Walz: Veterans need experienced advocate to lead after VA crisis

Published 9:33 am Monday, November 17, 2014

by Tim Walz
1st District U.S. Representative

Following in the footsteps of my father, I volunteered at age 17 to join the U.S. Army National Guard because I believed in something greater than myself — the ideals on which our country was founded: self-governance, freedom and opportunity for all.

I retired from the military 24 years later as command sergeant major (CSM). In that role, my sole mission, much like that of the House Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee, was to take care of our troops.

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Since my election to the House in 2006, I have carried on the duties of a CSM and made taking care of veterans my top priority. In order to take care of our nation’s heroes, I knew I had to become an expert on veterans policy and gain the respect of veterans and their advocates across the country.

With four terms on the VA Committee — along with my 24 years of service in the military — I have a combined total of 32 years of real-world seniority, learning and advocating for our nation’s veterans and their loved ones.

I understand that, due to the rules in the Democratic Caucus, my military service isn’t counted toward seniority for the top spot on the VA Committee; only time served on the committee counts. While I may not have the most seniority on the committee, I believe my military service matters. It is my combined experience in both the military and in Congress that I believe makes me the most qualified person to become ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

I have utilized my time on the VA Committee to make a meaningful difference, informed by my past experience. I am proud to fight the scourge of veteran suicide with the Clay Hunt SAV Act, advocate for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and to have co-founded the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Veterans Jobs Caucus, which works with employers to promote the hiring of veterans. Earlier this year, I was also proud to help pass a measure to reform the VA healthcare system, but I understand that this is a first step in the process.

An essential question for any chairman or ranking member is, what’s next?

Service-connected disability compensation, burial benefits and medical care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are a part of our sacred contract with the men and women who have served in uniform. As a Congress, we must continually evaluate and improve these earned benefits in a bipartisan fashion to ensure veterans are put first.

If given the honor to serve as ranking member, a top priority for me would be continuing the fight to reform the VA healthcare system to ensure every eligible veteran is getting patient-centered, timely medical care.

I also believe the VA should have a long-term plan for the future, which may seem obvious but is something that is not done at the VA currently. That is why I have advocated for the VA to implement a strategic quadrennial review, similar to the strategic planning done at the Department of Defense, which will allow the VA to provide better care and benefits for veterans.

I seek out this leadership role on the House VA Committee today for the same reasons I sought to serve in the past — not to put members in an uncomfortable position, but to be a part of something larger than myself.

Our VA system is in crisis. With more than 1 million veterans returning home in the coming years, enormous challenges lay on the horizon. Now more than ever, Democrats and our nation’s veterans need the most experienced, strongest advocate to lead the VA Committee and address these challenges head-on.

I believe I am that advocate, and I want to put my 32 years of experience to work representing Democrats on the committee, and more importantly, working collaboratively to improve the lives of our heroes returning from war.

Walz has represented Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District since 2007. He sits on the Veterans’ Affairs, the Agriculture, and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. He is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress.