Veterans Affairs reform is now reality under President Trump
The latest reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Trump administration give me a lot of hope on this Veterans Day. As a veteran myself, I recognize that we must do more than honor the sacrifices and achievements of those who have answered the call of duty. It is about remembering our own duty as a society to ensure veterans are not left to fend for themselves with the challenges and issues service can bring.
I served during the Vietnam War, a conflict that put tremendous strain on servicemen and women and their families. Then 18 years of sustained conflict since 9/11 resulted in even more of the same stresses. Under that pressure, the safeguards we had in place to protect veterans faltered. By the final years of the Obama administration, the situation had blossomed into a full blown crisis, with veterans reportedly dying on waiting lists.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump made correcting this problem one of his top priorities, and he has not relented on that objective since taking office. To that end, he has done everything in his power to wind down the seemingly endless wars of the last two administrations and avoid entangling our troops in any more bloody overseas conflicts.
President Trump has been adamant that Veterans Affairs establish the key programs to care for both the physical and psychological wounds of our returning service members. Through taking executive action and signing bipartisan reforms into law, he has time and again demonstrated his own commitment to delivering the reforms our veterans deserve. He has also made sure the government provides them adequate resources.
The budget allocation was a record $201 billion for Veterans Affairs this year, and the budget request for next year calls for raising that figure to $220 billion. Some of that money will go toward attracting medical and management talent to Veterans Affairs that was lacking in certain areas, a task furthered by the Veterans Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act. The Trump administration has also taken crucial steps to improve the prospects of future veterans. The National Defense Authorization Act this year has raised military salaries by 2.6 percent, the most in nine years.
Money is not everything, though, which is why President Trump has also worked with lawmakers to reform how Veterans Affairs works and will continue to ensure that dollars are spent wisely for our veterans and their families. To that end, he signed the Veteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Mission Act, all designed to create flexible new treatment options while building a culture of accountability. The Mission Act notably allows veterans to use benefits at private medical facilities if their local Veterans Affairs hospital is unable to fully meet their needs.
On his own authority, President Trump has signed executive orders to improve treatment at Veterans Affairs. Understanding that suicide and mental health issues are very often as devastating as any physical injury incurred in the service, President Trump signed two executive orders specifically addressing suicide among veterans, which has ballooned to tragic levels. Veterans who live far from traditional federal hospitals can take advantage of new telehealth options to connect with doctors and therapists, including mental health professionals, from their homes.
The White House also launched an official hotline two years ago to help veterans navigate the complexities of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since then, the hotline, primarily staffed by veterans and direct family members of veterans, has fielded more than a quarter million calls from veterans and resolved an impressive 94 percent of its cases. Our duty to our veterans is eternal. This Veterans Day, Americans can now be proud that our commander in chief is honoring our national promise to them.
Anthony Principi was the fourth United States secretary of Veterans Affairs.
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