As Representative of North Carolina’s 8th congressional district, I have the privilege of nominating young men and women to four of the five service academies. Just last week, it was my honor to call a student from Hickory Grove Christian High School to give her the great news that she was accepted into the United States Naval Academy. Midshipmen like this young woman, and all men and women in uniform, make incredible sacrifices to defend our freedoms. Just as these patriots pledge to uphold their commitment to serve our country, we owe it to them to uphold our commitment to care for them during and after their service. As a country, we must never take for granted the sacrifice of our active duty military men and women and veterans. As your Congressman, I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that these heroes are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
This past week, I was fortunate to spend time traveling the district to see our military priorities and strength first-hand and visit with veterans across North Carolina. Our state is privileged to be home to over 700,000 proud veterans, and I am proud to represent a district that has a strong military presence. I was so impressed by the operations at North Carolina Air National Guard Base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the airmen I met who stand ready to protect our community, our great state, and our nation. These units are equipped to provide assistance to our communities during national or state emergencies and stand combat-ready for immediate mobilization if needed during wartime. Our community can rest assured knowing that the 145th Airlift Wing of NCANG is always prepared to serve.
I was also fortunate to embark on a tour of the operations at Camp Mackall, an active U.S. Army training facility located in the heart of our district. Most North Carolinians recognize Fort Bragg as the epicenter of the universe and home of our state’s biggest military training facility. The soldiers and airmen and women at Fort Bragg are the tip of the spear that guarantees our national and domestic security, and facilities at Fort Bragg and at Camp Mackall provide vital training to our U.S. Army Special Forces. These special operators have proven the efficacy of their tactics time and time again over the past decade and it is critically important that we continue to support in-depth training and maintain their access to new resources.
I also had the distinct pleasure to learn about our VA healthcare facilities and meet with our retired servicemen and women. The W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury serves nearly 300,000 of our veterans with the needed support and health care for their physical and psychological wounds. The work done at this facility to take care of those who have served is essential, and I look forward to continuing the conversation to ensure the needs of our servicemen and women continue to be met.
I convened a meeting of my 8th District Veterans Advisory Committee in Rockingham to visit with veterans and hear their top concerns and most pressing needs. The Veterans Advisory Committee is made up of one veteran representing each of the veteran auxiliary organizations in the eighth district as well as the Veteran Service Officer in each of the 12 counties in our district. One of the top concerns I heard was the frustration with the time it takes to process disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The backlog that currently plagues the VA is deplorable, and I am working to address this serious issue. Last week I authored a letter to the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, urging appropriators to include language that holds the VA’s senior leadership responsible for the backlog of claims.
This common sense language will directly tie the rate of compensation for the secretary and members of the Senior Executive Service to the percentage of claims that have not been completed within six months of entering the system. Further, directing those withheld funds directly to be used to combat the backlog ensures that the money is spent wisely on addressing those in need as opposed to simply becoming a slush fund for the VA’s overall budget. Additionally, my office stands ready to serve those who need help navigating the VA or have become frustrated processing a claim.
Taking care of our military men and women is one of our most important duties. While I recognize we have tough choices ahead, I know we must work to solve our fiscal crisis without sacrificing the safety of our nation or the livelihood of the great men and women who have fought to defend it.