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Lawmaker presses to right the wrongs at VA and reaffirms his support for anti-flag burning Constitutional amendment
Rahall focused his remarks on now confirmed reports that some VA officials had been falsifying records to hide appallingly long wait times for medical care.
“Having increased the VA medical care budget by 33 percent since 2009, and with legions of dedicated individuals, many of them veterans themselves, working at the VA and absolutely committed to serving our Nation’s military heroes, the VA system STILL is unable to provide the care and service that veterans and the American public have a right to expect,” said Rahall. “That some veterans may have lost their lives to hapless bureaucracy is intolerable. The lives and well-being of those who have served our Nation in uniform certainly should not be endangered by long waits, erroneous practices, and shoddy management of the very facilities created to care for our veterans.”
Rahall noted his support for legislation to ensure that private health providers are available to veterans unable to get timely appointments at VA facilities, as well as his support for additional resources that have enabled the hiring of mental health professionals at the VA medical centers in Beckley and Huntington.
“Simply put, our veterans do not deserve to be short-changed or suffer unnecessary delays. The bureaucratic wrongs that harm our veterans must be remedied and real change must be instituted so that things are done better in the future. Veterans cannot be expected to turn to an agency for help when their faith in that agency has been undermined. That faith has to be restored,” said Rahall.
Rahall also reaffirmed his support for a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit flag burning.
“As a Nation, we owe a tremendous debt to those who valiantly served and sacrificed with valor beneath Old Glory. That is why I am again cosponsoring and am the lead Democrat on legislation proposing a Constitutional amendment to return to Congress the ability to protect our country’s flag. Surely the very symbol of freedom, under which those who bore the brunt of battle served, can find safe harbor in the same Constitution they so nobly defended,” said Rahall.
U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall
American Legion, Department of West Virginia 96th State Convention
Pullman Plaza Hotel, Huntington, W.Va.
Saturday, July 12, 2014; 8:30 a.m.
On September 13th this year, we mark the 200th Anniversary of America’s National Anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner.” Most Americans love the red, white and blue. We wear our flag from head to toe -- on every mentionable and unmentionable piece of clothing imaginable. So much so, clothes designer, Ralph Lauren, donated $10 million to restore the Star Spangled Banner in the Smithsonian.
We sport our flag on our cars, our trucks, our planes, and our trains. In short, our flag is more American than baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet – COMBINED.
Those few in this country who shamefully desecrate our Flag have found refuge in what I consider misguided Supreme Court rulings that equate flag burning with speech. Even in the face of their bluster and shenanigans, our Flag is more respected today than ever.
As a Nation, we owe a tremendous debt to those who valiantly served and sacrificed with valor beneath Old Glory. That is why I am again cosponsoring and am the lead Democrat on legislation proposing a Constitutional amendment to return to Congress the ability to protect our country’s flag. Surely the very symbol of freedom, under which those who bore the brunt of battle served, can find safe harbor in the same Constitution they so nobly defended.
And consider this. From the time, Francis Scott Key wrote the Spangled Banner until it became our National Anthem, 117 years would pass. But in 1926, once the American Legion, the VFW, and other veterans groups raised their voice in unison to support making the song as our National Anthem, it became the law of the land in only 5 short years.
Maybe in this, the bicentennial year of our National Anthem, we can redouble our efforts to protect our flag with a Constitutional amendment. There are 29 House members cosponsoring the measure I champion. To move it, we need about eight times that many Members. I welcome your vocal support.
Of course, we don’t have to scour the history books to find an example of the Legion taking on a cause. And you deserve recognition for ramping up the volume in protest about the tragic delays veterans faced in the VA system for medical appointments, and I join you in that protest.
Simply put, our veterans do not deserve to be short changed or suffer unnecessary delays. We cannot let up on our obligations to see to it that our veterans receive the best care that can be delivered. That begins with a timely appointment.
I am absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of now-confirmed allegations that VA facilities have falsified records to hide appallingly long wait times for medical care. That some veterans may have lost their lives to hapless bureaucracy is intolerable.
These reports are not only disgraceful but also maddeningly frustrating. Having increased the VA medical care budget by 33 percent since 2009, and with legions of dedicated individuals – many of them veterans themselves – working at the VA and absolutely committed to serving our Nation’s military heroes, the VA system STILL is unable to provide the care and service that veterans and the American public have a right to expect.
Gross negligence at a few facilities certainly should not represent the care and services the VA provides as a whole, nor should these allegations be allowed to taint the reputation of the individuals -- again, many of them veterans themselves -- who work at the VA and have served our Nation’s military heroes so well. But the lives and well-being of those who have served our Nation in uniform certainly should not be endangered by long waits, erroneous practices, and shoddy management of the very facilities created to care for our veterans.
Formally investigating the agency’s shortcomings is absolutely necessary, but it is not enough. For the sake of our veterans and their families, the status quo cannot be tolerated. The bureaucratic wrongs that harm our veterans must be remedied and real change must be instituted so that things are done better in the future. Veterans cannot be expected to turn to an agency for help when their faith in that agency has been undermined. That faith has to be restored.
Toward that end, I am a cosponsor of legislation that is currently in final negotiations with the Senate to ensure that veterans unable to get timely appointments at the nearest VA facility can get the high quality care they need from a private health provider.
With increased funding I supported, the VA Medical Centers in Huntington and Beckley have hired additional mental health providers to assist returning veterans with behavioral health needs – for example, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and depression -- and that is unquestionably a step in the right direction.
I continue to press the VA to reassess the needs of the veterans in underserved areas of our State and have been successful in bringing a new VA mobile clinic to our southern counties, as well as a planned tele-health facility.
While improving the quality of care and reducing wait times at our health clinics, we also must not lose sight of efforts to obtain the resources and tools our VA facilities need to process disability claims more accurately and more expediently, and to extend transitional assistance and employment and education services to returning service members and their families.
You have my pledge to watch over the VA’s effort to fix the flaws in its system. As a senior Member of the House Military Veterans Caucus, I continue working to make certain that VA support services and benefits remain well within reach of our veterans.
You can count on me to say NO to budget cuts harmful our military retirees and veterans – like those threatened by the House Republican Leadership in the so-called Ryan Budget. I say NO to draconian changes to the military retirement system and NO to proposed increases in TRICARE fees for medical and dental care.
But, I say, YES, to allowing veterans to concurrently receive full retiree pay and disability compensation. And I say, YES, to veterans receiving their full annual COLAs for disability compensation and pension benefits, increasing payments to veterans’ widows especially.
You have my pledge to keep fighting for you and your families -- just like you keep fighting to make our nation stronger on your evenings and weekends – in your churches, in your children’s schools and in this Legion. Auxiliary members and the Sons of the American Legion have enlisted in the cause as well.
Your banner is bold, it is unmistakable: For God and Country. If there is one, unbreakable strength in these United States, it is that firm reliance on our creator that echoes from our Declaration of Independence to every succeeding generation of Americans.
It is that “power” that “made and preserved us a nation” of which Francis Scott Key wrote about in the Star Spangled Banner. And it is that concluding chord he struck that still resounds so strongly in the American heart 200 years later, “this be our motto – ‘In God is our trust.’”
For God and Country, the American Legion proudly carries on this American tradition. With patriotic pride, unflappable faith, endless service and selfless sacrifice, again and again and again, you answer the call of your nation. Does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave? Yes, yes, yes she does -- thanks to you.
God bless you and God bless America.