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Memorial Day

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Washington, May 29, 2017 | comments

Chairman Roe penned this op-ed on Medium.

Each Memorial Day, we pause to pay tribute to the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms we hold dear. We owe them a debt we can never fully repay, which is exactly why we must strive to honor their service any way we can. One way to do that is to take care of the loved ones they leave behind.

I’m proud that, just last week, the House of Representatives passed legislation to provide disabled veterans with a cost-of-living adjustment so that disabled veterans and surviving beneficiaries receive the benefits they deserve. Providing veterans experiencing disabilities as a result of their service and the family members of our fallen heroes with this important increase in benefits is a testament to our nation’s commitment to the men and women who serve.

Last week, the House also took steps to address the backlog that is currently hampering the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appeals process. Currently, veterans who have appealed their claim for disability benefits may be forced to wait years for a decision from VA because of the current massive backlog. Between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2017, the number of pending appeals increased from approximately 380,000 to 470,000 — more than a 20 percent increase. Between fiscal years 2013 and 2016, Congress appropriated nearly $200 million more than the president’s request to address the appeals backlog. Despite the infusion of resources, VA estimates that it will take at least five years just to resolve the appeals currently pending. This is simply unacceptable to the men and women who may have been injured as a result of their service to our country. When a veteran files an appeal for disability compensation, they deserve to have their appeal decided in a timely manner, and I’m dedicated to ensuring that happens.

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, cosponsored by every member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and unanimously approved by the House last week, will create a new system for veterans’ appeals. This new system will help VA move through its current backlog of appeals so veterans waiting on their disability decision can have peace of mind. This is one major step toward fully reforming VA into the agency I know it can be, and I’m proud of the bipartisan support behind this important legislation.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress are united in their efforts to do the right thing on behalf of our nation’s heroes. In addition to the bipartisan bills to provide a cost-of-living adjustment and reform the appeals process, the House also passed five other bipartisan bills. These widely-supported bills will expand veterans’ access to care, provide benefits for veterans and their dependents and bring greater accountability to VA. These pieces of legislation will also help combat the opioid epidemic by improving VA’s monitoring of prescription drugs and exploring a new treatment option for veterans experiencing PTSD, traumatic brain injuries or chronic pain.

What’s more, the committee is working on more than a dozen other bills, including legislation to reauthorize and reform the Choice program, expand the education benefits and bring wholesale reform to VA. You can read more about these important reforms at veterans.house.gov/legislation.

This Memorial Day, as we honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation, we are reminded there is much work to be done on behalf of all our heroes, particularly veterans. We can never truly do enough to thank the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who faithfully serve, but as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I am dedicated to ensuring veterans are treated with the care and respect they’ve earned.

We must keep fighting each and every day to honor the service of our American heroes. Today and every day, we are reminded that we are the land of the free because of the brave.

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