Weekly Columns

On Veterans Day, we pause to honor the selfless sacrifice of the men and women who wore our nation’s uniform and renew our obligation to care for these brave individuals. They’ve given their best to our nation and deserve our best in return. An important part of this mission is providing timely and quality healthcare. It is exciting to see improvements for these services in Arkansas and it is something I continue to focus on in the U.S. Senate. 

In late October, veterans and community leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of a much-needed new, expanded and modernized Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Fort Smith. At the ceremony, Kelvin Parks, the Director of the Veterans Health Center of the Ozarks called this an “important milestone in our journey to ensure our veterans have access to the world class health care that the VA provides.”

Arkansas is home to 16 CBOCs that make an important difference in giving veterans access to VA health care much closer to home. Throughout the nation, there are 800 of these clinics in the VA system providing every day outpatient services including health and wellness visits. The Fort Smith CBOC had outgrown its space over 20 years. This new facility will allow the VA to better meet the needs of veterans in Sebastian, Crawford and Franklin Counties.

Although local VA clinics make routine health care more accessible to veterans in rural areas, in Arkansas, more advanced care can mean a full-day trip to the nearest VA hospital. Two years ago, Congress provided more flexibility for veterans to access health care and services without extended travel by passing the VA MISSION Act. This reform to community care has enabled veterans to receive quality health services within their own community. This policy has improved how the VA delivers health care and provides more options to better support the needs of veterans, no matter where they live.

Like many programs, there is always room for improvement. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’m working with my colleagues to ensure a successful implementation of the MISSION Act. 

We routinely make improvements to policies in order to make the lives of veterans and their families better. With input from Veteran Service Organizations and Arkansas veterans sharing their experiences with VA programs and benefits, we continue to look at new measures and implement innovative programs to resolve existing flaws. 

That’s what we’re doing to address one of our greatest challenges, reducing and preventing veteran suicides. We’ve spent a decade making significant investments in suicide prevention programs within the VA system, but that hasn’t changed the number of veterans who take their own life. That’s why I advocated for a new approach and introduced legislation to create a VA grant program to empower veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks to expand their successful programs and reach veterans not using VA resources. Last month, President Trump signed into law the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which includes this new plan.

How we take care of and support veterans is a mark of our nation’s character. We have a responsibility to advocate on their behalf and ensure they have access to the benefits and services they have earned. I’m proud to honor their service and sacrifice by supporting legislation, shaping policies and expanding services that help veterans and their families.