Florida leads the way in VA prioritization of veterans. That must continue in the new Congress.

Florida is home to hundreds of thousands of veterans, the second most of any state in the nation. We are a welcoming home for those who have worn the uniform, a place where veterans can live healthy and prosperous lives.

It should come as no surprise that in recent years, Florida lawmakers have been at the forefront of reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs. Senator marco rubio introduced the VA MISSION Act that transformed veterans healthcare to provide thousands of veterans with access to healthcare in their own communities.

Senators and representatives alike, including Senator Rubio and representatives. gus bilirakis, john rutherfordY greg stube they have introduced and sponsored legislation that would further reform and simplify the VA to make it more veteran-focused.

After all, that’s the VA’s goal in the first place: to ensure care for those who wear the uniform.

If you need proof that the VA needs reform, look no further than a recent survey made from the military community in the Jacksonville area.

This survey found large percentages of veterans identified as needing medical services, mental health and PTSD resources, and disability claims support. When a federal health care system exists to provide these same resources, and veterans still report needing help, something must be done.

The simple answer is that veterans should have more choice as to where they seek their health care. There are clear actions that the incoming Congress can take in its early days to get things rolling.

The VA MISSION Act was a huge step forward in providing health care options to millions of veterans outside of the VA bureaucracy. But the VA ignored its own regulations and manipulated the wait time measures used as criteria for eligibility for community care. This left veterans unsure of their rights and the process for accessing non-VA care. More legislation is needed to empower veterans with options and hold the VA accountable.

New legislation will need to be introduced in the new Congress, but I am encouraged by what I have seen in recent years and see those bills as a starting point for 2023.

The Health Care Access Guarantee for Personnel Who Served (GHAPS) Act, the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act, and the True Veterans Choice Act, the last of which was introduced by the Representative himself Steube of Florida, were packed with significant reforms that the new Congress should take note of. of. His ideas included codifying access standards for community care, offering access to TRICARE for those with service-connected injuries, and most importantly, expanding care options to all veterans who use the VA, regardless of status. existing VA wait or drive times.

All veterans should have the option of using their benefits with the provider that best meets their needs, whether their VA wait times are three days or 30 days.

The bottom line of these reforms is simple: Veterans, not the VA bureaucracy, should be put first in veterans’ health care policy, and veterans should have options to make the health care decisions that are right for them.

I have high expectations for Florida legislators as we enter the 118th Congress, both for returning members of Congress and for those who are sworn in to their first terms. What better way to set the tone for 2023 than to advocate for legislation that truly puts veterans in control of their health care.


jimmy t smith he is a coalition director with Concerned Veterans for America in Florida and a veteran of the United States Army.

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