Veterans

As a Vietnam veteran, I understand the importance of constantly working to improve health care for our veterans. I work closely with the Veterans Administration (VA) to ensure that our nation lives up to its commitment to provide for them.

That is why I am outraged that, despite the sacrifices of so many men and women in uniform, it seems to most people that the promise our nation has made to all its veterans appears now to be in question.

In recent years the Veterans Administration (VA) has been struggling to reduce a stubborn and utterly unacceptable backlog in benefits claims. Despite full funding from Congress, their efforts have yielded limited success. 

And now we are witnessing with increasing alarm, the poor state of VA management, not only leading to long wait times for veterans, but also to serious health care problems and even deaths. Data manipulation, patient harm, and the possibility of criminal charges have already been confirmed in Arizona, but there are at least ten other VA facilities where problems have been alleged or proven. And this shameful activity is occurring in an era of increasing resources for the VA.  Funding levels have increased by well over 60 percent since 2009. This year, the FY15 budget request contains an increase of 6.5 percent over last year's spending - epitomizing how management, not funding, is the root of the VA's problem.

When the veterans who have put their lives on the line for this nation die because of delayed or improper care from the VA, we are all right to be outraged.  But anger is not enough.  Whether it is the claims backlog, the secret lists, or the preventable deaths or the ongoing electronic health records debacle, it is crystal clear the problems at the VA represent a system-wide crisis.

Of course, the vast majority of VA employees and clinicians are hard-working individuals with a passion for serving those who have served our country.  But at the root of this epidemic of neglect is a culture of bureaucracy that protects the very people who should be held accountable, often giving them bonuses rather than a pink slip. 

Recently, the House passed, with my strong support, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act.  This measure paves the way for real reform by making it easier to fire and demote the most senior officials at the VA who are not doing their jobs.  We have also approved an important measure that would enable certain veterans to receive non-VA care.  The bill also guarantees those veterans who have experienced extensive wait times access to non-VA care.

In the weeks and months to come, I will keep you updated on the ongoing investigation of the VA’s appalling management failures. 

All of us are deeply grateful for the sacrifices and service our veterans have provided our nation.  By keeping faith with our veterans, we keep faith with their families and also with our young warfighters who carry on the fight of freedom every day.

A History of Support

As a veteran and the Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I make it a priority to meet with the men and women in uniform across New Jersey, at military bases at home and abroad, in Afghanistan and throughout the world.  I know how important these new benefits are to them and am proud that Democrats and Republicans were able to work together on this legislation.

I am committed to working to provide improved benefits to veterans and their families.  Part of this effort is to improve health care coverage- especially at Lyons, East Orange Veterans Medical Centers and at the Morris County Outpatient facility in Morris Township.

Through my efforts, Lyons VA opened a new, state-of-the-art Ambulatory Care Center in 2005 for outpatient care and a Domiciliary Care facility to provide homeless veterans with housing, job training placement, medical and psychiatric assistance, and help with medical claims.

I continue to work closely with elected officials in Somerset County to enhance the “Hope for Veterans” program at Lyons VA in Bernards Township.  The program provides employment services, training, substance abuse counseling, and transitional housing for veterans who have been left homeless as a result of mental illness or substance abuse.

In July of 2008, with my strong support, Congress modernized the GI Bill of Rights for the first time since 1984.  Under the improved program, servicemen and women now have the opportunity to transfer education benefits to members of their family.  Under the old law, education benefits had to be used by the person who served.  For the first time, this legislation makes National Guard and Reserve members eligible for fully GI Bill benefits.  These men and women, all volunteers, are serving our country across the globe, and it was important make sure their benefits match their sacrifice.

Our military veterans deserve our thanks and appreciation. For Congress, this means providing them with quality benefits and services, including affordable medical care and opportunities for higher education.  Most importantly, it means setting the highest possible standard for the level of attention and care they receive, so that today’s military -- and those who step up tomorrow, all volunteers – know they will not be forgotten.

That’s my promise to those who have served and to their families.

Ending the Veteran's COLA Cut

As a veteran of the Vietnam war, I have always believed that the federal government has no greater obligation than to keep the American people safe and to take care of the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line for us.  For this reason, Congress has been extremely reluctant to make changes to military compensation. 

However, the need for comprehensive reform is undeniable.  Since 2001, excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost per service member in the active duty force has risen by 41% in inflation-adjusted dollars.  We all know that we need to slow cost growth in military compensation while being fair to our military personnel and their families.  Otherwise, we will have to make damaging and disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization.  Our troops have been willing to sacrifice everything for this country.  We owe it to them to give them the best equipment and capabilities on the battlefield and a secure retirement when they come home. 

That is why I was very disappointed to see an ad hoc military retirement “reform” – the Cost of Living Adjustment reduction (COLA) – included as part of the must-pass Bipartisan Budget Act in December 2013. 

Of course, we were able to repeal, in the Defense Appropriations bill I brought before the House in January, the provision in the new law that affected the retired pay of service members who are medically retired and those receiving survivor’s benefits.  With the amendment the House passed on February 12, we are ensuring that all servicemen and women who are enlisted prior to January 1, 2014 will receive the full cost of living adjustments in retirement before and after age 62.  In essence, we are scrapping the entire COLA cut well before this provision took effect in December 2015.

In 2012, Congress established the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to examine the entire military compensation system from top to bottom. The Commission’s recommendations will be presented this Spring to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees which will look at their suggestions and for other ways to improve the system.  For my part, I am anxious to review the work and findings of the Armed Services committees with all the veterans and their families in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District.

Recommended Reading: Lisa Prevost writing in the New York Times, " A Big Year for V.A. Loans."

Frelinghuysen Statement: Ending the Veteran's COLA Cut

As a veteran of the Vietnam war, I have always believed that the federal government has no greater obligation than to keep the American people safe and to take care of the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line for us.  For this reason, Congress has been extremely reluctant to make changes to military compensation. 

However, the need for comprehensive reform is undeniable.  Since 2001, excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost per service member in the active duty force has risen by 41% in inflation-adjusted dollars.  We all know that we need to slow cost growth in military compensation while being fair to our military personnel and their families.  Otherwise, we will have to make damaging and disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization.  Our troops have been willing to sacrifice everything for this country.  We owe it to them to give them the best equipment and capabilities on the battlefield and a secure retirement when they come home. 

That is why I was very disappointed to see an ad hoc military retirement “reform” – the Cost of Living Adjustment reduction (COLA) – included as part of the must-pass Bipartisan Budget Act in December 2013. 

Of course, we were able to repeal, in the Defense Appropriations bill I brought before the House in January, the provision in the new law that affected the retired pay of service members who are medically retired and those receiving survivor’s benefits.  With the amendment the House passed on February 12, we are ensuring that all servicemen and women who are enlisted prior to January 1, 2014 will receive the full cost of living adjustments in retirement before and after age 62.  In essence, we are scrapping the entire COLA cut well before this provision took effect in December 2015.

In 2012, Congress established the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to examine the entire military compensation system from top to bottom. The Commission’s recommendations will be presented this Spring to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees which will look at their suggestions and for other ways to improve the system.  For my part, I am anxious to review the work and findings of the Armed Services committees with all the veterans and their families in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District.

Mr. Speaker, veterans deserve fair compensation and America owes them a safe benefit structure they can depend on.  In this regard, I am pleased that the House has advanced the amendment to S. 25.