Weekly Columns

A little snow didn’t stop veterans from around the country, including Arkansas, from making the rounds on Capitol Hill recently to urge Congress to “keep the promise.”

Representatives from the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) were all on hand to rally support for initiatives that enhance and protect the benefits earned by our veterans.   

One way we can ensure we keep the promise to our veterans is by passing the Putting Veterans Funding First Act—a bill Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) and I introduced—that authorizes advanced funding for all veterans’ programs. In fact, in announcing the theme of the rally, the DAV said that the “most critical reform needed today is for Congress to vote on – and pass – the bipartisan Putting Veterans Funding First Act, providing advance appropriations for all VA programs.” 

During the rally in front of a snowy Capitol, I tried to drive home one simple point: our veterans who are out in the real world trying to make a living and take care of their families should not be held hostage by political games. Expanding one-year advanced funding for all veterans programs, services and benefits—like we currently do for VA health care—can ensure that all the services which our veterans have earned, and depend on, will continue should there be future funding lapses. 

Not only will the Putting Veterans Funding First Act enable the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to better plan for the future, but this legislation would also protect veterans’ benefits during any funding lapses that may occur during possible future budget fights. As we saw from the shutdown, many veterans’ benefits – including disability compensation, pension and GI Bill benefits – also need the protection that advance funding provides them. Our bill will accomplish this without increasing spending. 

Too many of my colleagues believe the best way to help our veterans is by expanding programs and increasing the responsibility of VA, which is already overextended, and doing so without ensuring that VA can meet the demands already placed on the system. 

At its core, VA’s problem is the increased number of people on a system that is clearly overwhelmed and needs improvement. This isn’t the fault of VA, which I believe is fully committed to meeting all of the demands that our veterans expect from it. However, VA can only do so much. As the number of veterans and the complicated nature of their needs increases, we must give the agency every available tool to help it accomplish its goal. This is why providing all of the agency’s funding on time is vital to ensuring VA’s mission and success. 

There’s a reason that virtually every organization representing veterans supports the Putting Veterans Funding First Act and that’s because it’s common sense and the right thing to do. We are grateful to have their support. It takes us all working together. If we do, we can pass this bill which would put us one giant step closer to keeping our promise to these men and women who have sacrificed so much for us.

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