Most of us paused Monday to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we enjoy life in the greatest country on earth.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate recently, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, invoked the names of two such heroes.
Noah Harris, a University of Georgia cheerleader who enlisted in the U.S. Army following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, was killed in Iraq two years later.
“He cheered for the football team, but he fought and sacrificed his life for the country,” Isakson said.
Another hero Isakson invoked was Roy C. Irwin, a private from New Jersey, who died fighting in the Battle of the Bulge on December 28, 1944.
The senator was moved to come across Irwin’s tombstone while visiting the American Cemetery in the Netherlands a few years ago. The date of his death surprised him because it was the date he was born in Piedmont Hospital. Isakson reflected on the sobering thought of an 18-year-old New Jersey boy who paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War II, granting Isakson the ultimate benefit of a rewarding life in the U.S.
It was with these service members and others on his mind that Isakson, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, went about crafting the VA MISSION Act, which the House and Senate has now sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law. Isakson calls the act the final mosaic in a picture that addresses the VA Benefits program for the 22.5 million veterans alive today, 750,000 of whom live in Georgia.
The VA has suffered a black eye ever since the 2014 reports of veterans dying while awaiting care at the VA medical facilities in Phoenix, Arizona.
That prompted Congress to pass a law establishing the Choice program for veterans, providing a way for them to get care in the private sector if they couldn’t get it quickly enough from the VA.
That program said if a veteran couldn’t get care within 30 days or if they didn’t live within 40 miles of a VA medical center, they could receive care from a private medical care facility. While the program was a good start, it lacked flexibility. For instance, some veterans may live near a VA medical center but need treatment in the private sector while some need to be seen sooner than 30 days.
The VA MISSION Act repeals the 40 mile/30 day rule, allowing veterans to see the doctor of their choice when they need to, provided their primary care VA doctor signs off on it.
“So choice is truly the veteran’s choice,” Isakson said. “The VA continues the responsibility of keeping up with the veterans. The veteran has the choice he needs to make or she needs to make to see to it that they get timely, professional, quality care. That is a huge step forward for us.”
Isakson also is proud the bill extends the VA’s caregiver program which presently only gives stipends and benefits to caregivers of injured post-9/11 veterans. The new bill extends those benefits to caregivers of eligible veterans from all eras.
For the first time in history due to medical advances, service members survived horrific injuries in the Vietnam War.
But many of these wounded veterans, now in their late 60s and mid 70s, need help going about their daily routines, from making the bed to getting down the stairs. Isakson is gratified that the caregiver program now extends to them.
The bill builds on previous legislation Isakson’s committee has passed, such as putting in accountability safeguards so that the next time VA leadership screws up as it did in Arizona, they can be terminated.
The VA MISSION Act received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by President Trump soon.
With Washington, D.C., thought to be broken by the polarization of party politics, it begs the question of what lessons can be learned from the passage of this legislation.
Isakson’s response is that when you visit a military base you don’t see Republican soldiers or Democrat soldiers. You see American soldiers.
“You think of them as soldiers and not as partisans and that’s the way we approached the legislation,” he said.
So while Isakson would love to take the credit, he gives it to the veterans since no one wants to be partisan over wounded veterans who have laid down or risked their lives for this nation.
A quote often attributed to the father of our nation, George Washington, states, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
Ensuring that our veterans have the very best medical care is one of the ways we express our appreciation for their service.