Military and Veterans
I am grateful for the service of our brave men and women in uniform and am dedicated to working to ensure that our veterans have access to the resources they need and receive the benefits they have earned.
Despite the partisan strife in Washington, we as a people unite around our respect for the men and women in uniform who keep us safe and free. Our respect and gratitude do not end when these heroes conclude their military service. Because they have protected our lives, our families and our way of life, we owe them a lifetime debt — a very small repayment for the sacrifices they have made.
My concern, and my commitment, is to ensure that the security of our homeland and the welfare of our troops and veterans don’t get pushed aside by Washington politics. We must work together to guarantee that our troops have access to the tools they need to get the job done, while also ensuring that our military members, both current and former, receive the recognition they deserve and the benefits they have earned.
- Funding and Sequestration
- The Department of Veterans Affairs Backlog
- Local Issues
- Media Highlights
Ensuring that the United States has the ability to build and maintain a strong national defense is one of Congress’ most important duties. To achieve that, we must be clear-eyed about the threats America faces, and about what is required to meet those challenges and defeat our enemies.
Ideally, having a strong military means that it rarely needs to be deployed. I sincerely hope it is never necessary. But on the occasions when it is necessary, there is only one acceptable option: to send in the best-trained, best-equipped personnel in the world.
Supporting valuable education programs for members of our Armed Services
In May 2013, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum encouraging all military service branches to end important programs that many of our troops rely on to further their education. This was another reckless attempt by the Administration to make sequestration as painful as possible. I actively opposed this bureaucratic decision and co-sponsored The Save Military Tuition Act (H.R. 1039) which sought to restore funding for military tuition assistance programs. This effort was fully paid for in the bill and cut $500 million in unspent foreign aid which our country was planning on sending to Egypt. Additionally, I voted for H.R. 933 which became public law and ensured the continuation of tuition assistance programs for members of our Armed Forces for FY13.
America is the world’s foremost military power for two reasons: our exceptional servicemen and women, and our reliance on the most advanced, effective equipment available. In order to remain on top, it is essential that we stay committed to developing cutting-edge military advances through research and development, training and production. These efforts save American lives, as well as provide good-paying civilian jobs in Colorado and across the nation.
I will always support giving our troops sufficient resources to complete their objectives as safely as possible without interruptions in pay, benefits or services. Some politicians, driven by ideology, want to slash and burn their way through the defense budget, while others treat it as untouchable. Both are misguided. I believe that every federal agency, including the Department of Defense, has inefficiencies and unnecessary programs that should be eliminated. That said, I believe that these reductions need to be made strategically, and not with broad across-the-board cuts that recklessly include programs vital for our national security. I am committed to reducing our federal debt and cutting needless or wasteful programs. I have supported numerous efforts—that do not jeopardize our national security—to get our nation back on a responsible fiscal path and reduce spending with trillions of dollars in cuts.
We are fortunate in Colorado’s Third Congressional District to have many veterans call our area home, and it is an honor to represent these courageous Americans. Whether it’s making sure that they receive their benefits, reducing red tape and bureaucracy, or simply shortening the distance that rural vets need to travel to secure services, I have made veterans issues a priority. To that end, I cosponsored the HEALTHY Vets Act (H.R. 635). The 3rd District has many rural areas, and many veterans have to drive extensive distances to get the care they need at VA facilities, passing other care facilities along the way. This common sense bill would expand care for veterans in rural areas by allowing them to receive timely care at facilities that are more accessible geographically.
In the 112th Congress I had the opportunity to carry two pieces of legislation for Colorado’s veteran community.
My first bill that passed into law (H.R. 1658) renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs telehealth clinic in Craig for Major William Edward Adams, who was raised in Craig. Major Adams gave his life for our country in Vietnam and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in combat. I was honored to carry this bill to help provide the recognition in the community that this hero deserves. Read more.
