Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Berry Calls on President Bush to Take Immediate Action to Fix Continued Problems with VA

Today I released this letter to President Bush in response to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the VA is not making significant progress with medical care and disability payments for wounded soldiers. In the letter, I urge the President to take immediate action to fix the series of ongoing problems that have plagued the VA for years.

As Arkansas’s 875th Engineering Battalion returns home, they should return to the hero's welcome they deserve. Veterans should not have to return home to wage a new war against the VA’s bureaucracy. Anything that diminishes the healthcare and services these brave men and women have earned while protecting our country is not only shameful – it's wrong. These problems should have been fixed long ago, and I will do everything I can to keep this issue at the forefront in Congress to ensure veterans have access to the quality healthcare and benefits they deserve.

In my six terms in the House of Representatives, I have worked to become a leading advocate for veterans and their families. As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs in the current 110th Congress, I helped pass the single largest increase in funding for the VA, The Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, The Wounded Warriors Assistance Act, and the GI Bill or Rights for the 21st Century. These bills aim to fix problems associated with processing backlogs, increase mental healthcare including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury services, eliminate the Disabled Veterans Tax, and establish oversight at VA facilities to prevent future Walter Reed scandals from reoccurring.

Below is a copy of the letter:

The Honorable George W. Bush

President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As I am writing this letter, a community is preparing to welcome home members of the Arkansas Army National Guard's 875th Engineer Battalion, who are returning this weekend from more than a year long deployment to Iraq. I share in the joy for many of the families who will be reunited but my happiness is overshadowed as I begin to realize the bureaucracy they must face to receive the benefits they earned while bravely serving our nation.

My concern has been especially heightened after reviewing a recent report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which noted that significant progress has yet to be made regarding medical care and disability payments for wounded soldiers. According to the report, veterans are waiting an average of 177 days for disability payments. In addition, 46 percent of Army veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan didn't get the care they needed because of staffing shortages. Finally, the report states the Department of Veterans Affairs and Pentagon are still from a system of sharing veterans' medical information, especially as they are moved between facilities.

As task forces and commissions from various agencies devote considerable resources to finding better ways to help the men and women who have served, time passes and veterans continue to go without care. This GAO report confirms the obvious, which is embarrassingly shameful. Our veterans should not return home to fight another war against bureaucracy simply to receive the benefits they not only earned, but need. Mr. President, this is your job.

At the beginning of the year, Congress approved funding to provide you with the resources to fix these problems, and yet substantial progress has not been made. You have the ability to set policies in motion that can remedy these problems.

A sense of urgency is lacking and it's time to take action. For many veterans, their lives depend on improved care and we cannot afford to let them be treated as a number instead of the heroes they truly are. Caring for our veterans is a moral obligation our country must repay and it should be paid promptly.

As we honor the brave men of Arkansas' 875th this weekend, I strongly insist that you not let more time pass without giving our veterans the resources and support they have earned. Ensuring that they succeed when they return to life at home would not only make for a fitting homecoming, it is the right thing to do.


Marion Berry