ROUNDS: Thank you, veterans
The men and women who wear the uniform of the United States make incredible sacrifices for us, and every year on November 11 we pay tribute to them and all they have done to defend our freedoms. Veterans Day is a reminder to all of us to thank those who have bravely answered the call to serve.
As a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I have been working on proposals to improve the quality of life for South Dakota veterans. Our committee has had a productive year, and is looking forward to making even more reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the future. We were happy to see the president sign the Veterans Educational Assistance Act into law in August, after it passed out of the Senate with strong bipartisan support. This bill makes much-needed updates to Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, especially for veterans wanting to pursue an education once they enter civilian life.
It included a few measures that I introduced, one of which is a provision to add all Purple Heart recipients—regardless of length of time spent on active duty—to the list of eligible veterans who can access full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Another included provision will allow for more flexibility in transferring Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to family members of deceased service members. The Veterans Educational Assistance Act will allow more veterans and their surviving family members to pursue educational opportunities to set them up for good-paying careers in a competitive job market.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), under Secretary David Shulkin, has been working to fix the problems plaguing the agency over the past years. While there is still work to be done to improve veteran care, Secretary Shulkin has been committed to the cause and is working to streamline the agency he leads. Recently, the VA proposed its CARE proposal—their vision of the future program to provide care in the community for veterans. I look forward to working with the VA and my colleagues on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to improve care in the community for veterans.
Also this year, the VA announced it would comply with the Emergency Care Fairness Act (ECFA). This is a huge victory for the nearly 600,000 veterans who have been waiting for the VA to follow through on its legal obligations to pay for their emergency room costs at non-VA facilities. Last year, I spoke with an elderly South Dakota veteran who fell down in his home in the middle of the night. His wife called 911 and when the ambulance came to get him, he asked to be brought to a VA facility so he wouldn't have to pay the costly emergency room fees out of his own pocket. He was told that his condition required him to be sent to a non-VA hospital. This veteran was faced with thousands of dollars in medical fees, simply because he wasn't close enough to a VA facility with the needed medical services. We have a moral obligation, and in this case a legal one, to take proper care of our veterans during and after their service to our country. I was happy that the VA made this long-overdue decision, and I look forward to the department finalizing its rules to comply with this law.
On this Veterans Day, we thank our veterans and their families, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and we continue doing what we can to improve the lives of the men and women who bravely served our country. The freedoms we enjoy today are a direct result of the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families.