WASHINGTON – Ahead of tomorrow’s vote in the Senate on the VA MISSION Act, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran, delivered remarks on the Senate floor calling on her colleagues to join her in supporting the legislation, which includes her bipartisan Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine (VETS) Act.
Watch Senator Ernst’s remarks on the Senate floor here or by clicking on the image below.
Below are Senator Ernst’s remarks as delivered:
“Thank you Mr. President, and thank you Chairman Isakson very much for your work on this bill.
“As a veteran, as a spouse of a veteran, as the mother of a young lady who will enter into the service this summer, and as the grandmother to a young man who will begin his enlistment this fall, I thank you for the work that you have done. I appreciate your service as well, thank you so much.
“We can and we must do better for our veterans.
“I spoke those words during my very first speech given here on the Senate floor just over three years ago.
“I also spoke about the need to fulfill the promises made to our veterans who have sacrificed everything for our country.
“At that time, the average wait for a mental health appointment at the VA was 36 days.
“There were, on average, 22 veteran suicides every single day in the United States.
“It underscores the troubles within the VA, and the urgency to act immediately to help our veterans get the quality and the timely care that they have earned and that they deserve.
“That’s why I introduced, on that very day, my first bill, the Prioritizing Veterans Access to Mental Health Care Act.
“My bill would have eliminated the distance and the wait time requirements for veterans seeking mental health care under the current Choice Program.
“Every veteran should have the choice to receive care in the community, but they should not be burdened by bureaucratic red tape or strict guidelines that serve as roadblocks to receiving this type of care.
“To illustrate how burdensome, and sometimes ridiculous, these guidelines are, I want to share a letter I received from a veteran in Ames, Iowa. They wrote:
“Quote: I am a disabled veteran who currently receives healthcare at the Des Moines VA Hospital. I live 39.7 miles from the Des Moines VA Hospital, which means I do not meet the 40 mile VA Choice criteria. While I have not had a bad experience at the Des Moines VA—it is burdensome to travel approximately 40 miles when I have had surgeries that require a family member to transport me. I am unable to utilize a non-VA facility in my own backyard. End quote.
“The frustration evident in this veteran’s letter has been present in hundreds of letters and stories. And I’ve received many, many, many of those over the years.
“I’m frustrated too. Those who are willing to lay down their lives for our country shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to receive the care that they have earned.
“I am thrilled that this week, the Senate has the opportunity to do better for our veterans.
“Just last week, the House passed the VA MISSION Act, which improves how veterans access community care.
“Under the VA MISSION Act, the VA remains the coordinator of a veteran’s care. The VA would still be in charge of scheduling those appointments, ensuring that a veteran is going to follow-up visits, and also ensuring that no veteran experiences a delay or a gap in their care.
“The VA MISSION Act also makes significant improvements to accessing community care. A veteran will no longer be bound by strict distance and wait time requirements just as I expressed from that veteran who lives in Ames, Iowa.
“Instead, that decision rests with the veteran and their provider. If a veteran and their provider determine that it is in the veteran’s best medical interest, the VA will be required to offer access to community care.
“The VA MISSION Act ensures that veterans have a say and a choice in their care.
“This legislation also includes my bipartisan Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act, also known as the VETS Act, which I introduced with Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. VA providers will now be able to practice across state lines expanding telehealth services, which can include critical mental health care and care desperately needed, to veterans in rural and underserved areas.
“The Act will also expand VA caregiver benefits to pre 9/11 veterans, create a commission to evaluate how to modernize VA facilities, increase resources to hire more providers, which is very important, and ensure prompt payment to community providers.
“I am also pleased to report that this bill has bipartisan support and the support of over 30 veteran service organizations.
“Funding for the Choice Program is expected to run out at the end of May, so in a matter of weeks. The men and women who have put their lives on the line for freedom of every American deserve better than the status quo.
“And again I say: we can and we must do better for our veterans.
“The VA MISSION Act is a positive step forward towards getting veterans the care they need, and that is why I will be voting in support of it and I urge my colleagues to do the same and cast their vote in favor of the VA MISSION Act.
“Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.”