On Veterans Day, we honor the brave men and women who have put on the uniform, remembering everything they have risked and sacrificed in defense of our freedoms at home and abroad. We also pray for the safety of American servicemembers currently in harm’s way.
Unwavering respect and gratitude for our nearly one million veterans is ingrained in the very fabric of North Carolina’s history and tradition, as we are proudly home to the nation’s largest and most strategically important military installations: Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.
North Carolinians are acutely aware of the major challenges confronting our veterans upon their return home, and we understand the debt of gratitude our nation owes them but can never fully repay.
Too many of North Carolina’s veterans have experienced first-hand how our country is falling short of fulfilling our promises. The VA has demonstrated that it is too bureaucratic and antiquated in its thinking and execution to properly serve the needs of all veterans. The failures of the VA are seen on a daily basis by our veterans: long wait times, disability claims backlogs, outdated infrastructure, and a seemingly endless stream of red tape.
A glaring area of failure is the inadequate mental health care resources offered to veterans, many of whom suffer from PTSD, TBI, and depression as a direct consequence of their service. A recent report conducted by the Government Accountability Office found the VA isn’t meeting its goals when it comes to scheduling timely mental health care appointments, with some veterans waiting up to nine months to receive an appointment. Another report found that more than a third of calls to the VA suicide hotline go unanswered.
That is absolutely unacceptable, and it’s why Congress has started to play a leading role in improving the breadth and quality of mental health care services at the VA. The effort started last year with the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, which directs the VA Secretary to conduct annual evaluations of mental health and suicide prevention programs and make any necessary improvements. The legislation passed Congress unanimously and was signed into law by the President.
While the Clay Hunt SAV Act was a good first step, we must do more to help veterans who bear the invisible wounds of war. That is why I helped introduce the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act, legislation that would provide incentives to hire more mental health care professionals at the VA and grant veterans instant authorization for non-VA care if they are not receiving adequate or timely mental health care at VA facilities.
Bipartisan, long-term efforts are also underway to transform the Veterans Health Administration itself. Over the last year, I’ve been working closely with VA Secretary Robert McDonald on a plan to completely overhaul the VA bureaucracy and modernize the way the VA provides health care and customer service to veterans. The MyVA initiative includes a roadmap to address critical needs for our veterans, including reducing the disability claims backlog, fighting veterans’ homelessness, and addressing VA staffing and recruiting issues.
The good news is that progress is slowly but surely being made to improve care for our veterans and to fix the longstanding issues plaguing the VA. The bad news is that there is still a long way to go.
If you’re a veteran, or you know a veteran who is having any issues with the VA, please make sure the next person you contact is a member of my staff by calling 919-856-4630 or by visiting my website, tillis.senate.gov. My office has already assisted thousands of North Carolina veterans on a wide range of issues, from helping them secure appointments at the VA, to resolving pending disability claims, so please don’t hesitate to use my office as your resource.
The best way we can honor and thank our veterans is to hold both elected and unelected officials accountable for fulfilling our nation’s promises to those who have served. We should all treat each and every day as Veterans Day.