By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer
As Americans, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our veterans. Last week, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. As we watched vintage airplanes soar over the U.S. Capitol last week, it brought to mind the countless heroes who gave their lives so we could live in freedom. Earlier this month, I was honored to help welcome home current service members of the Nebraska Army National Guard, who were returning from deployment in Kuwait.
I believe we must preserve Nebraska’s proud history of military service. For several months now, my state staff has been working on the Veterans History Project – an ongoing Library of Congress initiative. The project collects firsthand accounts of U.S. veterans and the civilians who support them during wartime. Through in-person interviews, written journals, and photos, veterans can share their experiences with the public. From decorated World War II veterans of the “Greatest Generation” to Nebraskans who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and surrounding countries, the bravery of these veterans represents the very best of our nation.
Our veterans have stepped up and answered the call to serve. We must follow through on our duty to ensure they have high-quality and efficiently-delivered care. That is why I was proud when Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act last summer. This law improves access, addresses administrative challenges at the VA, and establishes greater accountability for bad actors within the agency. The law also created the Veterans Choice Program, which temporarily allows veterans to be treated by private doctors if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or cannot get timely appointments at VA medical facilities. In Grand Island last month, I held a roundtable discussion with local veterans who shared their concerns about this program and other issues. I appreciated their candid feedback as we continue to work to improve this important program.
But access is only part of the problem. VA medical facilities in Nebraska must be modernized. I have been encouraged by recent meetings in Omaha, where planning is progressing toward better medical access for veterans. I am also pleased to report that planning is underway for a new VA outpatient clinic in Lincoln. Both of these upgrades will go a long way toward helping veterans get the care they need.
We cannot stop there. Far too many of our veterans are facing employment challenges after returning home from their deployments. Their willingness to deploy and serve must be translated into opportunities in civilian life.
To aid in this effort, I have cosponsored a bill known as the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act. This legislation would waive fees associated with small and medium-sized express loans from the Small Business Administration. These loans cost borrowers additional fees. While also increasing oversight of existing veterans Small Business Association programs, this bill would help identify more reasonable solutions before, during, and after deployment. By helping businesses grow, we can provide greater opportunity for our veterans – and ultimately, our communities.
We are seeing progress in many areas, but there is still more to be done. Our grateful nation must continue to welcome home our servicemen and women with open arms as we uphold our pledge to care for those who have selflessly defended our freedom.