Serving our veterans
Last year, a local veteran reached out to my office seeking help for a disability claim he had with the Veterans Affairs (VA) Board of Veterans Appeals for over 30 years. For three decades, his appeal was stuck in backlogs and a bureaucratic merry-go-round as it was referred from one office to another. Working with the VA, we found his case at a New York regional office and in less than two months from the original inquiry, it was determined that this veteran was owed a monthly stipend of over $1,000 and backpay of benefits totaling over $300,000.
While I’m glad we could assist this veteran, the VA has hundreds of thousands of backlogged disability case determinations now pending. Last year, Congress enacted a law, which is intended to streamline the disability determination process so veterans can more speedily receive decisions on their cases.
When I was first elected, I made it a priority to work with our local veterans to ensure that their issues are being addressed and the VA is being held accountable. Working with leaders in the veterans’ community, we established a Veterans Advisory Committee that provides me with timely advice as to issues faced by our local veterans. We also receive valuable advice from county veteran service officials who are on the front lines of dealing with issues on behalf of our vets.
In Congress, besides streamlining disability determinations, we have made progress reforming the VA by enacting legislation giving the Secretary of the VA more authority to fire VA incompetent employees. In the real world, if you don’t do your job you are fired—that same standard should apply to the bureaucrats who are responsible for our veterans’ care.
In New York, we are working to directly address the challenges veterans face trying to obtain benefits they have earned or learn about programs that may be available to them. As a result, I began hosting Veterans Resource Fairs throughout the district to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ for veterans and their families so that they may interact with various government agencies and Veterans Service Officials (VSO) in one location that normally would take multiple appointments to accomplish. With the help of the local VSOs, we have successfully hosted four fairs with one to be rescheduled in Greene County due to weather, and additional fairs are being planned for the spring.
While progress is being made, it is not enough, and more needs to be done to address the issues our veterans face. As I work with my Veterans Advisory Committee and learn from veterans throughout the district, I am committed to holding the VA accountable, improving health care options for veterans and ensuring veterans benefit programs receive adequate and necessary funding. Serving the brave men and women that served in our Nation’s military will always be a priority of mine.