Active Military and Veterans Issues
Mental Health Care and Suicide Prevention | VA Reform | Making Jobs a Priority | Agent Orange | Disabled Veterans | Military Working Dogs | Tuition Assistance | Veterans Status for Guard and Reserve Members
As a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard, I personally understand the need to assure the safety and security of our great nation. I believe in the value of open and honest debate about the most solemn act a democracy undertakes: using its military in an armed conflict. I am deeply committed to holding my colleagues and the executive branch to a strict standard of scrutiny as we debate policies that are going to put our men and women in harm’s way.
Those who come forward after being raped or suffering from other attacks of sexual assault in the military may face ridicule, intrusive investigations, and demotions. The military service has declared a “zero-tolerance" sexual assault policy for years, but the abuse has continued and the Department of Defense estimated about 19,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact occurred in 2014 alone.
In too many unfortunate cases of military sexual trauma, the servicemember will not get the proper health care they have earned and deserve. Instead, a servicemember may be discharged from the military with an improperly diagnosed personality or adjustment disorder. This less-than honorable discharge prevents a service member from getting benefits and health care they have earned. That is why I introduced the Servicemember Mental Health Review Act in the 113th Congress. This act will establish a qualified board to review personality or adjustment disorder discharge statuses to determine if they were accurate. We must do all we can to ensure the brave men and women who have put their lives on the line for us are treated fairly and are getting the support and care they need when they get home.
We must uphold our retirement and pension promises to our military members so that they have the certainty and reliability they earned when they leave the service. That is why in the 113th Congress, I introduced the Military Retirement Restoration Act alongside Rep. Daniel Maffie (D-NY) which would fully repeal the unwarranted cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) cuts for military retiree’s under age 62 that were made in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Though not through a pay-for included in my and Rep. Maffie’s bill or through one I would have preferred, the cuts were ultimately restored in 2014.
More recently in the 114th Congress, I cosponsored the Retired Pay Restoration Act, a bill that in part expresses Congress’ disapproval of any reduction to the pay of a military retiree with a service-connected disability on the grounds that they are also eligible for veterans’ disability compensation. I will continue to support military retirees, the benefits they’ve been promised and oppose unwarranted and misguided efforts such as cuts to COLA.
We must honor the sacred contract between a grateful nation and our veterans who made selfless sacrifices in defense of freedom and democracy. Our goal as a nation is to provide the men and women who return from service in the U.S. military with the opportunity to achieve the American Dream in civilian life.
As the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, I have been extremely honored and humbled to work directly on behalf of veterans and their families with a position on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. We owe it to our veterans to ensure that they are healthy, happy, and employed when they return home, and I am working hard to get results for veterans.
If you are a veteran who is having trouble receiving the benefits you have earned, please contact me.
Many of our nation’s heroes return home only to face a completely new, internal war. We owe it to those who put their life on the line for our freedom to fight alongside them to heal their invisible wounds. To this end, it is imperative that we ensure our veterans have access to the mental health care treatment they need.
Often times service members with obvious medical histories of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brian Injuries have been improperly discharged for minor misconduct rather than receiving a medical discharge or being retained in the military for treatment and rehabilitation. That is why I introduced the Fairness for Veterans Act alongside Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) in the 114th Congress. Similar to the Servicemember Mental Health Review Act, the legislation ensures that combat veterans, whose condition should have been considered prior to their discharge, receive due consideration in their discharge appeals.
A provision similar to the Fairness for Veterans Act was originally included in the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, legislation aimed at turning the tide on the veteran suicide epidemic named in honor of the late Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran and suicide prevention advocate Clay Hunt. Though I am very proud to have introduced this critical piece of legislation alongside Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), it was unfortunate the Fairness for Vets provision wasn't included in the final version of the Clay Hunt SAV Act that became law in 2015.
I will continue working to ensure that veterans receive the mental health care and benefits they deserve. To learn more about the Fairness for Veterans Act, click here. For more information on the important steps the Clay Hunt SAV Act takes in the name of veteran suicide prevention, click here.
