My Turn: New Hampshire can and must do better for veterans
We all agree that the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country deserve to be treated with dignity and appreciation when they return home. Unfortunately, the recent VA scandal and high unemployment rates among young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are painful reminders that we are falling short of our duty to take care of these men and women.
I served in the Army National Guard for 35 years. Last month I retired as a colonel, so I know about the challenges our service members and their families face while serving our country and what happens when they re-enter civilian life.
It’s pretty simple: No one should go to fight for America overseas, only to return home and have to fight for respect here.
This starts with providing opportunities to our veterans for good-paying jobs. The economy is still weak – it actually shrank by nearly 3 percent in the first quarter of 2014. The unemployment rate among veterans remains consistently higher than that of their civilian counterparts, especially for those veterans who signed up to serve after Sept. 11, 2001.
In the Senate, I co-sponsored the Hire A Hero Act to offer tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. This law passed in 2011, but expired in 2013 and it needs to be permanently reauthorized to incentivize job creators and help veterans enter the workforce. Getting this done will be a top priority for me as New Hampshire’s next senator.
The recent VA scandal has exposed the chilling truth of gross mismanagement and lack of oversight, which has led to scores of veteran deaths while waiting for care. This deadly record is shameful and completely unacceptable. On my watch, I would demand that employees responsible for the misconduct in the system are immediately dismissed. I would also insist that performance bonuses for VA employees, which encouraged administrators to cover up their ghastly record, are banned entirely.
For the VA system to work properly, it needs to be more transparent. That means making the VA’s inspector general reviews available to both Congress and the public and utilizing modern technology to expedite the process. Veterans should have the option to schedule appointments online, using a secure system that protects patient records from cybersecurity attacks and online hackers.
Although New Hampshire has the fifth-highest concentration per capita of veterans in the country, we are the only state in the lower 48 to not have a full-service VA hospital. Some veterans must drive hours to neighboring states to see a doctor, in addition to waiting up to 90 days to schedule a medical appointment. This is totally and completely unacceptable.
In 2008, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen criticized Sen. John E. Sununu for not delivering a full-service VA hospital, yet during her six-year term she has failed to make any progress on this promise. While I would continue to fight for a full-service hospital, I also believe we need a new approach. For veterans living in rural areas, I support increasing access to health care by allowing those who live more than 30 miles from a VA medical center to seek care at a non-VA facility. This common sense solution utilizing private doctors and facilities will reduce travel time and expedite scheduling – ensuring veterans see a physician on a timely basis.
I know we can do better for the men and women who put their lives on the line in defense of our nation. New Hampshire veterans deserve the best care possible and should be first in line to obtain stable employment after they have served our country.
Protecting our veterans is a fight that is personal to me. If I am fortunate enough to be elected your next senator, I can assure each and every Granite Stater that I will work tirelessly for our veterans and make sure they are given the respect they have earned.
(Scott Brown is a candidate for U.S. Senate. He lives in Rye.)