Grassley: Qs & As about veterans

~with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

 Q: What is your message to Iowans this Veterans Day?

A:  The nation’s 21 million veterans have served America with sacrifice and service. And Iowa is home to more than 226,000 of these patriots who answered the call to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Called to duty in times of war, natural catastrophe or humanitarian crisis, these men and women in uniform maintained the nation’s military readiness 24/7, 365 days a year.

As a nation, we owe America’s veterans a debt of gratitude. Whether working behind the scenes or fighting on the front lines, our veterans have served around the clock and around the world during our nation’s hour of need.

Now it’s America’s duty to uphold the nation’s promises to our veterans during their hour of need. Time spent in the military, away from families and careers, can create considerable hardship and heartache that is difficult to overcome. And the transition from military service to non-military life isn’t always a simple integration, especially for wounded warriors who return battle-scarred with bone and brain injuries.

Many war veterans need specialized care and rehabilitation for service-related injuries or treatment for mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

For all of our veterans who have worn the uniform with dignity and distinction, it is the least we can do as a nation to welcome their safe return into our hometown communities and productive transition into workplaces across the United States.

On this Veterans Day, let’s renew our commitment to America’s veterans. Let’s remember we are fortunate to enjoy the blessings of a free society. And let’s honor those who have returned to home base, especially those who return broken in mind, body or spirit. By every measure of their service and sacrifice, they helped secure the land of the free and home of the brave for generations yet to come.

Q: What has Congress done this year to help veterans?

A: Working to fix the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) remains a top priority in Congress. I am keeping close tabs on beefed up accountability measures enacted last year to help root out employee misconduct and a culture of corruption within the VA so that veterans receive the benefits and services they deserve.

But, the new VA secretary has made it clear he still needs more tools to remove the bad eggs not focused on veterans’ needs and who continue to poison the culture. The House of Representatives has answered that call and the Senate should follow suit.

Recognizing the urgent need for additional resources to address mental health care for veterans, Congress this year also passed a bill I cosponsored, The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act and other provisions to prioritize VA programs for caregivers, homelessness, adaptive sports and vocational benefits for veterans with severe injuries.

Lawmakers also approved reforms to the Veterans Choice Program that allow more veterans to qualify to receive health care from non-VA health care providers in their local communities. For example, the reforms expand eligibility for those whose wait time for a VA appointment would exceed 30 days or if their driving distance exceeds 40 miles. I’m glad the VA revised its 40-mile rule from the “as-the-crow-flies” to a more realistic driving distance calculation to reflect the reality of veterans living in rural areas who may live a half-day’s drive away from the nearest VA health care facility.

However, the VA continues to maintain that veterans are not eligible if they live near a VA outpatient clinic even if the care they need is offered 100 miles away at a VA hospital. I am supporting legislation to make the VA implement the Veterans Choice Program as Congress intended — for the benefit and best interest of veterans and taxpayers – not the federal bureaucracy.

Q: Why did you create a veterans fellowship program?

A: Listening to Iowans and learning about their lives helps me do a better job representing real life concerns at the policymaking tables in Washington. With 35 consecutive years of face-to-face conversations with Iowans in each of Iowa’s 99 counties ever year, I very much appreciate that having direct dialogue is an invaluable benefit that helps identify and solve problems. Reaching out to veterans is an important part of that process.

This year I created a new veterans fellowship program in my Senate office to draw from the experiences and expertise of Iowa veterans. I am glad to have Don Bailey, a Vietnam era veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, to christen this fellowship program in my Des Moines office. He has pursued outreach and engagement with veterans and service providers in local communities.

Iowans who would like to share ideas with the veterans fellow currently serving in my Senate office are welcome to send an email to VeteransFellow_Grassley@grassley.senate.gov.  Representing the people of Iowa is a responsibility I take very seriously, particularly when it comes to upholding the public trust and restoring credibility in government “of, by and for the people.” That includes upholding the nation’s promise to our veterans. As I say to Iowa veterans I am privileged to meet during my county meetings and those from the Honor Flights who come to the war memorials in Washington, D.C.: You shall not be forsaken, nor forgotten.

Iowa veterans experiencing red tape at the Department of Veterans Affairs for health care benefits or other services may contact one of Sen. Grassley’s six state offices in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City or Waterloo for assistance.

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