More veterans in Congress will mean more representation for our vets

More veterans in Congress will mean more representation for our vets
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At the Cleveland Clinic’s 2018 Medical Innovation Summit, the theme was “Disruption: Reimagining Healthcare.” While speaking at the conference John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa MORE, former Speaker of the House, did not hold back with his comments about the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Specifically, Boehner referred to the VA as “hopeless” and unnecessary, stating that the VA “provide[s] substandard care to our veterans who deserve the best care.

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He also elaborated that “real doctors” were most likely not working at the VA.

Although BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa MORE was quick to dole out criticism, he did not offer much in the way of solutions. In this regard, Boehner’s comments hardly fall into the category of “disruption,” which, by definition, is “to interrupt the normal progress or activity of something.” 

Criticizing the VA without offering productive solutions has unfortunately become the normal course of business for most politicians and thus can hardly be considered disruptive. If Boehner truly wanted to disrupt the conversation around VA health care and reimagine what it looks like in the future, he could have paired his criticism with a challenge to his former colleagues in Congress to do better. 

Such a challenge would be timely as the midterm elections are only two weeks away and more importantly, this election cycle, a great deal of attention has been placed on the number of military veterans running for office.

With a high likelihood of many new military veterans joining the 116th Congress, why didn’t Boehner challenge those who have experience seeking VA health care to take the job of reforming the system more seriously?

As highlighted by this map compiled by With Honor, there are nearly 200 veterans running for the House alone. Although it is unlikely that all veterans running for office will find themselves victorious on Election Day, what is likely is that the number of veterans serving in Congress will significantly increase and many of those veterans will be new to Congress. With more veterans that are new to Congress, they will bring with them a fresh perspective that includes a greater, first-hand understanding of the veterans’ health-care system both at the VA and in their communities. 

Overall, most Americans agree that electing more veterans to Congress is a good thing. To this end, military service is regarded as the most important factor for undecided voters when choosing a candidate. However, much of the coverage regarding electing more veterans to office thus far has centered around broad policy slogans such as “principles before politics” and how veterans’ intrinsic call to duty makes them our nation’s best hope for breaking loose from the hyper-partisanship currently gripping congress. These concepts are important and should not be ignored.

However, once Election Day is over, newly elected candidates and incumbents alike, whether military veterans or not, will have to move past their generic talking points and toward productive policy solutions.

Despite being veterans themselves, fixing the VA has not been a platform many of these veterans have campaigned on nor one that many veteran incumbents have made a priority.

The VA has long been an anathema to Members of Congress. Despite the fact that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s jurisdiction touches literally every Congressional district, the committee assignment is generally considered one of the least-desired in all of Congress, as evidenced by high turnover and the high proportion of new members.

Indeed, in the wake of the Phoenix VA scandal in 2014, the Huffington Post reported the simple reason that Congress had not yet fixed the VA was because serving on the House or Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee “comes with no opportunity to rake in campaign cash.” 

With a high likelihood of many of the veterans running for Congress being elected, it is likely that several will end up on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Will these new members stay on the Committee despite its limited fundraising potential? Or will they too, like many of the predecessors, arrive in Washington with the best of intentions, only to succumb to the worst of politics and only follow the campaign cash?

Obviously, the future paths that new veteran Members of Congress chooses, remains to be seen. However, if any of these new members are truly interested in disrupting the process and reimagining the future when it comes to VA health care, then let’s challenge those veterans elected to the 116th Congress to make VA reform a top priority.

A coalition of veteran members who are truly engaged in the issues impacting the VA, despite its lack of fundraising potential, coupled with a sincere desire to fix things, would certainly be a more disruptive force than more criticism along party lines without solutions.

It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

Rory E. Riley-Topping served as a litigation staff attorney for the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), where she represented veterans and their survivors before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. She also served as the staff director and counsel for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs for former Chairman Jeff MillerJefferson (Jeff) Bingham MillerWill we ever have another veteran as president? Supporting the military means supporting military spouses Helping veterans who suffer from substance use or mental health disorders MORE (R-Fla.). You can find her on Twitter: @RileyTopping.