HUDSON: Congress must lead on veterans reforms

Caring for our veterans isn’t a partisan issue — it’s an American issue. It’s a priority for all of us. We owe it to the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our safety. I didn’t have the honor to serve in our Armed Forces, but now is my chance to serve and act as your voice in Congress. And I’m proud of my heritage and the many members of my family who served. My dad is a veteran, and I’ve seen firsthand the hoops he has to jump through just to get health care. And I regularly speak with veterans who are struggling to access timely, quality care within the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) or through community providers because of unnecessary red tape.

At the end of the day, I recognize there are many good, hard-working people at our local VA hospitals — many of them are veterans themselves. The problem is the unaccountable bureaucracy that makes it nearly impossible for veterans to get the timely care and benefits they deserve.

That’s why I’ve worked hard to clean up the bureaucracy at the VA and ensure veterans can get world-class health care. Congress and President Donald Trump have made significant progress, but there’s still much more work to do. It’s kind of like my 2½-year-old son: His teeth are not going to get brushed unless I make him brush his teeth. By the same token, the VA bureaucracy is not going to get fixed unless Congress makes it get fixed.

Last week, we made good progress when the House passed the bipartisan VA MISSION Act, a bill that builds off of my Care Veterans Deserve Act to reform the way veterans access care outside the VA. It consolidates seven confusing programs into one streamlined community care program and removes the current 30-day, 40-mile barriers that exist in the Choice program to ensure timely access to quality care. This bill also helps modernize the VA to ensure veterans can still access care inside VA facilities. It will also help improve existing care options and open up new ways veterans can access the care they need —when they need it.

With these reforms to vital care services, we are returning the VA to its core mission. Our veterans sacrifice for our country, and while nothing can measure up to their service, we owe them the absolute best care. In addition, the bill expands the VA’s Post-9/11 Caregiver Program to all eras — ensuring millions of spouses, family members and friends who care for ill or injured service members and veterans have the support they need.

I’m also proud to let you know that my friend and North Carolina native Robert Wilkie was nominated by President Trump to serve as the VA secretary. Robert truly has a heart for veterans. That, coupled with his deep understanding of what management and policy changes need to be made to clean up the VA, is what we need to keep our promises to veterans. As representative of a proud veteran population, I look forward to continuing to work with Robert to ensure the needs of our veterans are met.