Op-Ed - Lee Zeldin "Caring For Our Veterans"
Monday, May 16, 2016 at 11:27PM

“Caring for Our Veterans”

Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

As a nation, supporting our veterans must always be one of our highest priorities. These brave men and women, who willingly and selflessly put their lives on the line while defending our country, deserve nothing but the highest quality of life and care once they return home.

According to the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency (VSA), there are 83,254 veterans who live here in Suffolk. With the highest population of veterans by county in New York State, and one of the highest in the entire country, there is a significant need for increased care options for our veterans in Suffolk County.

There are so many options of quality care for veterans, but too often their choices are limited. Quality care can also come at a great expense. In an effort to expand access to care for our veterans, I recently introduced bipartisan legislation in Congress, H.R. 2460, which would ensure that 70% or more service connected disabled veterans are able to receive Adult Day Health Care, a daily program for disabled veterans who need extra assistance and special attention in their day to day lives, at no cost to the veteran and their family by defining the program as a reimbursable treatment option through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). H.R. 2460 has strong bipartisan support in Congress, with over 45 cosponsors, including the entire Long Island Congressional Delegation. My bill would greatly expand this great option of care for veterans on Long Island and across the country. Just last month, on April 20, 2016, the House Veterans Affairs Committee hosted a hearing of the Subcommittee on Health regarding my bill, and on April 29, 2016, the Health Subcommittee held a markup and favorably forwarded my bill to the full committee for final consideration before being sent to the House floor for a vote. Working with my colleagues in the House, and various Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), I will continue pushing to get this bill passed out of committee in earnest, to allow this bill to come to the House floor this year.

While serving in the New York State Senate, I secured the funding necessary to create the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Project, a peer-to-peer support program for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). PFC Joseph Dwyer, from Mount Sinai, New York, served in Iraq and received nationwide recognition for a photograph that went viral—showing him cradling a wounded Iraqi boy, while his unit was fighting its way up to the capital city of Baghdad. Sadly, after returning home and struggling with PTSD, PFC Dwyer died in 2008. Created in his honor, the Dwyer Program was initially launched in the counties of Suffolk, Jefferson, Saratoga and Rensselaer. Since 2013, the program has successfully expanded to over a dozen counties across New York. Earlier this year, I introduced bipartisan legislation in Congress, H.R. 4513, that will expand the Dwyer Program on a national level, so that every veteran in the U.S. eventually has access to a peer-to-peer support group. This bill has strong bipartisan support, including the entire Long Island Congressional Delegation. I will continue working together with them in the fight to expand the Dwyer Program.

Additionally, right here on the East End, working closely with Peconic Bay Medical Center (PBMC) and VA, I secured an East End health care facility for veterans and their families at PBMC’s Manorville campus. After so bravely serving our country, this facility provides an important new option for veterans, increasing access to care for veterans who live on Long Island’s East End, while still allowing them to continue receiving other services and ongoing treatment at the VA Hospital in Northport.

There is so much more that Congress can do to improve the quality of life for our veterans. I will continue working to ensure that my bills that previously passed the House are signed into law, including H.R. 1569 to protect the benefits of deceased veterans and H.R. 1187, which would eliminate the loan limit that the VA can guarantee for a veteran. Congress also must continue to reform the VA wherever it under serves a veteran. A series of recent USA Today articles reported that VA supervisors in multiple states instructed their employees to falsify patient wait times at VA facilities. This is a slap in the face to all veterans and those responsible must be held responsible. Just last year, the House took a step forward by passing the VA Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 1994); legislation that I cosponsor that would make important reforms to the VA system, which will providing the necessary resources and flexibility the VA needs to hold poor performing employees accountable. While I believe that 99% of VA employees genuinely care about the work they do and want to help veterans, we must always ensure that the other 1% of those who are not acting in the best interest of veterans are held accountable. Our veterans deserve only the highest quality of care at our VA facilities.

Fighting for our veterans who fought for us has always been one of my top priorities. I will continue my work in Congress to improve our veterans’ quality of care in any way that we can. 

Also, every day, my constituent services team works on cases to help Suffolk County residents. Since entering Congress last year, my office has successfully resolved over 3,150 cases; many of those are veteran cases. If you or your family ever needs help on a federal issue, I encourage you to contact my Long Island office at (631) 289-1097.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, an Army veteran who continues to serve today as a Major in the Army Reserves, represents the First Congressional District of New York. The Congressman serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and two related subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, and the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

Article originally appeared on Smithtown Matters - Online Local News about Smithtown, Kings Park, St James, Nesconset, Commack, Hauppauge, Ft. Salonga (http://www.smithtownmatters.com/).
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