Service seems to be woven into the fabric of rural America. I’m not sure why that’s the case. Perhaps when there are fewer people to fill the roles in a community, whether it’s a volunteer firefighter, church leader, or little league coach, you end up wearing a lot of hats. And you step up because you know that your community needs you. If you don’t, then the job is likely to go undone. Your entire town, your friends, neighbors, and family will be worse for wear.
And while rural America has plenty of problems, what draws me to our smaller communities across the country is the unmistakable, almost palpable service, dedication, and loyalty that folks have for each other.
I think that’s why rural America produces more veterans than any other single community. From day one they’ve been born and raised in an environment where things don’t happen unless you do them yourself, where your community’s entire livelihood depends on your showing up, participating, and serving each other.
These people see the United States as an extension of their own community, and they do for their country what they’ve done for their community their entire lives: serve their fellow man. And as a former Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, the opportunity to represent so many of these veterans in Congress means a great deal to me. But it can also be incredibly frustrating.
Because veterans have served us, it’s important for us to serve and remember them. It’s a social contract that these folks grew up with: you help your neighbor, your teammate, your fellow soldiers because you know the same courtesy and respect would be shown to you in an hour of need. But often that contract isn’t remembered, is poorly executed, or is broken outright. Back home I hear stories all the time of inadequate equipment in the field, long wait times, subpar or even negligent medical care. The list goes on.
The silver lining is that the House of Representatives has pushed hard this year to repair that contract of service that our nation has with its veteran community, both active duty and retired.
A few top points come to mind. Future GI bill benefit recipients can now use those benefits for their entire lives, as opposed to the current 15-year timeline. We empowered the Secretary of the VA to fire, demote, or suspend VA employees who don’t do their jobs. This year’s National Defense Authorization Act fully funds the 2.4 percent pay raise our troops are entitled to – the largest raise in eight years. And at a time when we’ve got nearly half a million veterans waiting for a resolution to VA benefit appeals, we passed legislation to speed up the VA Disability Appeals Process.
These reforms were necessary, and a long time coming. But while I know these reforms will help, I don’t naïvely think that suddenly veterans’ problems will go away. It’s a process, but our contract of service to our veterans shouldn’t lapse while we wait to see how our reforms are implemented and where additional change is needed. This Veterans Day, in addition to celebrating the positive changes we’ve enacted for our servicemen and women, I want every veteran to know that your representative wants to hear what you have to say, and they can be an excellent resource for you.
In the past several years my district office has helped hundreds of veterans as they struggle to navigate the bureaucracy of the federal government, and the vast majority of my colleagues have staff dedicated to helping individual veterans in their districts across the country.
So if you’re a veteran or your friend or loved one is a veteran who’s struggling, call your representative, let us know what you’re problems are, and we’ll do our part to serve you and to make things better. Whether it’s through legislative action or intervening on your behalf, I want you to know that the House of Representatives has your six.