Government Must Serve Veterans Better

By state Rep. Mike Sanders

Our returning heroes are facing a disgraceful bureaucracy nationally and even locally when they try to get the treatment they have earned through their service.

Long waits and subpar care have plagued the centers that provide health care for our veterans. Meanwhile, the federal agency in charge of their care has been deliberately misleading the public about how bad things have become over time.

Locally, I receive regular calls from veterans who are facing the same problems we are seeing nationally. Not only is the Oklahoma branch among those federally-run outfits seeing problems, but we have also seen negligence at the state’s long-term treatment centers.

Despite the efforts of the officials involved in veteran care to hide their failures, the word has gotten out. Congress, which cannot often be counted on to work together, is even taking action. A $16.3 billion measure would allow Veterans Affairs to hire thousands of doctors and nurses while allowing veterans who cannot get prompt care to go outside the system. It will also make it easier to fire negligent executives in the bureaucracy. The U.S. House has voted 420-5 in favor of the measure and the U.S. Senate passed it 91-3. It now goes to the President for his signature.

Former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald has also been sworn in to take over the agency that serves millions of veterans. McDonald replaces Sloan Gibson, who took over as acting secretary after Eric Shinseki resigned amid controversy.

At the state level, we passed legislation in past years to pay for better staff and training. We also made leadership changes and created greater oversight. This fall, we will be conducting several studies on veteran issues to continue that work.

One study will examine the needs of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. We will be looking to make sure we know what is needed to provide high-quality care to the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.

A second study will focus on the incidence of suicide and homelessness among veterans. I know from talking to those who work with veterans that often some of the recurring pain and anxiety that veterans experience can be crippling, especially when inadequately treated. We want to know what can be done to prevent such cases.

Many state lawmakers are quickly becoming fed up with the status quo when it comes to veterans’ care. We will be looking to make our mark next year by addressing some of the problems we see in our state. Hopefully, the same will be true at the national level.

These brave men and women deserve this. They have earned it! We here in Oklahoma need to take the lead on veteran care. The veterans and their families have endured so much. We must correct this failed system and protect and care for those who have sacrificed so much to protect us.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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