Congress is working to honor America’s heroes
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As we approach Veterans Day, we are reminded of the brave men and women who have worn the uniform of our great nation. We honor their service and sacrifice, recognizing we are forever indebted to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have defended our freedom for generations. From that harbor in Boston to the beaches of Normandy, from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan and beyond, the character of those who have answered the call to serve exemplifies the very best of what it means to be an American. American servicemembers have set an example for and around the world, and they deserve our respect and honor every day of the year. 

In Congress, Republicans and Democrats are united in their commitment to these men and women. Despite our political differences, the debt of gratitude we owe our servicemembers unites legislators and inspires us to reach across the aisle to make good on the promises our nation has made to veterans. As chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I have the great privilege of serving our nation’s heroes year-round. In this political environment, I am proud of the bipartisan, bicameral work done on behalf of veterans this year. 

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In the last eleven months, Congress has passed - and President Trump has signed - major reforms to bring accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to expand GI Bill benefits, to modernize VA’s appeals process for disability claims and to protect veterans’ access to the timely and quality health care they deserve. Congress is fortunate to have great partners in President Trump and VA Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinOvernight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Former VA chief Shulkin: 'Chaos' probably a 'pretty accurate term' to describe Trump White House Veterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA MORE, and together we’ve been able to make an incredible amount of progress to provide veterans with the benefits and care they have earned. I’d be remiss not to mention the outstanding partners we have in Veterans Service Organizations. Their persistence and leadership have helped the committee move bills over the finish line, and we would not have been able to achieve what we’ve done so far without their support. 

One of the first times I sat down with Secretary Shulkin I asked what VA needed from Congress to be successful in its mission to serve veterans, and the secretary said it was too difficult to fire or discipline bad employees. I realize the vast majority of VA employees are good, hardworking people who have the best interest of veterans at heart, but the bad actions of a few have tainted the reputations of many for far too long. The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), and I were able to work together with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonHouse conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week Trump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' MORE (R-Ga.) and Ranking Member Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November MORE (D-Mont.) to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on legislation to bring accountability to the department. Our legislation gives VA the authority they need to fire or discipline employees who fail in their duty to serve veterans while protecting employees’ due process rights. President Trump signed this bill into law on June 23, 2017, and it is already being used to turn things around at VA. 

Next, we passed bipartisan, bicameral legislation to expand GI Bill benefits. Before the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 was signed into law, veterans could use their benefits up to 15 years after their discharge. Now, veterans carry this generous benefit with them throughout their lives. The new law also provides increased GI Bill benefits for Reservists and Guardsmen, dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents. It also provides 100 percent GI Bill eligibility to Post 9/11 Purple Heart recipients and protections for student veterans whose school closes in the middle of a semester. Thanks to the leadership of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDemocrats in swing districts advised to avoid talking about immigration The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia McCarthy brother-in-law under scrutiny for earning federal contracts based on Native American identity claim MORE (R-Calif.), the law creates a pilot program that would pay for veterans to take certain high technology courses. As higher education continues to evolve, VA must evolve to ensure it is meeting the needs of student veterans around the country, and I’m pleased President Trump signed this bill into law.

Finally, Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Mike BostMichael (Mike) J. BostMORE (R-Ill.) and Ranking Member Elizabeth EstyElizabeth Henderson EstyFormer aides alleging sexual harassment on Capitol Hill urge congressional action Rising Dem star in Connecticut says people like me ‘deserve a seat at the table’ in Congress House Dems to invest in South Carolina race MORE (D-Conn.) led legislation, co-sponsored by every member of the full committee, to modernize VA’s appeals process. VA data from earlier this year found that nearly half a million veterans were still waiting for a decision from VA on their disability claims appeals. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 was signed into law on Aug. 23, 2017, and would create three “lanes” for veterans’ appeals so they can be processed in a more timely manner.

Despite all we’ve been able to achieve, the committee’s work is just beginning. Right now we are working on legislation to provide veterans with options for care within their communities that will also improve VA’s internal capacity. Additionally, I am leading an effort to implement one of the Commission on Care’s most important recommendations: a review of Veterans Health Administration assets. This Veterans Day, as we honor the service of so many, rest assured Congress is working tirelessly to move bipartisan reforms to improve the lives of the brave men and women who we owe so much. 

Roe is chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.