In advance of this year’s Veterans Day, on Nov. 11, the legions of men and women who have served in our nation’s military received some welcoming news: Congress finally agreed to fund the VA Mission Act, which since its June passage had been mired in budgetary disputes.
Announced on Sept. 11 — an appropriate date — the arrangement sets aside more than $200 billion to improve the health care services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Tales of delays and deficiencies, including long waits and poor access to proper care, have plagued the VA since injured vets started returning from Afghanistan and Iraq following 9/11. Last fall — 16 years after the War on Terror began — the VA was still flooded with serious complaints about patient care; earlier this year, concerns about doctor shortages made headlines.
It’s these issues that the VA Mission Act seeks to address. The law makes it easier for veterans to access covered care through non-VA service providers, who may be more convenient in terms of expedience, distance or quality of care.
The law’s primary principle is simple: Those injured while serving in the military should not need to jump through hoops for quality medical care.
The law also provides incentives for recruiting new doctors to the VA, including an attractive education debt-relief initiative and specialized training in afflictions most likely to impact veterans, such as PTSD and painkiller addiction.
It’s a terrific start, but the law has shortcomings. For starters, despite settling the summer-long financial squabble, Congress failed to deliver a long-term funding solution for the law’s historically high (though completely necessary) revenue requirements.
But the law’s greatest disappointment is its narrowly defined view of caring for our injured veterans.
Tens of thousands of men and women have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with permanent physical handicaps and deep emotional scars — wounds they will be coping with for the rest of their lives. Many need assistance outside the doctor’s office, including finding suitable employment in an economy that, though humming for many, is far from ideal for individuals with disabilities, whose unemployment rate is more than double the national average.
Truly comprehensive care would not only fix the VA but expand it to empower injured veterans with economic opportunities, peer-to-peer engagement and group-centric mental health programs that utilize injured veterans’ greatest tool for overcoming battle-born trauma: each other.
Of course, nonprofit organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project have been offering these life-affirming tools for well over a decade. But why should it be up to private charities to take care of those who battled and bled for their country?
In a political landscape where we can’t seem to agree on anything, it’s likely that anyone — Democrat or Republican — would be challenged to find a single service provided by charities like the Wounded Warrior Project that doesn’t deserve the full financial backing of the U.S. government.
We shouldn’t have to pull on the heartstrings, and purse strings, of strangers to care for wounded war veterans in the United States. Their care should be provided in full by the American people.
The VA Mission Act is a step in the right direction, but we can — and should — go further by expanding the definition of what caring for injured veterans means. Our wounded veterans deserve not only exemplary healthcare, but all the tools they need to re-assimilate into civilian life despite missing limbs or shattered psyches. And to provide them what they are so obviously owed, the wealthiest country in the world should be relying on funding, not fundraising.