability Act, legislation to help ensure our veterans receive consistent, quality treatment when they enter a VA facility. This measure was signed into law by President Donald Trump in June.

The VA Accountability Act will shorten the time it takes to fire a VA employee for misconduct, give the VA Secretary the discretion to both revoke bonuses previously paid to employees engaging in misconduct and reduce pensions of employees found guilty of felonies that influenced their job at the VA. It also provides improved protections for whistleblowers.

Mediocrity is unacceptable when it comes to caring for the men and women who have served our country, and this measure will hold poorly-performing VA employees accountable. It begins the process of changing the culture of the VA.

Another step forward for our veterans occurred in April, when President Trump signed into law legislation that extended the Veterans Choice program. The Veterans Choice program allows veterans to receive services outside the VA medical system in their home communities. While additional reforms are needed to improve the Veterans Choice program, this extension ensured veterans were not left with a gap in health care coverage.

A third important step occurred earlier this week when the House passed a bipartisan legislative package to expand and extend the GI Bill.

The legislation will remove time restrictions in the GI Bill, enabling recipients to use their GI Bill benefits for a lifetime. The measure includes significant increases in GI Bill funding for reservists, guardsmen, dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents. It provides 100% GI Bill eligibility to all post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients.

It also includes a proposal I authored that would make permanent a pilot program called "VetSuccess on Campus," which places counselors on college campuses to assist veterans in navigating their GI benefits and charting their higher education path.

The original GI Bill transformed our country and afforded an entire generation of veterans the opportunity to receive an education. This bill will invest in a new generation of veterans as they transition back to civilian life. I am hopeful the Senate will pass this legislation soon and send it to the President's desk to be signed into law.

Our veterans deserve the utmost respect for their service and sacrifice, and part of that respect means fulfilling the promises made to them. While there is more work to be done, actions taken this year send an important message to the men and women who have faithfully served our country.

Congressman Jim Banks (IN-3) serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

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