Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Throughout my travels across Idaho, I have heard loud and clear the frustration many veterans feel while trying to access the services they deserve. I share their frustration.
Although Congress has worked to invigorate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with increased funding, it is clear that funding increases alone are not enough. More must be done to improve the delivery of benefits to veterans. Short-term fixes and top-down policy changes are not enough to bring about the type of changes our veterans want and need.
I am committed to getting it right for veterans, which is why I am conducting a second Veterans Survey. Improving the VA for Idahoans is a continuous process that requires constant communication with the VA and frequent feedback from veterans to ensure Idahoans are seeing results. This year's survey incorporates feedback from Idaho's veteran community to ask more comprehensive questions about the VA benefits and services Idahoans use.
The 2014 Veterans Survey gave a deeper understanding of the experiences of Idaho's veterans as they interact with the VA. Ultimately, the results demonstrate that the solution to "fixing" the VA is not based on broad, top-down reforms and funding infusions. For VA policies to work in Idaho, the reforms must permeate the whole VA organization and be implemented properly. Likewise, information about successful practices and solutions found by the VA in Idaho must be able to travel through the organization to the top.
The Veterans Survey is an important tool to use to help Idaho's veterans. Many of the 2014 survey participants requested assistance with VA issues, resulting in a 160 percent increase in veterans casework and Idaho's veterans receiving more than $723,000 in retroactive benefits. I am also working to advance legislation that would improve the lives of Idaho's veterans. The legislation includes bills that would improve access to care under the Veterans Choice Program, particularly for specialty care; address the effects of exposure to toxic substances on veterans and their families; and remove the unfair offset in survivor benefits and Dependency and Indemnity Compensations. All of the issues covered by the measures were raised in the survey or in subsequent communications with Idahoans.
None of these improvements would have been possible without the active participation of Idaho veterans and the communities that support them. Please continue to advocate the needs of our veterans by taking my 2015 Veterans Survey. It can be taken online through my website at https://www.crapo.senate.gov/contact/vetsurvey/survey2015.cfm . Participants may also stop by one of my offices or call to have a staff member administer the survey: Washington, DC (202) 224-6142; Idaho State Office (Boise) 208-334-1776; South-Central Idaho (Twin Falls) (208) 734-2515; North Idaho (Coeur d'Alene) (208) 664-5490; Eastern Idaho, North (Idaho Falls) (208) 522-9779; North-Central Idaho (Lewiston) (208) 743-1492; Eastern Idaho, South (Pocatello) (208) 236-6775.
Friends and families of veterans are also welcome to take the survey. Idahoans in need of specific assistance in dealing with the VA or other federal agencies may also contact my office for further assistance through the survey or separately. Thank you for your help, and many thanks to our veterans for their service.
# # #
Word Count: 519