By Sen. John Hoeven
Recently, I had the opportunity to join a Senate delegation and WWII veterans in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. This was a vivid reminder that all of the privileges and freedoms we enjoy as Americans would not exist without the dedicated service and sacrifices of our veterans.
Accordingly, throughout my time in Congress, we have sought to deliver the benefits our veterans have earned. While there are a wide variety of ways in which we should honor their service, a primary goal of our efforts has been to make the health care we provide to veterans more convenient and of a higher quality, whether the services are delivered through the VA or local providers.
To this end, we passed legislation last year that would improve veterans’ ability to access health care closer to their homes, through what is now known as the Veterans Community Care program. That means veterans will be better able to get the services they need without traveling long distances or taking additional time off from work. Further, we are working with the Fargo VA to ensure that these community care appointments are scheduled promptly, because our veterans shouldn’t have to wait weeks on end to receive health care.
Similarly, we are striving to enable more long-term care providers to accept veteran patients. Currently, only about 20 percent of North Dakota’s nursing homes contract with the VA. This is due to burdensome contracting and reporting requirements. That’s why I authored and passed legislation to get rid of these duplicative regulations, expanding veterans’ access to in-demand services like nursing homes and home health care.
We also increasingly recognize the need for improved mental health care and suicide prevention services for veterans undergoing treatment for PTSD and TBI. Too many veterans and their families have been impacted by the tragedy of suicide. One of the ways we can better meet the needs of veterans is to expand the availability of alternative treatment options, like hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), for those who have yet to experience positive outcomes from standard PTSD and TBI therapies. We’re working with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to do just that for veterans in North Dakota and western Minnesota.
In addition to the items above, I have continued working to advance the following legislation and initiatives to benefit our veterans:
■ Passing legislation I cosponsored to expand health benefits coverage for illnesses linked to Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast.
■ Establishing the first VA National Cemetery in North Dakota, which is set to open later this year. This will allow our state’s veterans to be laid to rest closer to their homes and loved ones.
■ Helping pass legislation I cosponsored to expand eligibility for American Legion membership for more than 1,600 veterans who were honorably discharged and served in unrecognized times of war since World War II.
■ Cosponsoring legislation to ensure that the 74 sailors who lost their lives on the USS Frank E. Evans are honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
These efforts are all about fulfilling our promises to the nation’s veterans and ensuring they receive the recognition, gratitude and support they have earned. By advancing the priorities outlined above, we can better honor the countless sacrifices and contributions veterans have made in protecting our great nation.
John Hoeven, a Republican, represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.