Senate is choosing bureaucrats over Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are standing in the way of improving customer service for our nation’s veterans. We introduced WINGMAN (H.R. 5166) in May of this year with broad bipartisan support - 137 of our colleagues in the House signed on as co-sponsors. The bill allows trained congressional caseworkers to check the status of a veteran’s claim and view relevant files within the VA’s claims system. Veterans often contact our offices as a last resort because they have already spent weeks or months waiting for the VA to respond to their request. This will streamline the claims process by eliminating the burdensome step of having to use the VA as a middle-man. WINGMAN will reduce the wait time for file requests by veterans, which can take weeks or even years. This past week the House unanimously passed WINGMAN and sent it to the Senate.
The Senate has the opportunity to hotline this commonsense bill so we can begin to help frustrated veterans and their families before this Congress adjourns. Unfortunately, Sen. Reid and a few Democrats in the Senate are blocking these efforts seemingly to protect the VA.
Two years ago, along with more than a hundred of our colleagues, we approached the VA about changing the way constituent caseworkers could expedite the claims process. Months later, we received a polite response explaining the VA was working to better serve veterans and looked forward to working with Congress moving forward. We continued to write the VA and they continued to make politely vague comments while veterans who have contacted our office for help continue to wait for answers.
The thing about VA management is, it does not like change, it fears transparency, and it has virtually no accountability unless Congress chooses to flex its muscle and hold them accountable. Throughout the process of moving WINGMAN through the House, the VA has attempted to thwart the bill. They have tried to stall progress by delaying responses and sending inflated figures to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Senate Democrats have reportedly said they are concerned with the cost but this bill does not create any new system nor does it authorize any additional spending. It simply grants congressional offices access to a system already in place. Additionally, the bill caps VA spending on implementation at no more than $10 million. In the long term, this bill has the potential to save the VA money by allowing congressional offices to help.
Less than a month ago, our nation celebrated Veterans Day. For a day, the nation was unified in a moment of remembrance and gratitude. We passed this bill thinking of the faces of each veteran whose hand we shook that day, every medal ceremony we attended since being elected, and honor flight we have greeted at the World War II monument. But most of all we are thinking of the numerous heart wrenching stories we have heard from veterans and their families who feel abandoned by the agency whose sole mission it is to care for them.
The term “customer service” is too often forgotten in federal bureaucracies. And in lieu of the many scandals within the VA system, one would think any relief or improvement would be welcomed. Congress owes it to those veterans we represent to do our job and hold the VA accountable.
WINGMAN had the support of every member of the House VA Committee and received unanimous support by the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. However, Sen. Reid stands in WINGMAN’s way. Does Sen. Reid know more than the 435 members of the House or the unanimous support of the House VA Committee? We will not forget the promises we made to our veterans. We will fight for them every day of every year that we are in office. I am deeply saddened that a few of our colleagues in the Senate cannot, or will not, do the same.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.