Q&A with Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO-06)
- You served a tour in Iraq where you led a platoon of paratroopers and earned the Bronze Star for your actions while deployed. Later, you served two tours in Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. Thank you for your service. What did you learn from that experience, and how has it influenced your work in Congress?
I learned how courageous and resilient American soldiers can be. And how we can, as a nation and as a people, come from all different corners of the country, every walk of life, every race, background, religion, ethnicity, economic status, we can come together to achieve great things even when they’re very hard. I learned that, I saw it, and I still believe it to this day. I also learned that in war and in battle you certainly can see some of the worst of humanity, but you also see the best of humanity -- shining lights of goodness in my fellow soldiers. That inspires me and gives me hope in our capacity of being better and doing better.
I started my career as a Junior enlisted soldier and now serve on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees making policy and weighing in on matters of war and peace that impact all those privates. So just thinking constantly about the impact that our decisions -- or lack of decisions as the case might be – have on those privates and those boots on the ground down range. I think about that all the time when we’re having those discussions and that this is somebody’s son or daughter, or brother or sister, or mother or father who’s going to have to carry out those policies - it weighs very heavily on me.
I also take very seriously the use of military force. For 20 years that we lost thousands of Americans, tens of thousands wounded, spent trillions of dollars, and in so many ways deferred the discussion around the use of military force, and provided a blank check to administration after administration, and as a Member of Congress I want that to change, I want us to rein in the authorization for use of military force, be more responsible about it, and have more transparent ongoing discussions about when and how we decide to send our men and women into harm's way. That’s the obligation of Congress, that’s what the Founding Fathers envisioned, and that’s how the Constitution is designed.
- You have been an advocate for ensuring that veterans receive the benefits they have earned. In fact, in 2010, you were named Denver’s Pro-bono Lawyer of the Year for your work helping Service members transition from military to civilian life. Please tell us a bit more about your advocacy and why this is such an important issue for you.
I left the active duty service in 2006, so I was on the front end of OIF and OEF veterans who were leaving the service. That was before many of the organizations that now exist and do this transition work that they started. I was one of the first veterans to go to law school from this current conflict and that transition was hard because there was a lack of understanding in my fellow Americans and civilians and the people I was in school with about that service experience, and what it even meant.
I remember going through orientation at law school and we all got around a table and introduced ourselves. Almost across the board, everybody had just come out of undergrad so they were younger than me. They hadn’t worked, they had just been in school all their lives. I remember introducing myself and saying that I had just been an Army Ranger and one of the fellow students said “I thought rangers only worked in national parks, what does an Army Ranger even do?” I had been fighting in Afghanistan not too much before that, and came to understand quickly that there’s a huge disconnect right now between the American people and the people that are fighting the wars on their behalf. Trying to close that gap and increase understanding was a big goal of mine. And then also making sure that our fellow veterans get their benefits. We have to be keeping faith with our veterans and their families, giving them the health care and education that they’ve earned -- that we promised them -- because it’s not just good for our veterans, but it’s good for our country to make sure that our veterans are succeeding and able to be the leaders that they can be.
- We appreciate your leadership on the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act, which would establish a memorial for Service members of the Global War on Terrorism on the National Mall. Why do you believe this should be a priority for Congress?
We’ve learned after many conflicts about the healing power of place. I believe we must have that place on our National Mall, one of our most sacred national locations, for family members and veterans and Gold Star families to come and actually reflect and think about the service and the sacrifice of their loved ones and to heal. Having a place to do that is really important, so that’s why it has to happen. Why it should happen now is that we learned through the Vietnam Wall that it’s important that we do this when the veterans who fought these wars are still alive to be able to heal and to bring their families to reflect. It’s a very powerful thing and that’s why timing is important – that’s why doing it now, after 20 years of war is very important.
- Another one of your initiatives is the Veterans Improved Access to Care Act of 2021, which would help ensure that VA has a workforce that can meet veterans’ demand for health care. Why do you believe it was important to sponsor this bill?
The wait times at the VA continue to plague the system and be unacceptable. The medical practitioners and the care that veterans get is often very good and very high quality care. You ask veterans and you do patient surveys - they like the VA system for the most part. They like their practitioners, they like their doctors and nurses, and they feel like they’re getting good care. The bigger problem, more often than not, is they can’t get the care. They can’t access it, it’s not close to them, it’s not convenient, they can’t get appointments. So that remains one of the bigger challenges we face, and one of the biggest drivers behind that challenge is the understaffing at the VA. Within the healthcare system, there are over 30,000 vacancies with medical professionals. That’s doctors, that’s nurses, that’s medical technicians, radiologists, you name it. We cannot fill those appointments and get folks in if we have 30,000 vacancies in that system. So the bureaucracy prevents us from filling those vacancies because it often times takes a year or more to hire somebody, and people are not going to wait around a year for these jobs. So this pilot project will actually find ways of cutting the red tape, cutting the bureaucracy and giving expedited hiring authority to the VA so we can onboard and hire these medical professionals, fill these vacancies and get our veterans quicker appointments.
- You have a special “Afghanistan Evacuation Resources” section on your website through which you offered to help folks connected to your congressional district who needed assistance during the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Were you able to help any Coloradans during that withdrawal, and what do you think about the impromptu efforts by Members of Congress, veterans, and VSOs to aid in the evacuation?
Yes, since the collapse of the Afghan government, our office has submitted close to 3500 requests for evacuation to the State Department. We have been able to help get many of our Afghan friends and partners out, but we continue to work, like many offices, to get our friends out. So we wanted to use every available tool, whether it’s access to our website, social media, working with other offices and, of course, pushing the State Department and other agencies to expedite evacuation and resettlements. But this entire process was really an instance of Congress coming together in a bipartisan way. Right after the announcement of our withdrawal in April, we formed the Honoring Our Promises Working Group which is a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives that I co-lead. We have worked extremely hard at sharing evacuation best practices, pushing for individual cases, and passing several key pieces of legislation including the HOPE Act and the ALLIES Act, which have made a difference and will continue to make a difference of creating options to get our partners and Special Immigrant Visa eligible Afghans out. But we have more to do. We now have the SAVE Act that we’re going to push very hard for and that work continues. But the other important thing is the NGOs, aid groups, and veterans groups have really done much of the heavy lifting on evacuation, and they continue to. In fact, the State Department relies on many veteran and NGO groups to actually conduct ongoing evacuations. So, our fellow veterans have really stepped up in a big way and continue to save lives.
- As a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, what actions do you hope to see the Committee take during the rest of the 117th Congress?
Well, we have to pass the NDAA. The Armed Services Committee is unique in Congress and with other committees in that we literally pass one bill a year. Just one. Other committees pass hundreds. Our bill, of course is massive -- a $700+ billion dollar defense spending bill, and is the largest chunk of discretionary funding in the federal budget that includes many hundreds of bills. The House already passed our version months ago. The Senate has to pass theirs and then we’re going to go to conference and work that out. So that’s our really biggest task. Besides that, conducting appropriate oversight of the Afghanistan withdrawal, making sure the Department of Defense is doing everything they can to expedite evacuations, but also having really important discussions about great power competition and hearings and debates about what does competition with China look like and what do we have to do to change our force and create a 21st-century fighting force to meet the new challenges, not the old challenges. So, our military is going through a great period of transition right now and that’s the transition we’re trying to manage.