On Veterans Day, all across Iowa, flags will rise as our hearts and minds turn towards those who bravely served our nation.
Calls of gratitude will go out to the more than 150,000 veterans in our great state – grandparents, parents, siblings, and neighbors who left a life of comfort to shoulder the weight of our cherished freedoms and national security.
As a Retired Lieutenant Colonel, I understand service is no easy lift. Wearing the uniform can mean missing milestones and celebrations, standing in the line of fire, and sometimes, tragically, losing friends. Transitioning to civilian life after years or decades of service comes with its own challenges.
That's why, in the Senate, I'm working to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they have earned and a quality of care we can all be proud of.
When I was first elected to represent Iowans in 2014, I introduced the Prioritizing Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care Act. This effort allows veterans to immediately receive non-Veterans Administration (VA) mental health treatment if they cannot receive timely or adequate VA care. It ultimately became law in 2018 as part of the VA MISSION Act.
But my work didn’t stop there.
To help provide veterans with the tools to support those closest to them, I led a bipartisan bill, which was signed into law last year. This effort institutes an annual VA program to support veterans' mental health, modeled after the American Legion's "Buddy Check National Week of Calling," to connect veterans to other veterans who can guide and uplift them.
During Buddy Check Week, Veterans Day, and always, I urge folks to connect or reconnect with their veteran friends – just to check-in. It's a simple measure that goes a long way to reduce the risk of isolation, and at worst, suicide.
Finally, I think every American will agree that the VA should be doing whatever possible to serve our heroes well. We can't simply accept failures from the department designed and funded to care for them. That’s why I was outraged to learn that as more and more of our federal agencies embrace “telework,” calls at the VA from in-need veterans are going unanswered.
One veteran during a mental health crisis called ten times over three months and could not get the care she needed, much less anyone to answer her calls, so she ended up in an emergency room.
Thankfully, my colleagues agree that this is outrageous, and last week, the Senate unanimously approved my effort to take attendance at agencies, including the VA, and examine the impact of remote work on the services hardworking taxpayers fund.
On Veterans Day, and always, in addition to those who wore the uniform, we must thank the families and loved ones who have sacrificed holidays, moments large and small, and more in the name of their country. They too are our heroes.
May God bless all those who served, and continue to serve, our great United States of America.