I carried the Blue Star Mothers Act (H.R. 2815), which has was also signed into law. This legislation updates the congressional charter of the Blue Star Mothers organization, a non-partisan, non-political, veterans service organization founded during WWII that provides services to active members of the United States Armed Forces and veterans, as well as provides support to military families. The Blue Star Mothers of America have played an important support role for our troops, veterans and their families for decades, and continue to serve those who serve and protect our country. Countless veterans, troops and families have benefited from the work of the Blue Star Mothers in Colorado and across the nation. This legislation updates the congressional charter to include all mothers of members of our U.S. Armed Forces. I am grateful for the service of our brave men and women in uniform and am dedicated to working to ensure that our veterans have access to the resources they need and receive the benefits they have earned. Read more.
Southern Colorado Veterans Cemetary
I am currently working with my Colorado colleagues, the Department of Veterans Affairs and members of the local community to establish a national veterans cemetery for Southern Colorado. This has been a tremendous community-driven effort, and we are encouraged that the VA has purchased land to establish a Southern Colorado national cemetery for the heroes that call this region home. Read more.
West Slope VA Counselor
Additionally, I jourged the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to permanently locate a Veterans Benefits Administration counselor in Grand Junction to make it easier and less costly for Western Slope veterans to access VA resources. Veterans currently need to travel to Denver — a costly, time-consuming and cumbersome trip — to meet with a Veterans Benefits Administration counselor.
In the letter I wrote: "Colorado's veteran population will continue to grow in the coming years, with many recruits returning to their rural home counties. Notably, three of the four Colorado counties with the highest recruitment are on the Western Slope: San Juan, Dolores and Mesa Counties, which are also among the least populous counties in the state. Furthermore, statistics demonstrate that the veteran population with the greatest need for VA services resides in rural Colorado. … Placing a permanent VA benefits counselor on the West Slope is a low-cost, commonsense move that would save significant money and travel time for thousands of Colorado veterans. We urge you to give this matter the highest priority, and we look forward to working with you to ensure veterans in rural Colorado have improved access to the quality VA services available in metro areas." Read more here.
Two-thirds of all veterans who file disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must wait longer than 125 days to receive their benefits, and for those filing a first time claim for disability the average wait is nearly a year. Constituents in my district have contacted my office in sheer exasperation by the lack of response and endless delays by the VA in processing their claims.
The thing is, this isn’t just a statistic we’re talking about—these are people’s lives. Many of the veterans on the backlog are in desperate need of care—care that has been delayed needlessly because of the bureaucratic backlog at the VA.
I joined with a group of my House colleagues, including Rep. Mike Coffman (CO), in a letter to the President urging that he “take direct action and involvement in ending the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog.” In our letter we point out that the VA Backlog has grown by over 2000 percent over the past four years despite an increase in the VA budget of more than 20%. As of March 28, of this year, the VA reported there are 606,007 backlogged claims and 865,989 total claims.
Nearly 900,000 veterans who sacrificed for our country are not getting their benefits, not getting the care they need.
Despite the inability for the VA to process claims in a timely manner, the Agency continues to waste money on unnecessarily expensive conferences. In September of 2012, the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report highlighting numerous abuses and expenditures by the VA at conferences. That report included numerous troubling findings including instances where the VA spent more than $6.1 million on two Human Resources conferences in Orlando and nearly $100,000 on unnecessary promotional items like bags and pens. These are just a few of the instances of waste fraud and abuse at the VA that were included in the report.
Following the release of the OIG Report, Congressman Jeff Miller (FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs stated “it can be reasonably concluded that 10-15 percent of VA’s conference spending is wasteful, amounting to $10-15 million a year, at the least.”
To address this problem I passed an amendment in the House to target $10 million dollars in wasteful spending on conferences from the Secretary’s $403 million budget and reprioritize these funds to assist with addressing the VA backlog. This amendment passed the House this month attached to the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act and now awaits action in the Senate.
