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National Review: What the New Congress Can Do to Help America’s Veterans

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Civil society is doing its part, but government needs to step up.

This article originally appeared in the National Review

After serving in the Marines for six years, including completing a tour in Afghanistan, Cole Lyle returned home and suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and social isolation, resorting to almost taking his own life at one of his lowest moments. Now, he has turned it all around, dedicating himself to advancing the cause of veterans’ quality of life as the executive director of Mission Roll Call. The organization is “a nonpartisan movement providing veterans a powerful, unified voice that is heard by our nation’s leaders and communities.” Its priorities are ending veteran suicide, facilitating veterans’ health-care access, and advocating for underserved veteran populations.

Now, as the legislative agenda for the 118th Congress is still being assembled, Lyle says there are three pieces of veteran-related legislation that Congress must champion in the new year. The first relates to veteran-suicide prevention. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has dropped the ball on this critical issue for too long, shamefully allowing those who risked their lives for their country to fall prey to the invisible wounds of war. Due to the underreporting of drug-overdose deaths and other recording problems, the annual suicide rate among veterans is likely more than double what government statistics indicate. Lyle asserts that “a holistic, community-led approach to veteran mental healthcare is required to help those who’ve served to fully transition to civilian life and overcome battles with PTSD.” That is why he would like to see the new Congress build upon the Mission Daybreak campaign, a $20 million grant program the VA is offering to groups that assist veterans battling mental illness, to encourage innovators to create suicide-prevention strategies.

Next, Lyle would like to see Congress enact legislation bolstering the Honoring Our PACT Act, designed to increase support for veterans exposed to harmful chemicals from open burn pits while serving in the military, and signed into law by President Biden over the summer. Unfortunately, this bill was needlessly politicized when Democrats, looking to score points before the midterms, included a poison-pill provision in the bill that would have transferred $400 billion in unrelated discretionary spending to mandatory spending, knowing that Republicans would vote down this fiscally irresponsible, inflationary proposal. Now that the election is behind us, Lyle hopes the bill’s passage is just the beginning. He would like to see more funding for burn-pit victims passed in the next session. “We must ensure that those who’ve suffered from the toxic burn pits receive the care they’ve not only earned but deserve,” he says.

Lastly, Lyle says Congress should ensure veterans receive comprehensive health care as quickly as possible by strengthening the Mission Act. Passed in the wake of the VA wait-time scandal, the 2014 law expanded the range of treatment options available to veterans seeking medical treatment. Lyle says that “there is more Congress can do to expand the universe of choice available to veterans.” According to the legislation, veterans who live farther than a 30-minute drive from a VA medical facility or generally wait more than 20 days for most health-care appointments are eligible for private care. But many veterans who live within a 30-minute drive of a VA facility, or are typically treated within the time frame established by the department, receive sub-par or inadequate care. Lyle thinks Congress should extend access to private medical treatment to many more veterans. This is a straightforward and potentially bipartisan, free-market solution, and yet, with the exception of Tennessee Republican senator Marsha Blackburn, no members of Congress have so far chosen to champion the issue.

Veterans’ issues cannot be left on the back burner any longer. Time and again, we’ve called on the servicemen and servicewomen of the armed forces to defend our freedom, and yet America’s veterans continue to shoulder the burden of past wars without adequate help. With the new members set to be sworn in on January 3, Congress has an opportunity to properly honor veterans’ sacrifices, and perform their — our — civic duty by helping America’s heroes.

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