HUNTERDON CONGRESSMAN Lance Op-ed: Honoring and helping vets should be focus year-round

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Every year on Veterans Day I look forward to the ceremonies across New Jersey that celebrate those who served in defense of our great nation. These community events are always filled with proud family members, grateful residents and a patriotic spirit that shows the veterans our tremendous appreciation for their service to the nation.

In May, Memorial Day commemorates the lives lost in service to our country, while Veterans Day honors all those who served.  But a salute, a show of gratitude or a thank you to our nation’s heroes should be our practice year-round and certainly is a major point of my focus in Congress.  From education and job training, to high-quality health care, I’m committed to ensuring that veterans receive what they have earned and have ample opportunities outside of the armed services.

Several reforms that passed the House of Representatives deliver on this vision:

• For the first time, veterans are able to seek private care outside the Veterans Administration (VA). Major reforms we passed last year made it so that veterans could apply for private care through the Choice Program if they are unable to get an appointment from the VA or do not live close to a VA facility. Recent data shows that 65 percent of eligible veterans have chosen this private program over VA services.

•  And more veterans will be able to take advantage of private care because of changes we recently made to cut red tape and expand eligibility for the Choice Program. We also directed the VA to come up with a plan to consolidate all of its private care programs into a single, stronger Choice Program. This is good government, and could lead to even better and faster care for veterans.

• Veterans now have better access to mental health resources. This law is designed to help prevent veteran suicides, which occur at a heart-breaking rate. It is named in honor of Clay Hunt, a decorated Marine who struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

•  It is now easier for veterans to find good-paying jobs. The Hire More Heroes Act, a top priority for the new Congress, gives small businesses incentives to hire veterans by offering relief from ObamaCare mandates. It was the first jobs bill that the House passed this year.

• We increased funding to tackle the VA claims process. Congress mandated prioritizing ending the disability claims backlog and improving the transfer of health care records while rescinding $41 million from VA performance bonuses.

· The VA Secretary now has the authority to discharge or demote senior executives who are failing our veterans. When the VA’s leaders insisted that they did not have the authority to take action against bureaucrats, terminations and accountability got held up by red tape. We took action and eliminated that excuse.

•  Veterans will now be able to use a permanent ID card that proves their military service. Instead of making veterans carry around old forms that contain sensitive information, this will make it easier for veterans to get the services they need and provide more protection from identity theft.

• We saved New Jersey’s Vets4Warriors program. A one-size-fits-all mandate from the Pentagon nearly shuttered the successful Rutgers program. Vets4Warriors gives service members confidential assistance from peers where they can share life experiences and talk in highly effective ways. The Vets4Warriors program has had over 130,000 contacts with service members and their families.

•  Veterans can also expect consistent cost-of-living-adjustments ensuring the compensation promised to them. We boosted disability compensation, support for surviving spouses and families and added additional funds to meet everyday needs.

• And we created the first Thrift Savings Plan program that rewards all service members for timed served regardless of length of service.

This Veterans Day let us reflect on the brave young men and women a world away from home, separated from friends and loved ones and the comforts of everyday life. May God keep them safe and let them come home to the embrace of a grateful Nation.

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