On the battlefield, when we see one of our own needing help, we take a tactical formation and we move, adjust fire and communicate in order to address any threat. As a member of Congress, that’s the same approach I take to serving my brothers and sisters in arms — look for where help is needed, move tactically and provide the support needed.
After I was elected to Congress and given the opportunity to continue to serve my community and my country, one of the first things I did was seek permission and set up an office in the West Palm Veterans Administration Medical Facility. Our office in the West Palm VA created a one-stop-shop for veterans who needed help with a disability claim from their congressional representative.
For some veterans with mobility issues, it saved them a trip to another location. For others, it came as a relief after being met with a crappy attitude by a VA employee. It literally allowed some veterans who were thinking about suicide to be heard by me. For every veteran, it was convenient and easy.
While I can’t ever guarantee an outcome on a case, I can guarantee that we will treat you like a patriot who served America, that we will make your emergency our emergency and that we won’t stop at ‘no.’
Our office was tiny — no bigger than a broom closet — but it didn’t matter. From that broom closet, my team and I were able to help over 500 veterans. Just like on the battlefield, we could deal with the problems then and there. I have no doubt that it made an impact.
Why then, would they give me the boot? In 2019, we were unceremoniously evicted from our tiny office without any good explanation. But I’ve got an explanation of my own: having members of Congress in the VA on a regular basis means we’re able to see problems because they are happening right in front of us.
I want to see every problem, hear every problem and fix every problem — and apparently, that’s a problem for the VA.
It’s hard to think of a federal agency that’s been plagued with more problems or scandals than the VA. By having members of Congress present in VA facilities every day, we’re able to respond tactically to the problems that are happening right in front of us. By having members of Congress conducting oversight every day, the top brass of the VA has to accept responsibility when things go wrong and actually take steps to fix it. It’s easier to just kick us out than to make sure veterans receive the best care in the world.
The current Secretary of the VA, Denis McDonough, claims that all VA spaces must be used for “clinical” care — medical care. But that rule only seems to apply to members of Congress. It doesn’t appear to apply to coffee shops, or gift shops, or the offices of labor unions — that all have space within VA facilities.
The wellbeing of our veterans should be the only thing that matters, not the fact that some federal bureaucrats might have to put in a little extra effort to take care of things like ensuring handicap buttons actually work on doors, that the facilities are clean or that security is in place.
If the VA isn’t committed to doing its job to the best of its ability, we’ll make them do it. I’ve introduced a bill called the Veterans Access to Congress Act that will require that VA facilities allow members of Congress to use office space in order to serve their veteran constituents. Once it’s law, there won’t be any more excuses that keep members locked out and keep veterans from the best possible care.
This bill is personal to me. As a soldier, I get my care from the VA and find the men and women on the ground often do an incredible job. But I’ve also spent countless hours of my life trying to navigate the bureaucracy, and as a representative, the number one call I receive is from my fellow veterans who are stuck in red tape. I’m always looking for ways to make sure the treatment veterans receive is second to none, and this bill is an easy step towards that goal.
The military teaches us to respond tactically to the problems in front of us. It also teaches us to keep pushing until the job is done. That’s what I intend to do with this bill. The House Committee on Veterans Affairs approved it, which is a great step forward. Now, I’ll keep pushing to get HR 562 through the House and Senate, and onto the president’s desk to be signed into law. As always, it’s an honor to fight for you, and to call so many of you my brothers and sisters in arms.
Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., is in his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is an Army veteran.
Have an opinion?
This article is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please email us. Want more perspectives like this sent straight to you? Subscribe to get our Commentary & Opinion newsletter once a week.