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SPOTLIGHT
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Fighting for Kansas veterans

Published on -4/17/2014, 10:25 AM

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More than a quarter of a million veterans call Kansas home, including more than 50,000 in the First District alone. In my own family, eight uncles have served with you to defend our nation and our way of life. Thank you.

As your representative, I am committed to ensuring the benefits and services promised by the government are accessible and of high-quality. Cutting through red tape and bureaucratic incompetence is the No. 1 issue about which Kansans contact my office and seek help. In three years, we have assisted more than 500 veterans.

I proudly serve as one of the most active members of Veterans Affairs Committee. And let me report the VA does not have a good track record on delivering timely, quality care and benefits. And you deserve better than that. Instead of a mediocre system where too many bureaucrats seem more concerned about keeping their bonuses and lifelong federal careers, you deserve a system that works for you.

I serve on the Health and Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, and we have been tracking some serious problems. Here are a few:

Last year, a whistleblower revealed foreign agents (including Russia and China) had hacked into the medical and financial records of 20 million veterans and their families.

Our investigations into these shocking breaches confirmed security failures continue to exist within the VA system.

Since 2010, the network has been breached at least nine times. To combat this threat, I co-sponsored the Veterans Information Security Improvement Act that will require the VA to crack down and secure your personal data so you can rest assured your family's personal information does not fall into the wrong hands.

Another VA shortcoming is a severe lack of accountability. From undeserving five-figure bonuses, preventable veteran deaths at VA facilities and the large backlog, it seems no one has been fired for not doing their job.

Under current VA leadership, an employee who has presided over negligence or mismanagement at the VA is more likely to receive a sizable bonus than to be disciplined. For these reasons, I am working on the VA Management Accountability Act that would give Secretary Shinseki and future VA secretaries complete authority -- and the responsibility -- to fire or demote senior bureaucrats based on performance.

On another critic topic -- one of access -- I have had multiple opportunities to question publicly VA bureaucrat after bureaucrat and ask why veterans cannot receive health care services closer to home.

Whether it is the veteran I met in Syracuse who made three round trips to Wichita in 10 days, or the veteran in Liberal who has been promised a doctor for two years, or a veteran in Topeka who is refused emergency care, veterans and their families deserves quality care close to home. The answer is simple: Let these veterans choose where they want their care, whether it is a VA hospital, a CBOC, their local doctor's office or community hospital.

Instead of fighting to preserve the status quo, it is time to ensure veterans receive quality health care closer to home.

Serving and representing those who so selflessly have devoted themselves to our country is an honor and responsibility I never will take for granted. I want to commend the American Legion for its outstanding leadership and advocacy on behalf of veterans, as well as its involvement in its local community. You truly are making a difference "for god and country."

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., represents the Big First District in the U.S. House

of Representatives.

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