On May 1, 1945, American troops liberated the Landshut concentration camp in Germany. Among the surviving prisoners was Corporal James Sutcliffe, who bravely marched through German territory and evaded enemy fire before enduring eight months of forced labor at the hands of the Nazis. His service to this nation during WWII was nothing short of heroic, and last month in his hometown of Sparta, Tennessee I had the privilege of presenting him with a Prisoner of War (POW) Medal.
Heroes like James Sutcliffe are part of a thriving community of veterans in Tennessee. In every major conflict since WWII, Tennesseans have bravely served their country in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines, and, today, nearly 430,000 veterans call the Volunteer State home.
After our veterans return from battle, many face a long recovery from wounds endured during their service. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is notorious for long wait times, inadequate care, and endless bureaucracy.
The COVID-19 pandemic only further exposed the failure of the VA to care for our heroes. In February of last year, the VA had successfully reduced the claims backlog to 70,000. Now, that number has jumped to over 250,000. For veterans already eligible for care, understaffing and shuttered facilities led to the cancellation, delay, or rescheduling of almost 20 million medical appointments.
Our nation’s heroes deserve more than the bare minimum. They spent years putting their lives on the line in some of the world’s most dangerous places; now, their own government is forcing them to wage war against bureaucrats to see a doctor.
On Capitol Hill, I am leading the charge to improve care for veterans. Last week, I demanded answers from the Biden administration on how vaccine mandates will impact the ability of the VA to provide care. We know that the need for long-term care has increased dramatically, so earlier this year, I partnered with my Senate colleague to provide our veterans with greater choice and expand options for personalized long-term care. In September 2017, Government Accountability Office (GAO) exposed that VA was failing to adequately disclose information about wait times, patient safety, and quality of care. That’s why I introduced the VA Quality Health Care Accountability and Transparency Act to require the VA to streamline how it displays information onto one user-friendly website.
James Sutcliffe and countless other Tennessee veterans risked their lives for our freedom. This Veterans Day — and every day — we recognize their sacrifice, but our veterans deserve action. Washington elitists can no longer sit on the sidelines and ignore the structural deficiencies in our healthcare system that have failed our veterans. While we can never repay our debts to these heroes, we must honor their service by prioritizing quality care.