Nov 08 2021
On Veterans Day, we take time to reflect on and honor all of those who wore our nation’s uniform. They bravely served our country on battlefields and military installations around the world. These men and women are all too familiar with spending countless hours at work and many nights away from their families. How we treat our veterans defines us as a nation. This patriotic day should renew our commitment that we will always have their backs.
This day is personal for me and reminds me of the love of country my father passed along to my siblings and me. He was a B-17 waist gunner in Europe during World War II and served in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years. I saw firsthand what military families experience as their loved one answers the call to serve. This drove me to serve on the Veterans Affairs’ Committee and seek improvements to the services and benefits our veterans earned. Before she passed away, my mom regularly asked what I’d been doing to support veterans. Fortunately, we could have a long conversation because we’ve advanced historic reforms that enhance veterans services and benefits.
Expanded access to health care, education opportunities and suicide prevention programs have made a positive impact in the lives of veterans and their families. Yet we continue to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policies and outreach. With input from Arkansas veterans sharing their experiences with VA programs and benefits, our work to institute new measures and implement innovative programs to resolve existing flaws marches on because our veterans deserve world-class care.
The Senate VA Committee passed a measure this year inspired by an Arkansas veteran who was turned down for benefits because of a VA policy that narrowly defines who is eligible for service-connected benefits as a result of toxic exposure during Vietnam War-era service in Thailand. We advocated for the change in policy so more veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange can get the help they need.
In early November, I introduced the Vet Center Support Act, legislation to require the VA to assess its ability to furnish the full spectrum of mental health and counseling services at its Vet Centers. Arkansas’s two Vet Centers are responsible for serving a veteran population of more than 200,000. This legislation aims to correct these inequities and improve the delivery of mental health care to veterans in our state.
Today’s veteran population looks a lot different than it did a few decades ago. According to the Census Bureau, in 2018, female veterans made up nine percent of the total veteran population. That figure is predicted to nearly double by 2040. The VA must modernize its services to support the needs of women. Congress advanced landmark legislation that was signed into law earlier this year so we can provide them better care and assistance. We’re building on this momentum.
The prevalence of breast cancer in women veterans and military populations is estimated to be up to 40 percent higher than the general female population. I’m proud to lead legislation to improve mammography services and ensure the VA has the best imaging equipment so we can detect breast cancer earlier and prevent and treat those who develop this disease. The Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act unanimously passed the Senate VA Committee this year and I am urging the full Senate to support this measure.
Our veterans are a national treasure and we have an obligation to take care of them. I’m honored to champion policies that demonstrate my appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their families.