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Op-Ed: Ensuring Our Veterans Receive What They Are Owed


Location: Washington, D.C.

This Veterans Day, while we remember those who have lived and fallen while protecting our nation, we must also keep in mind those troops who are currently participating in the ongoing conflicts around the globe and the families they have left behind. Day in and day out, they demonstrate unwavering bravery to protect those who cannot defend themselves and an unparalleled commitment to promote democracy in regions where tyranny and oppression have long ruled. Upon their return, it is our nation's duty to ensure they have what they have rightfully been promised.

The highest priority for many veterans is funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), particularly the healthcare system. I have long believed the healthcare services earned by veterans with their service to this great country should not be subject to the annual appropriations process, which is often delayed by political posturing and unrelated agendas. It is for this reason I am very pleased H.R. 1016, the "Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2000," was signed into law last month. As a cosponsor and strong supporter, this bipartisan legislation provides advance funding for the VA healthcare accounts - Medical Services, Medical Support and Compliance, and Medical Facilities -- in two year increments, so that in years such as this when the Senate fails to pass the VA appropriations bill on time, the funding will be available and services for our veterans will not be interrupted.

Reliable funding for the VA is but one piece of the puzzle to assist South Jersey veterans. Thus, I have again introduced H.R. 1416, the "Southern New Jersey Comprehensive Healthcare Act," with fellow New Jersey Congressmen Adler, Andrews and Smith. Our bipartisan legislation would require the VA to build either a veterans wing at an existing hospital or a VA medical center here in South Jersey to provide high-quality, convenient healthcare to veterans. In addition, I am working with other Members of Congress to expand the VA's current authority to allow veterans to see their local healthcare provider for services that are in great demand within the VA system. This would reduce our veterans' wait time and distance traveled for treatment.

Additionally, I have worked closely with the VA Medical Center in Wilmington to expand health services to South Jersey veterans. In the past couple of years, we have secured expanded operations and increased services at the outpatient clinics in Vineland, Ventnor and Cape May. Recently, thru the Wilmington VA, eye and ear services began for local veterans at the Veterans Memorial Home in Vineland. And I continue to host enrollment clinics across the 2nd district to assist in registering South Jersey veterans into the VA system so that they may access the healthcare benefits rightly owed to them. The next clinic will be held on December 7th at the Somers Point VFW from 9am to 2pm (DD-214 form and tax returns required).

On this Veterans Day, I am reminded of what President Reagan said on the beaches of Normandy: We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free. We must remember all the men and women who answered the call to serve their country. In honor of their selflessness and determination abroad, we should work every day to ensure they receive what they have rightly earned upon returning home.

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