From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9):
Improving Veterans’ Care and the Benefits Process
Veterans served our country, giving of themselves, to protect our freedoms and way of life. Now they deserve the highest quality of care and benefits they are due. Recently, the House, with my support, passed the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act. If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, this legislation will improve accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs by giving the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the flexibility to remove VA employees for not doing their jobs properly and overhaul the current archaic appeals process for VA disability benefits.
Numerous incidents have surfaced of botched care and unacceptable scheduling practices that resulted in some veterans waiting all day for their appointments, finding care elsewhere, or dying before being treated. Other veterans have had to wait years to get approved for their disability benefits. This most recent House legislation makes meaningful changes to the VA system to ensure more timely answers and better care.
It also streamlines the disability appeals process, while protecting veterans’ due process rights. It does so by allowing veterans to keep the original effective date of their claims throughout the appeals process and rendering faster decisions to veterans.
Importantly, it makes it easier to fire or demote employees for outright misconduct or consistent poor performance who are failing our veterans, provides protections for whistleblowers who report complaints, eliminates bonuses for Senior Executive Service (SES) employees for the next five years, and increases performance and accountability measures for SES employees.
My hope is that the Senate quickly passes this legislation and gets it to the President. Accountability needs to be restored in the VA system and this legislation is one step.
Helping our Veterans Secure Medals
As your Representative, I have the privilege of assisting veterans. Not only do my team and I help veterans with matters involving their benefits or health care, we can also assist with securing their medals earned while serving our country, whether new or replacements.
My district team has worked with numerous veterans and their families to locate the documentation needed to acquire medals awarded but never received or medals never awarded but due. Sometimes my staff is able to make a few calls and track down the information with ease. Other times, they have to work with several agencies and departments and piece together a complicated paper trail.
One medal my team tracked down the paperwork on was particularly memorable. It was awarded to Corporal James C. Rasnake of Abingdon.
On September 15, 1950, in Korea, his platoon came under enemy fire. Sergeant Dale Larsen was seriously wounded. While Sergeant Larsen lay on the ground, an enemy soldier a few feet away took aim at Larsen’s head. Instinctively, Corporal Rasnake shot and killed the attacker. Corporal Rasnake told the immobile Sergeant Larsen to put his arms around his neck and then crawled under heavy machine gun fire, with Sergeant Larsen on his back, to a safer location. He then crafted a stretcher using two rifles to carry Sergeant Larsen approximately one mile to receive aid. Without these quick actions, Sergeant Larsen would not have survived the attack.
I was offered the honor of presenting Corporal Rasnake with a Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device. Instead, I handed it to Sergeant Larsen to give to Corporal Rasnake, who then with tears in his eyes, presented it to the man who saved his life.
This ceremony in D.C. would never have taken place if it had not been for decades of instance by Sergeant Larsen and the work of Ambler Dumler in my office, who through tenacity found long missing paperwork necessary for the medal to be issued.
Ongoing Research in the Ninth
Recently in D.C., I met with the Executive Director of the Salem Research Institute (SRI). You probably have not heard of SRI, but it is a research and development program housed within the Salem VA Medical Center that conducts clinical research funded by pharmaceutical companies, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and/or private donations.
Most of SRI’s research projects center around Phase III and Phase IV clinical trials and finding alternative uses for drugs already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Institute hopes to expand its mental health research, given that the Salem VA Medical Center is regarded as a major psychiatric facility in our region.
I am hopeful for SRI’s growth so that we can have better outcomes, new treatments, and cures starting with our veterans but also for all Americans.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.