Under Secretary Wilkie, VA Strengthens Commitment to Vets

Aug 11, 2020

Each time I walk into my Washington, D.C. office, I see my father’s Purple Heart.


I keep it there as a reminder that the freedom and rights we enjoy every day are not free. They are paid for by the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women of our Armed Forces.


It goes without saying that after asking our servicemembers to risk their lives to protect our country, we have the responsibility to ensure they have what they need to live healthy, happy and successful lives when they return home.


Our commitment to fulfilling that responsibility cannot waver during times of crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, it must strengthen.


That’s why I was glad to see the VA take a proactive approach to keeping veterans, VA employees and VA providers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been especially impressed by the VA’s efforts to ensure veterans have a convenient way to manage their health through telehealth technologies.


From January to June 2020, veterans made more than 11.2 million prescription refill requests through My HealtheVet; an 8.1% increase compared to the same period in 2019. During those same six months, veterans and providers also exchanged more than 11.6 million secure messages through My HealtheVet, which is a 24.1% increase compared to that time period in 2019.


But the increase in use of its online health care tools isn’t the only thing worth commending the VA for these days. In October 2018, the VA started providing universal suicide prevention screening. Since then, it has screened more than 4.5 million veterans.


Ohio veterans have also benefited from the VA’s successful efforts to combat the opioid crisis. As of June 30, 2020, the VA had distributed more than 416,000 prescriptions of life-saving medication used to block the effects of a potentially fatal opioid overdose to veterans through its Opioid Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution program.


That’s not to mention that the VA health care system has reduced prescription opioid use in patients by 64%, from 679,000 veterans in 2012 to 247,000 in 2020.


However, to effectively care for our nation’s heroes, we have to go beyond healthcare. The President did just that when he expanded the GI Bill, making it a lifetime benefit for veterans. Thousands upon thousands of servicemembers, veterans and their dependents rely on the GI Bill for educational support and assistance.


To ensure that those who depend on the GI Bill are not stripped of their benefits due to schools moving classes online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the President also signed S. 3503 into law back in March, which allowed the VA to treat certain educational programs that have been converted to distance learning due to emergencies and health-related situations the same way as programs pursued in-person at educational institutions.


It is for a combination of these reasons – and many more – that in April, veteran trust in the VA reached an all-time high of 80%. That’s nearly 20% higher than it was just three years ago.


Each of these facts and figures is something we can – and should – celebrate, no matter which side of the aisle we sit on. The fact of the matter is that ensuring our veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve when they return home is not a Republican or a Democratic priority, it’s an American one.


As the son of a WWII veteran, I’ve been proud to work alongside the President, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, my colleagues in Congress, and local VA officials here in Northeast Ohio to ensure that the Buckeye State’s more than 774,000 veterans receive ever-improving services and care.


We are forever indebted to the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to defend our nation, and I will forever remain committed to fighting for them.




Read the op-ed in its entirety online here

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