Weekly Columns

The Congressional calendar designates August as an opportunity for members of Congress to spend an extended period of time back home. As such, I strive to use this time to travel around to different parts of our state and meet with constituents in a variety of settings because it provides numerous occasions to listen and learn.

As part of my 2019 August in-state work period, I set out on a week-long tour focused on meeting with veterans, visiting veteran-owned businesses, examining Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities serving Arkansans and listening to voices advocating with and for former service members across our state.

As the son of a veteran and a longtime member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in Congress, I understand how critical it is for our nation to keep the promises made to those who have worn America’s uniform. That’s why I’ve made a substantial effort to work on veterans’ issues and help improve the quality of care and services offered by the VA.

The “Serving AR Vets” tour took me to communities such as Yellville, Salem, Pocahontas, Walnut Ridge, Russellville, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff to speak with veterans who own successful businesses; recognize Arkansans like Bill Strauss and Thomas Vaughns with incredible legacies of service; and talk personally with members of the veteran community, their loved ones and advocates.

I have made it my top priority to address veteran suicide in Arkansas and across the nation. We all must work together in this fight, which is why we hosted meetings with mental health professionals, military servicemembers, veterans, non-governmental organizations in the community and government officials to sit down and discuss ways to better coordinate and identify successful programs. 

I’ve been working on policies in Washington to address this crisis, as well other legislation related to improving women veterans’ experiences with and access to VA health care services and providing the Department with the resources it needs to ensure our veterans receive the care they have earned. 

VA medical centers and facilities play a critical role in delivering care and services to Arkansas’s veterans. Talking with VA staff and providers at hospitals in Pine Bluff, Memphis and Fayetteville and at Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Mountain Home and Fort Smith provided me the chance to hear directly from the men and women treating and interacting with Arkansas veterans regularly.

We are blessed that the facilities providing medical services to veterans in our state often receive high praise from those for whom they exist to serve. Where there are missteps or shortcomings – including issues like lack of providers and technological challenges – we must make sure that those problems are remedied. After visiting with so many VA health care providers during this tour, I’m committed to working even more diligently to make certain the VA continues to improve its performance and services.

I’m grateful to have been able to travel across Arkansas, listening and learning about the well-being and challenges of our state’s veteran community. I plan to take their input back to Capitol Hill to provide real-life examples and experiences alongside the policy proposals that impact those who served our nation.

Our state can be proud of the rich, awe-inspiring record of military service by our family, friends and neighbors. It was an honor to visit with so many of them and help ensure we continue to honor and serve Arkansas’s veterans in the future.