Addressing VA Issues: An Invitation to Veterans Forums & Resource Fairs
from the desk of
Congressman Steven Palazzo
Like many Mississippians, my respect for our veterans comes from a personal connection. I grew up on stories about my grandfather, a World War II Marine veteran who fought in the Pacific theater. Those stories inspired my own service, first as a Marine reservist serving in the Persian Gulf War, and continuing through today with my current service in the Mississippi National Guard.
Many Mississippians have similar stories to share – the fourth congressional district has one of the largest veteran populations in the nation. It is also the reason Biloxi is home to the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, which oversees four other facilities across the Gulf Coast, including in Alabama and Florida.
Today’s Department of Veterans Affairs faces its share of challenges. The agency is tasked with serving a wide span of veteran populations - from the Greatest Generation that served in World War II to those returning from recent conflicts with the War on Terror. The Gulf Coast system alone serves more than 50,000 veterans. Up until the last year, many of the delays, oversights, and issues might have been dismissed as the natural byproduct of a bogged down bureaucracy. Now we know there’s more to the story.
Out of the scathing reports that continue to surface from VA investigations, we now know that the tens of billions in extra spending given to the VA were not used to make processes more efficient, decrease wait time, or increase access to care for veterans. Executives at the highest level were compensated with bonuses in response to coordinated schemes to manipulate numbers for the appearance of good performance. Veterans died waiting in the process. Our veterans have been subjected to careless and shameful treatment at the hands of the very government they fought to protect. These problems reach much further than Phoenix.
These problems point to the need for a substantial, institutional overhaul at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Former Secretary Eric Shinseki has stepped down in response to calls for his resignation. Congress is working on legislation that would expand VA coverage to give veterans access to private care, put an end to VA bonuses, and expedite the firing of top VA officials. These are merely the first steps in what is sure to be a lengthy process.
In the meantime, I want to hear from local veterans - and I have. During my time in Congress, my office has assisted thousands with issues dealing with the VA to obtain benefits. I am now hearing from even more veterans and their families as a result of the current crisis of leadership at the VA. One of my top priorities is ensuring South Mississippi veterans receive the best service possible. That's why I'm hosting a series of Veterans Forums & Resource Fairs to hear from local veterans, provide an update on our efforts to address issues within the VA, and ensure local veterans are aware of the resources and services available to them.
I’m proud to partner with local chapters of organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Combat Wounded Veterans of South Mississippi, and County Veterans Service Officers in hosting these events. Veterans in the Pine Belt area are encouraged to join us at Hattiesburg VFW Post 3036 on Monday, July 7th, from 4 to 6 PM. Veterans in the Coastal area are encouraged to join us at Biloxi VFW Post 2434 on Tuesday, July 8th, from 9 to 11 AM. More information can also be found on my website, www.palazzo.house.gov, or by contacting my office toll-free: 1-855-255-8740.
Palazzo is a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf War and currently serves as a noncommissioned officer in the Mississippi National Guard. The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States recently awarded Palazzo with the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Eagle Award for his work on the House Armed Services Committee.