- - Thursday, October 22, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The date is April 4, 1970. Sgt. 1st Class Gary Littrell is leading a battalion of 473 S. Vietnamese rangers through the Kontum province near the Laos border. Their mission is to seek out enemy combatants targeting U.S. special-forces camps in the region.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Sgt. Littrell’s unit is ambushed by 5,000 enemy troops who unleash a torrent of mortar fire. “During the ensuing 4 days, Sfc. Littrell exhibited near superhuman endurance as he single-handedly bolstered the besieged battalion,” his Medal of Honor citation would later read. History reveals that Sgt. Littrell and 41 wounded rangers would survive the onslaught, having inflicted far greater casualties on the enemy.

Nearly 60,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam. Today, five times that number may have died awaiting medical care from the Veterans Administration (VA).

Yes, you read that right.

More than 300,000 veterans may have died waiting for health care from the U.S. government, according to a recent VA inspector general’s report. That’s the equivalent of 100 Sept. 11 attacks on our nation’s homeland.

It’s inexcusable and dishonors the service of every man and woman who has defended our freedom and security.

So what are we going to do to fix the problem?

Last year, as a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I secured the first under oath admission from the VA that wait times contributed to the deaths of veterans.

Since then, the current administration has proven time and time again that through incompetence and inaction, they have essentially made our veterans second-class citizens. In fact, the president obviously felt that his time was better spent last month renaming mountains in Alaska than responding immediately to the scathing VA report.

Just this week, a CNN investigation revealed that despite billions of dollars being poured into the VA, veterans continue to face major delays awaiting medical care at facilities across the country. Even the VA hospital in Phoenix, where reports last year of doctored wait times shocked the national conscience, is still grappling with appointment delays of months or more. In August, more than 8,000 requests for care at the Phoenix VA had wait times longer than three months according to the investigation.

It has become increasingly apparent that empty Washington promises will not disinfect a VA system fraught with negligence, mismanagement, and corruption. While thousands of VA employees honorably dedicate their lives to caring for our veterans every day, the Department’s Washington bureaucracy has created a health care system that today repeatedly fails the very men and women the Department was created to serve.

Let’s face the facts. As much as Washington will try, throwing more money at the problem is not the solution. Real choice and accountability are the only ways to ensure our Americans heroes get the health care they have earned.

That’s why I have introduced legislation to establish a new Veteran Freedom Card to finally give every veteran complete and unfettered choice of where they receive their health care. If a veteran wants to stay in the VA, they can stay in the VA. If a veteran prefers receiving their health care through private providers in their communities, they have complete freedom to do so. No permission needed. It’s a right that has been earned through service to country.

The measure also ties future funding for specific VA hospitals to the rate of patient attrition at each facility as a result of the implementation of the new Freedom Card. Very simply, if a VA hospital or facility sees a decline in patient load because veterans leave the system and choose private care, then the hospital budget should be reduced proportionately. AMVETS, a leading veterans service organization with more than 250,000 members nationwide, has publicly endorsed the Freedom Card calling it a “viable solution to an unacceptable situation.”

Through their service and sacrifice, our nation’s veterans have earned the right and the freedom to choose where they get their medical care.

It’s the reason I will be calling on our new speaker to bring this commonsense reform to the House floor for an immediate vote.

I am also calling on all Americans, regardless of party, to join me in this cause to help the brave men and women who have put it all on the line for us. Let your representative in Washington know that bureaucratic platitudes will no longer be tolerated. We demand results.

Veterans such as Sgt. 1st Class Gary Littrell deserve nothing less.

David Jolly is a Republican U.S representative, representing Florida’s 13th congressional district.

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