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Veterans health care and foreign policy should matter to members in the new Congress

Greg Nash
A logo of the Department of Veterans Affairs is seen outside their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 3, 2021.

As we come off a midterm election cycle and the new Congress gets underway, veterans’ issues see a sharp rise and fall in conversation.

It’s easy for politicians to be “champions” for veterans and speak to what voters want to hear. But now that they are back in Washington, it’s time to walk the walk by prioritizing issues important to veterans, the military community, and all Americans.

As Concerned Veterans for America has been doing for the last decade, we will continue to call for lawmakers to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. Specifically, we are calling for true choice for veterans concerning their health care.

For too long, veterans who receive their health care from the VA have been stuck in a system that manipulates wait times and prioritizes bureaucracy over its veteran patients.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough confirmed this last year, testifying that, “Care overall, as you have seen in the budget, is growing. Care in the community as a portion of that is growing.” He continued with a shocking statement to those of us in veterans’ advocacy: “My hunch is that we should change access standards.”

To admit veterans are using the Community Care Program, which allows them to use their benefits to seek care from the provider of their choice, and then turn around and say the standards for accessing that care need to be changed so fewer can use the program is a blatant disregard of the signals veterans are sending: they like community care and want to use it.

We’ll put the full weight of our grassroots army behind legislation that empowers veterans with the choice to use their VA benefits wherever makes the most sense for them, whether that is at a VA facility or a community provider.

But veterans’ issues don’t just cover the care they receive once they’ve taken off the uniform. Veterans have a unique relationship with American foreign policy as the tip of the spear, those who have put their blood, sweat, tears, and lives on the line in service to this country.

We owe America’s veterans and military community a better foreign policy to honor their service, protect troops from unnecessary harm, and avoid disincentivizing enlistment.

For too long, lawmakers have been willing to keep over-broad, outdated Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) on the books, allowing the president and military leaders to send troops all around the world on open-ended missions with little connection to our core security interests—all without new votes by Congress.

This is not the role Congress is supposed to play in military engagement. Rather, our lawmakers should be debating and voting on matters of war, keeping our troops out of unnecessary harm, and better managing defense spending so our military is strong and ready for whatever comes our way.

This year, we’ll also focus our attention on bringing all remaining troops home from Iraq and Syria, repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, setting a better course for military engagement moving forward, and gaining better control of the defense budget.

Further, before we spend and insert ourselves into Russia’s war with Ukraine, we’ll call for lawmakers to provide more oversight of the taxpayer dollars going to Ukraine, to avoid excessive involvement in wars that don’t affect our vital interests, and to ensure our alliance relationships with other nations help advance U.S. interests.

I have a vested interest in all these issues as someone who answered the call to serve in the U.S. Air Force. But I’m also the proud father of a veteran who served multiple combat tours. Putting my own skin in the game was one thing, but watching my son join, deploy, and risk his life has driven me to want change even more.

I am just one of millions of veterans and military parents who hope and pray that our forever wars will finally end, our troops will be kept out of unnecessary conflict, and our men and women are properly cared for when they come home.

These are the goals we will be striving for in 2023, and we expect lawmakers to take them on with the same passion.

Russ Duerstine is executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, an Air Force veteran, and a military parent.

Tags 2001 AUMF Denis McDonough veterans health care

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