I will continue to serve veterans this Congress as a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Traveling across our state, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from thousands of Kansas veterans, their families and caregivers, share their military experiences and the challenges they face when they return home from service.
These conversations keep me grounded, give me a better understanding of the specific issues veterans are facing, and where we can develop real solutions for some veterans to receive the care and benefits they’ve earned.
At a town hall meeting with Vietnam Veterans of America in Wichita, I heard from Kansas veterans of the horrific effects of Agent Orange. Shortly after the meeting, I introduced the Toxic Exposure Research Act to learn more about the health conditions of veterans exposed to toxins during military service.
In addition to Vietnam veterans, 3.5 million post-9/11 veterans were potentially exposed to the burnt pits. Last year, I worked with Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, to introduce and pass the PACT Act. The implementation of this law will now require oversight to make sure the VA adheres to the intent of the law and provides veterans of Kansas quality, timely care and benefits.
Last year, I heard from veteran assistants in Kansas about the unique challenges they and the veterans in their care were facing. Their feedback led to two bills: the RESPECT Act and the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act.
The RESPECT Act would make it easier for veterans with mental health or neurological issues to enroll in VA’s Family Caregiver Program and allow their caregivers to get help for their mental health closer to home.
The Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act would expand home-based and community-based services for veterans so they have more choices and more ways to get VA support as they get older.
When I became committee chair, one of my top priorities was addressing veteran suicide. I introduced the Commander Hannon Act to take a new approach to suicide prevention for our veterans. While this bill was signed into law in October 2020, key elements are still being implemented, and this committee must remain vigilant in providing the resources needed to support veterans in need.
One of the most important pieces of legislation to be approved by the committee was the MISSION Act. This legislation was designed to give veterans more access to and options for receiving health care, but lately my office has received a number of reports from veterans about obstacles to free choice of where, when and how to use VA health care benefits.
These issues are of particular concern to rural people, who already face a lack of access to health care. I will continue to prioritize oversight of the MISSION Act’s implementation and impact to confirm that VA is faithfully following the law and the intent of Congress regarding the selection of veterans.
At a time when partisan grievance and gridlock seem more rife than ever, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee breaks the dysfunction and offers real solutions for our nation’s heroes. I will continue to listen to the Kansans and bring our home state’s ideas, dedication to service, and deep respect for our veterans to Washington.
Jerry Moran is a US Senator from Kansas.