Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-West Virginia, spoke about how to fix the problems in veterans’ health care at the American Legion’s 96th State Convention in Huntington on Saturday.
Rahall also urged passage of a constitutional amendment to ban burning flags.
Rahall praised West Virginia veterans for their service and sacrifice, and American Legionnaires for their efforts in caring for other veterans.
“You have my pledge to keep fighting for you and your families — just like you keep fighting for our veterans and to keep our nation strong.”
Rahall focused on the national scandal caused by recent reports that some VA officials falsified records to hide the long waits some veterans have endured to get medical care.
“Having increased the VA medical care budget by 33 percent since 2009, and with legions of dedicated individuals, many of them veterans themselves, working at the VA and absolutely committed to serving our nation’s military heroes, the VA system still is unable to provide the care and service that veterans and the American public have a right to expect,” Rahall said.
Some veterans may have lost their lives due to the malfunctioning bureaucracy.
“The lives and well-being of those who have served our nation in uniform certainly should not be endangered by long waits, erroneous practices and shoddy management of the very facilities created to care for our veterans,” Rahall said.
A senior member of the House Military Veterans Caucus, Rahall backs federal legislation to give veterans access to private health providers when they cannot get needed appointments at VA facilities and hospitals quickly enough.
Rahall also wants more federal funds to hire mental health professionals at the VA hospitals, like those in Beckley and Huntington, to help “those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and depression.”
“Simply put, our veterans do not deserve to be short-changed or suffer unnecessary delays. The bureaucratic wrongs that harm our veterans must be remedied and real change must be instituted so that things are done better in the future,” Rahall said.
Creating a new VA mobile clinic could also help veterans living in many areas in the state’s southern counties, he said.
During his speech, Rahall also criticized harmful budget cuts to “our military retirees and veterans, like those threatened by the House Republican Leadership in the so-called Ryan Budget.”
Rahall said he strongly opposes proposed cuts to military retirement pay and increased costs for medical and dental care, cuts that are part of the Ryan Budget proposal.
Reach Paul J. Nyden