Weekly Columns

As a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’ve been blessed to play an active role in updating Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policies including expanding access to health care, improving suicide prevention efforts and eliminating barriers for women veterans to receive VA care and services. I’m continuing that commitment to the men and women who served in uniform. In recent days, the House of Representatives approved a trio of legislative initiatives I championed that are now headed to the president’s desk to be signed into law.  

With two of these bills modernizing breast cancer screening policies and providing the delivery of lifesaving care for women veterans, these significant legislative developments signal a major win for women veterans.  

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women. For women veterans and servicemembers, the incidence of breast cancer is estimated to be up to 40 percent higher than the general population. Given the dangerous environments in which military members serve and additional risk factors associated with these locations, it’s long overdue for the VA to update its policies for administering mammograms. 

We know early detection is crucial to preventing and treating breast cancer, so making sure those who are more vulnerable receive screenings at a younger age is not only reasonable, but critical. 

Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas was unaware of the increased risk she faced as a result of her deployment to Iraq. That’s why she was surprised to hear her doctor’s recommendation to undergo a mammogram at age 38. That exam subsequently led to her diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer.  

She spent her final years fighting to modernize VA’s policies so other veterans don’t experience the same struggles. Sadly, she passed away before realizing her dream of passage of legislation to accomplish this. 

We honored her activism with the Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act. It will broaden veterans’ access to mammograms and also require the VA to compile data regarding the rates of breast cancer among members of the veteran and the civilian populations so we can continue improving procedures to better treat breast cancer patients. We can be proud Congress unanimously advanced this bill. 

This was just one critical proposal to help advance breast health. Congress is also sending the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act to the president’s desk to expand access to high-quality breast cancer screenings, improve imaging services in rural areas and allow clinical trials through partnerships with the National Cancer Institute.  

The VA is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Taking full advantage of the department’s unique capabilities, resources and outreach will help deliver the lifesaving care veterans deserve.

Additionally, Congress expanded the VA watchdog authority strengthening VA oversight by advancing the Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2021, an initiative to provide the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) the authority to subpoena testimony from former VA employees who have left federal service and others relevant to its inspections, reviews and investigations. Empowering the OIG with this ability will help ensure accountability and transparency.  

It is unique for a senator to have several bills sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law in the same week. I’m pleased Congress has prioritized the needs of veterans with broad support of the measures I’ve championed. My colleagues and I will continue working to improve the services our former servicemembers have earned and urge the president to quickly sign these into law.