115th Congress set a high standard

In an era when political attacks often overshadow public policy, I offer praise for a body that rarely receives it: the U.S. Congress.

The 115th Congress has been one of the most veteran-friendly sessions we have seen in two decades. This is not a statement about which party is responsible, but rather the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together and improve the quality of life for the men and women who have defended our nation through military service.

In 2017, Congress passed the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which allows the VA secretary to move more quickly to fire employees who fail to serve veterans in a professional or competent manner. It also protects VA employees who alerted the public or their workplace superiors to improprieties.

Next came the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which President Trump signed on stage of the 99th American Legion National Convention in Reno, Nev., in August 2017. The Legion spent years working to modernize the antiquated appeals process. Had the legislation not passed, veterans filing an appeal could have expected to wait an average of 10 years to hear a decision. The legislation passed the House 418-0 and by unanimous consent in the Senate.

These results do not happen by accident. In these cases, they are due to the bipartisan efforts of Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Ranking Member Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and other allies in Congress. They also happen because of the enormous clout of The American Legion. Combine the advocacy efforts of our Legislative Commission and Legislative Council with the activism of a 3 million-member strong American Legion Family, and you can make a difference.

We continue to do just that. In 2017, Congress passed the Choice Extension Act, ensuring that veterans can seek care close to home or find alternative providers when VA isn’t able to provide timely or needed care. Moreover, The American Legion welcomed passage of the Harry W. Colmery “Forever” GI Bill, named for our past national commander, who drafted the original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. The new law eliminates many of the previous deadlines set for veterans to use the educational benefits they had earned. Finally, consider what the recently passed VA MISSION Act will do for thousands of veterans and their families, streamlining eight community care programs into one and expanding caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans.

Much work remains. Our flag still needs constitutional protection, government agencies continue to skirt veterans preference hiring laws, and female veterans do not yet have the full range of the gender-specific health care they’ve earned. We will continue to encourage lawmakers to serve veterans in a manner worthy of their sacrifice. But the 115th Congress and the White House deserve credit for great progress toward advancing the cause of veterans, their families and the U.S. military. This is the new standard for future congresses.