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Meet the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

 Rep. Mike Bost of the Great State of Illinois

 

Congratulations on assuming the role of Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. As the Ranking Member, what are your top priorities for the committee during the 117th Congress?

Thank you! It is an honor to serve as the lead Republican on this committee. I come from a long line of veterans and am one myself. My son and grandson are still serving today. This work is personal for me, and I know it is for the millions of other military families across our great nation. I do not take the responsibility of representing those families and ensuring that my fellow veterans are cared for lightly. I have a long list of priorities. At the top of the list is sending comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to address toxic exposures to the president’s desk. I also want to continue strengthening services for the growing number of women veterans; oversee the implementation of new programs like the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program, the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program, and others; protect veterans’ Second Amendment rights; ensure that VA’s ever-expanding budget, including the tens of billions of COVID-relief spending VA has received, does not go to waste; help veterans recover from the pandemic; press forward with the electronic health records modernization effort; and ensure transparency and accountability for veterans and taxpayers.

As a former Marine and a veteran yourself, what do you believe are the most critical needs for veterans returning from service, and what should be done to address those needs?

Veterans are incredibly talented, dedicated, and hardworking. They are a credit to any school, workplace, or community. But it can be disorienting to leave the military and reenter civilian society. I left the military a long time ago, but I was lucky to have a family that was familiar with military service to come home to, and a family-owned small business to put me right to work. That is not the case for a lot of veterans. That is what makes the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) so critical. TAP helps set transitioning service members on a path to success and prosperity in the private sector. A successful transition can lead to decreased veteran unemployment, homelessness, suicide, and more. The GI Bill is also an excellent benefit to aid in transition. GI Bill eligibility helps thousands of veterans every year gain the education and training they need to thrive in the civilian world, and in some cases translate their military experience into private sector work. I want to keep improving both of those programs and give veterans more tools so that they are set up for success from the moment they take off their uniform.

WWP is working diligently to ensure that veterans suffering from diseases associated with toxic exposures get the health care they need. As the sponsor of the TEAM Act, what do you think needs to be done to improve health care access and benefits for veterans who are suffering from illnesses related to burn pits and other dangerous chemicals?

When we send service members into harm’s way, they can be exposed to toxic chemicals like jet fuel or Agent Orange, rest their heads next to radiation, or breathe air from burn pits filled with trash and waste. We owe it to them to make sure they have the care and benefits they need when they come home sick and suffering from those exposures. That is at the core of VA’s sacred mission to care for those who have borne the battle. While I was leading the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee, I worked to secure long-overdue benefits for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans. We cannot make any other group of veterans wait decades for help like that ever again. The stories of veterans who have been impacted by rare cancers and diseases as a result of exposure to toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan are heartbreaking. These stories serve as a painful reminder that we need to act now. I introduced the TEAM Act because I believe it is the best course of action to give those suffering from toxic exposures the care and compensation they need. The TEAM Act would create a framework for establishing presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposures. It would also allow toxic-exposed veterans to enroll in the VA health care system, further research on the health effects of toxic exposure, and advance training for VA staff so they know how to identify and treat toxic exposure issues. It is the most comprehensive approach to help toxic-exposed veterans today and in the future. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and the Capitol to see it through.

You have indicated that one of your priorities as Ranking Member is to improve care and services for women veterans. What initiatives will you be pursuing to meet that goal?

I am committed to strengthening services for women, who are the fastest-growing group of service members and veterans. That is why I supported the passage of the Deborah Sampson Act, which was landmark legislation for women veterans, last Congress. We have to make sure the Deborah Sampson Act is implemented successfully and works as it was intended, to improve services for women veterans and make VA a safer, more welcoming place for all veterans. Then we have to get back to work to identify and break down barriers for women veterans wherever we find them. That is critical to ensuring that their brave service is fully recognized and honored. I am counting on partners like WWP to help me do that.

Mental health remains a top priority for Wounded Warrior Project, and we thank the committee’s focus on this issue. This month is PTSD Awareness Month. Do you have a message for service members and veterans who may be struggling with PTSD?

I am grateful to WWP for helping service members and veterans get the help they need and erasing the stigma surrounding mental health. My message to any service member or veteran who may be going through a hard time is this: KEEP GOING. It is brave to ask for help. There is no shame in it. PTSD is not a life sentence. Treatment is tough, but it works and you and the people you care about will be better off because of it. Call VA or a doctor that you trust, find what works best for you, and get back on track to living life to the fullest. And, no matter what is happening right now, I promise you that suicide is not the answer. If you think it might be, stop whatever you are doing and call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255, or visit veteranscrisisline.net. You are worth it.

 

Read “Wounded Warrior Project Testifies Before Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees on Toxic Exposure Legislation”

 

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