The effect and cost of war on our troops is undeniable. It takes a toll on the toughest among them. Coming home should offer peace and a chance to heal.
But the reality is that our veterans often come home indelibly changed, marked with the scars of war. They deal with wounds that are both visible and invisible. I’ve seen firsthand the true cost of war, and through our veterans, we see how that cost continues long after they come home.
Forty years ago, 75 percent of Congress had served our country in uniform. Today, that number has dropped to just 18 percent. Sadly, it shows. One of the main reasons I ran for Congress was to bring voice to my brothers and sisters in uniform, to stop our country’s leaders from sending them into harm’s way to fight unnecessary wars of choice, and to honor their service by caring for them when they come home.
Last year, our country’s failure to fulfill its promise to our veterans was starkly exposed. At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veterans faced wait times of 90 days or more to see a doctor. Hawaii veterans experienced the worst wait times in the country, averaging 145 days — almost five months — for a simple primary care visit. Unfortunately, these inexcusable wait times have only scratched the surface of the systemic problems that still exist within the VA and the obstacles that stand in the way of our veterans getting the care they need.
Of all the calls and requests for assistance my office gets, veterans who need help make up the vast majority. Far too many veterans in our state are still being dishonored — a Kauai veteran whose documents have been repeatedly misplaced by the VA and VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration); a disabled medic with post-traumatic stress disorder on Maui whose request for an evaluation so he can obtain a service dog is stuck in a bureaucratic appeals case; or a veteran on Hawaii island with cancer whose benefits were just reduced.
As VA crises unfolded last year, I introduced a bill called the Access to Care and Treatment (ACT) Now for Veterans Act. The bill’s premise, to allow veterans to get the immediate care they need from non-VA medical providers, was ultimately included in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act that was enacted last year.
While far from perfect, this legislation has provided some immediate relief to our veterans who’ve been waiting so long for care.
The VA must begin to rebuild veterans’ trust by holding leaders accountable for their malpractice and focusing on its mission of serving veterans.
If our country invested as much time, resources and capital into serving our veterans as it does into nation-building in other countries, spending $43 million on building a gas station in Afghanistan, or pursuing failed missions, such as the $500 million effort to train and equip so-called moderate Syrian rebels, we could be on the road toward making sure that our nation’s sons and daughters receive the care and services they were promised, have earned, and deserve.
After serving and sacrificing for all of us, every single veteran should come home knowing that we are there for them, and we have their back.