By Susan A. Davis | District 53 Dispatch
Veterans Day — which is just around the corner — is a day to show appreciation and say “thank you” to the men and women who put on the uniform to protect the American people.
Caring for veterans, however, is a year-round endeavor — one in which I am proud to have an opportunity to play a role. I think many of us agree there is very little more important than supporting our veterans.
The San Diego region has one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the country.
My office has helped thousands of veterans cut through the red tape they can face in getting their benefits. In just the past year, my office helped get over $1.2 million in earned benefits for veterans in my congressional district in Veterans Affairs (VA), Tricare, and others.
My office worked a case for a World War II veteran who saw his delayed appeal approved shortly after contacting me, generating a substantial new monthly payment and back pay of over $32,000.
Additionally, an appeal on behalf of a veteran fighting cancer secured him more than $90,000 and a new 100 percent disability rating for the rest of his life after my office pointed out to the VA the errors made in his case.
We’ve had similar success in other issue areas, such as taxes, Medicare and Social Security. Ask any staff member who works in a congressional district office and they will tell you that casework can be the most challenging yet rewarding part of their job.
For veterans, some of these cases stem from lack of awareness of the benefits available to them. We need to do a better job at educating our veterans about the benefits they have earned as a result of their service.
As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, there is an opportunity each year to work in a bipartisan fashion to address not only the needs of our military but also our veterans. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is one of the rare moments of bipartisanship and proof that both parties can work together if we want to.
In this year’s NDAA, I added language directing the Department of Defense to fully inform active duty service members who are separating from the service on the GI Bill benefits they have earned. This will ensure veterans utilize their deserved benefits and help them avoid bureaucratic red tape.
But the one thing a caseworker handling veterans’ issues will learn is that veterans face a variety of challenges, which Congress is working to address.
Disabled veterans are losing access to Tricare — the military’s health care system — if they are deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration. These veterans are forced to instead enroll in Medicare Part B, where premiums are nearly five times higher.
My bill, the Fair Access to Insurance for Retired (FAIR) Heroes Act, will allow veterans who were medically discharged to choose their health care coverage through Medicare or Tricare. Allowing disabled veterans this choice could save them up to $1,300 annually.
Support continues to build for the FAIR Heroes Act. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce recently endorsed the bill, stating that “veterans deserve the opportunity to choose which health system makes the most sense for them.”
In a critical first step in restoring benefits to these disabled veterans, I amended the NDAA to direct the Department of Defense — in coordination with the Department of Human Health Services and the Social Security Administration — to report on the total number of disabled veterans losing access to Tricare as a result of receiving Medicare benefits.
It’s always a privilege to work with veterans and local leaders on ways we can build on successes and solve the problems veterans are facing. We are doing so much for our veterans, but we can always do more.
As we honor and say thanks to veterans this Veterans Day, we cannot waver in our efforts to care for the men, women and their families who sacrificed so much for us.
—Congresswoman Davis represents central San Diego, including the communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge, Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.