I have been hard at work holding the VA accountable and working to ensure veterans receive the care they have earned. In 2014, I was honored to serve as a member of the VA Reform Conference Committee and worked with Republicans and Democrats to increase access to care. At the time, I said “Our work is far from finished. As we move forward, we must continue to work diligently to hold VA accountable and ensure the bill is being implemented promptly and properly. Our veterans deserve nothing less.” That work continues today. Below are some examples of actions I have taken to reform the VA and get veterans the care they have earned:
- Introduced a bipartisan proposal to audit the VA
- Pushed the VA to expand Veterans Choice Card Eligibility
- Supported legislation that would protect whistleblowers and ensure that bad actors at the VA are held accountable, opposed legislation that would make it easier to intimidate whistleblowers and easier for bad actors to remain at the VA
- Pushed the VA IG’s office to release the St Cloud VA report to increase transparency and identify challenges we face
- Requested additional information from VISN 23 regarding their investigation into the St. Cloud VA
- Visited the St. Cloud VA with Rep. Tom Emmer to address questions raised in IG report
- Suggested Federal Mediation as one avenue to work through remaining issues in St. Cloud
After hearing from multiple whistleblowers about the St. Cloud VA Health Care System, my colleagues Rep. Emmer, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Franken and I forwarded whistleblower complaints to the Secretary of the VA and pushed for concerns to be addressed. The VA’s Office of Medical Inspector launched an investigation. On July 29th, this report from the Office of Medical Inspector was shared with our offices. In the interest of employee privacy, redactions of personally identifiable information have been made by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
If you have information to report to the VA Office of the Inspector General, please visit http://www.va.gov/oig/hotline/ or call 1-800-488-8244.
Any person who fights for this country overseas shouldn’t have to fight for a job when they come home. We must do all we can to ensure our veterans are finding careers that give them the opportunity to utilize their skills, support their families, and have passion for their work. I’m pleased to report that in the 112th Congress, three bipartisan bills I authored to protect and make it easier for veterans to get jobs were signed into law.
- A bill to enhance Veterans reemployment rights (Public Law No: 112-171)
- The Veteran Skills to Jobs Act (Public Law No: 112-147)
- The HIRE at Home Act (As part of H.R. 4310, Public Law No: 112-239)
Enhance Veterans Reemployment Rights (Public Law No: 112-171):
This law requires the Transportation Security Administration to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA was enacted to ensure that when a member of the military is called to active duty, they can keep their jobs when they come home. This bill is another step to reform the way Washington works. It will ensure the government is a model employer and playing by the same rules as everyone else. It will also give veterans who work for TSA peace of mind in knowing their jobs are protected.
Veteran Skills to Jobs Act (Public Law No: 112-147):
When our brave men and women of the Armed Forces come home, they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get good-paying jobs that they are already qualified for. This law works to help veterans utilize skills they acquired in the military to find careers at home. It does this by requiring federal agencies to recognize relevant military training and skills when certifying veterans for federal occupational licenses. Instead of wasting time and money taking redundant trainings, veterans are able to receive a federal license if it’s determined their military experience satisfies the license requirements.
By streamlining the Federal certification process, the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act cuts through red tape and makes it easier for our veterans to find work. If a pilot can successfully transport our troops into some of the most dangerous places on earth, they can certainly get us from Rochester to Chicago safely.
The HIRE at Home Act (As part of H.R. 4310, Public Law No: 112-239):
I also introduced the HIRE at Home Act, which is a companion the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act and works to streamline the state certification process, requiring state agencies to recognize relevant military training and skills when certifying veterans for state occupational licenses.
I will continue fighting to ensure our brave warriors are able to achieve the American Dream; to utilize their skills, provide for their family, and have passion for their work.
For many years, Vietnam-era veterans have attributed certain medical illnesses, disabilities, and birth defects to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides sprayed by the U.S. military. Over the last 30 years, Congress created health and disability benefits and compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to these herbicides.
Not long ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expanded the list of diseases presumed to be related to Agent Orange. The VA added Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease, and hairy cell leukemia to the presumptive list. I applaud their move to expand the list of eligible diseases and support their efforts to provide compensation for illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure.
When our warriors return home, it is our responsibility to ensure that they receive the care and benefits they earned. That is why I am once again an original cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act and will continue to support measures similar to this legislation. This bill would grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Presumptive coverage would enable eligible veterans to receive Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. government has linked to Agent Orange.
In order to help Vietnam Veterans and their families, more scientific studies need to be conducted to determine association between Agent Orange and Blue Water Navy Veterans, as well as the possible genetic effects of Agent Orange exposure. The Vietnam-era veterans deserve to have their concerns addressed.
Ensuring our disabled veterans have the benefits they have earned and deserve is critically important. We can never fully repay our wounded veterans for their service to our country, but there are some additional benefits afforded to our wounded warriors. They are eligible for monetary compensation, and can receive additional compensation if they have a severe injury or dependents tied to their income. Disabled veterans also have access to several programs, including VA health care, tuition and cost of living assistance through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education program, and veterans’ life insurance.
I believe that military retirees who have a service-connected disability should not be punished because they are disabled. These retirees deserve both the retirement pay they have earned and the disability pay they were promised.
If you or someone you know is having trouble receiving these wounded warrior benefits, please contact my Mankato office at 507-388-2149.