It is time that the VA focus their efforts on serving our veterans and processing their claims in a reasonable amount of time. The VA must reduce the backlog, and it won’t get it done by wasting time and taxpayer dollars at conferences.
In representing a state with a large military presence, I have a responsibility to serve as a liaison between my constituents and the Armed Forces. Whether I am examining the ramifications of a base or facility closure or advocating for local landowners, I am committed to maintaining an open dialogue between military leaders and the citizens of Colorado.
Opening a new VA clinic in Pueblo
I was honored to play a role in efforts to open a new VA facility in Pueblo and attended the grand opening of this community-based outpatient clinic. The new facility will provide state-of-the-art care and important services for veterans which include: mental health services; primary health care; dental and optometry services; physical therapy; lab services. We are truly blessed to have so many veterans living in Southwest Colorado and this new clinic will provide them with access to care closer to home, rather than having to make the trip to Denver.
Pushing for the completion of a new Colorado VA stand-alone medical center and the timely payment of Veteran-Owned Small Business Subcontractors
I have worked closely with my colleagues from the Colorado delegation to hold the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accountable and ensure local businesses and veteran subcontractors are paid while also pushing for the timely completion of the new VA stand-alone medical center in Aurora, Colorado. Our most recent effort reiterated our concerns and demanded Secretary Shinseki setup a meeting to discuss this critical issue and the best path forward.
- H.R.2815: The Blue Star Mothers Act (Sponsor) Updates and modernizes the congressional charter of the Blue Star Mothers of America, a veterans service organization founded during WWII that provides services to active members of the United States Armed Forces, veterans, and their families. Countless Coloradan have benefitted from their services. This bill was endorsed by the American Legion and became public law on 12/13/11.
- H.R.1658 (Sponsor) Renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs telehealth clinic in Craig for Major William Edward Adams, who was raised in Craig. Major Adams gave his life for our country in Vietnam and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in combat. This bill was endorsed by the United Veterans Committee of Colorado and became public law 10/5/11.
- H Res 111 (Co-sponsor) Establishes a Select Committee on POW and MIA Affairs.
- HR 1297: The Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act of 2011 (Co-sponsor)
- H.R. 4155: Veterans Skills to Jobs Act (Supported). Streamlining job training and certifications to assist veterans with getting jobs when they return home. This became public law on 7/23/12.
- H.R. 635: The HEALTHY Vets Act (Co-sponsor) Expands care for veterans in rural areas by allowing them to receive timely care at facilities that are more accessible geographically. Read more.
- H.R. 258: The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (Co-sponsor) Identical to the version that passed the House in the previous Congress with bipartisan support. Read more.
- H.R. 1039 The Save Military Tuition Act (Co-sponsor) Would restore funding for military tuition assistance programs. Read more.
- H.R.833 (Co-sponsor) To amend title 10, United States Code, to require that the Purple Heart occupy a position of precedence above the new Distinguished Warfare Medal. Read more.
- H.R. 2016 Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 (Co-sponsor) This legislation reforms the way sexual assault is handled in the military and provides commonsense reforms that will lead to additional reporting and prosecution. Read more.
- Member, F-35 Caucus
- Colorado Springs Gazette: Veterans Administration opens new clinic in Pueblo
- KKTV 11 News Pueblo: Vets Remembered By Refurbished Memorial
- Pueblo Chieftain: VA advances national cemetery
- Pueblo Chieftain: U.S. strike against Iran should be last resort
- Pueblo Chieftain: Colo. lawmakers cautious on new defense strategy
- Craig Daily Press: Efforts underway to honor Craig Medal of Honor recipient
- Durango Herald: On the legislative front
- Montrose Daily Press: Blue Star Mother Act revisions pass House
- Denver Post: Bennet, Tipton military moms measure heads to Obama’s desk
- Keeping our promise to veterans
- Pause to honor those who serve America
- Give military the tools it needs to protect U.S.
For more information concerning my work and views on veterans and military issues, please contact my Washington, DC office.