In the 112th Congress, I supported the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service (VETS) Dogs Act. The VETS Dogs Act ensures that veterans with medical service dogs have equal access to all Veterans' Affairs (VA) facilities. It is a simple, no-cost bill that helps our country's heroes. Currently, only seeing-eye and guide dogs are allowed access. The VETS Dogs Act recognizes that medical service dogs are used increasingly more for treatment of and assistance with medical issues other than blindness. With increased usage, it is crucial that we help these veterans and their service dogs gain access to all VA facilities.
This legislation was included in the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, along with my Veterans' Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services' Improvements Act, and signed into law in August 2012.
I was upset with the Defense Department’s decision to suspend tuition assistance for service members enlisted in the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps in 2013. As a teacher, I firmly believe that receiving a good education is one of the most important determining factors for economic success and it is crucial to send our new generation of veterans to higher education institutions.
In fiscal year 2013, I voted to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government that contained a provision requiring the Defense Department to reinstate tuition assistance programs for all members of the Armed Forces. The President signed the continuing resolution into law and I am glad that our men and women in uniform are able to receive tuition assistance.
In the 114th Congress, I reintroduced the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act. This bill would allow our country to recognize veteran status for those in the Reserve Components. In 2015, it passed the House by unanimous consent and was referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs where it awaits action.
In the 113th Congress, I introduced the Military Reserve Jobs Act, which closes the loopholes in the government’s veterans hiring preference policies. The bill creates a tiered preference system for Guardsmen and Reservists; it gives a 3-point preference to Guardsmen and reservists who served less than 10 years, a 4-point preference for members who have been actively serving in the Guard or Reserve for more than 10 years, and a 5-point preference to Guard-Reserve retirees. This bill also extends veteran preference laws to veterans applying for positions in the Veterans Health Administration.
I firmly believe that all those who serve our country deserve the honor and respect of being recognized as veterans. Guard and Reserve members make many of the same sacrifices as those in regular service, and their commitment should be commended. Recognizing Guard-Reserve retirees as veterans is a small but important step we can take in honoring their great service to our country.
More on Active Military and Veterans Issues
LITTLE FALLS, MN – Today, U.S. Representative Tim Walz (MN-01) attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Camp Ripley to dedicate the Camp’s recently constructed solar array. The $25 million, 10-megawatt solar farm – Minnesota’s largest solar farm – is the result of a public-private partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota Power.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Tim Walz (MN-01) released this statement following U.S. missile strikes in Syria last night:
“On Tuesday, the Assad Regime, which is backed by Putin’s Russia, committed an unconscionable war crime against the Syrian people when it carried out a chemical attack killing innocent men, women, and children. I condemn Assad’s use of chemical weapons in the strongest possible terms.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Representatives Steven Palazzo (R-MS-04), Tim Walz (D-MN-01), Trent Franks (R-AZ-08) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01) introduced H.R. 1384, a comprehensive, bipartisan bill to provide fairness to certain mobilized National Guard and Reserve Component service members by extending to them eligibility for certain benefits available to Active Component forces that deploy to carry out equivalent duties.
LUVERNE, MN – Today, U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (MN-01) held a Bronze Star Medal ceremony for local veteran Sylvester (Sy) Lonneman. Mr. Lonneman was awarded the Bronze Star Medal on April 27, 1953 but never received a proper ceremony in recognition of his courageous service.
OWATONNA, MN – Today, U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (MN-01) held his third Veterans Roundtable since the beginning of the 115th Congress with local veterans’ advocates in Minnesota’s First Congressional District to discuss priorities to bring back to Washington, and the future of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
LUVERNE, MN – Today, U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (MN-01) presented local veteran David F. O’Connor with the Bronze Star Medal for Valor. Mr. O’Connor was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his heroic actions on September 23, 1951 while serving in the position of Platoon Leader as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army during the Korean War.
LUVERNE, MN – Today, U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (MN-01) held his second Veterans Roundtable in under two weeks with local veterans’ advocates in Minnesota’s First Congressional District to discuss priorities for the 115th Congress, and the future of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
MANKATO, MN – Today, U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (MN-01) held a Veterans Advisory Group Roundtable with local veterans advocates to discuss priorities for the 115th Congress, and the future of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
[MANKATO, MN] – On Friday, December 16, President Obama signed the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 into law. The legislation included a bipartisan Walz provision to extend the legal definition of “veteran” to Guard and Reserve members who served at least 20 years but have not been called up for federal active duty.
“This legislation is a victory for veterans. While we still have work to do, I am proud of how we have moved the ball forward in a bipartisan way,” said Rep. Tim Walz.
[Mankato, MN] – Today, Rep. Walz released the following statement today to recognize the sacrifice of American service members and their families on this national day of recognition:
“Today, we remember. We honor those American soldiers who have been taken prisoner or gone missing while they were protecting our nation. We reaffirm our commitment to the sacred promise that we will leave no one behind. We also remember the service and sacrifice of their families and pledge to them we will never forget their heroism”