WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) authored the following op-ed in The Birmingham News to discuss legislative actions he’s taken to improve how the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) delivers care and benefits to the nation’s veterans. During the month of May, Senator Tuberville is honoring the sacrifices made by current and former service members as part of Military Appreciation Month.
Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference
U.S. Senator Tuberville
The Birmingham News
May 1, 2022
When we think about “freedom” in our great country, we often think about the rights and liberties we exercise on a daily basis – like those outlined in the First Amendment of our Constitution. While the world watches on as freedom and democracy are under attack in Europe, Americans are reminded that the freedoms we enjoy every day were fought and sacrificed for; defended by men and women who bravely raised their hands to join a cause bigger than themselves. Those who bravely protected our country over the decades—our nation’s veterans – deserve an immense amount of gratitude. Alabama alone is home to more than 400,000 veterans. One of the things that inspires me the most in my conversations with our veterans is their unwavering declaration that, regardless of any war, injuries, or post-war struggles, they would gladly do it all over again because they believe that America is worth fighting for.
My father was a World War II veteran, and growing up, he would emphasize the importance of hard work and exhibit great love for this country. His service, sacrifice, and patriotism stays with me to this day, long after he passed. It’s why I was so honored to be named to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. When I came to Washington, D.C., my office and I got to work identifying targeted changes we could make to improve how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) delivers care and benefits to veterans and service members. We figured that if we focusing on these changes – no matter how small they seemed – we could positively affect the lives of our veterans and their families. We started by listening.
We heard from countless veterans who struggle with their mental health. An increasing number of veterans suffer from the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Post-Traumatic StressDisorder (PTSD). TBI and PTSD can lead to other severe mental health issues, and sometimes suicide. We lose an average of 18 veterans per day to suicide, and unfortunately, Alabama has one of the highest veteran suicide rates in the country. There are evidence-based treatments for those suffering from brain injuries and PTSD, but these treatments don’t always work for every veteran. If a veteran has exhausted available treatment options, why not let them try another avenue – especially if it’s doesn’t involve more surgery or more drugs? Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT, is an FDA-approved treatment option for 14 different conditions, and I have spoken with Alabama veterans who have experienced the benefits of this treatment. So, I introduced the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Access Act of 2021 to make Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy an option approved by the VA for veterans who have tried no fewer than two evidence-based treatment options and who are deemed at high-risk of suicide or self-harm. We should be doing all we can to increase access to additional treatments for veterans who are struggling.
The VA not only delivers care to our veterans, but the agency also oversees veterans’ benefits. The administration of some of those benefits has not been updated in decades. Our office found maximum coverage amounts for veterans’ life insurance had not been increased since 2005. After 17 years, it’s time for that amount to be updated. So I introduced a bill, the Supporting Families of the Fallen Act, to increase the maximum life insurance coverage amounts offered under VA’s Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) from $400,000 to $500,000. Increasing coverage by $100,000 will give our veterans and their families greater financial peace of mind, and ensure their families are provided for should the worst happen. Our bill has already passed the U.S. Senate and awaits action in the U.S. House of Representatives. I’m proud that my first standalone piece of legislation to pass the Senate was to help veterans.
We also learned that some veterans’ dependents had missed out on receiving benefits because of an error made when the form was filled out. Complicated or confusing forms shouldn’t be a barrier to benefits for veterans and their families. That’s why I introduced legislation to streamline Post-9/11 GI bill benefits to eligible dependents and ensure confusing paperwork does not hinder military families from receiving education benefits should tragedy strike.
Finally, our office was made aware of cases where veterans had the benefits they so rightfully earned stolen from them by their fiduciaries. The VA allows veterans to appoint someone—often a friend or close family member—to help oversee and manage their benefits if they are unable to do so themselves. Unfortunately, bad actors have found ways to abuse this fiduciary relationship. Under current law, if a defrauded veteran passes away before their fraud case with the VA is resolved, the veteran’s family cannot seek reimbursement for the funds. I don’t think that’s right, so we recently introduced the Restoring Benefits to Defrauded Veterans to fix that loophole. The bill would ensure a veteran’s estate can be reimbursed for any funds lost to fraud should the veteran pass away before reimbursement is completed.
Our office is just getting started in our work helping veterans. We’re going to keep listening to veterans’ needs and figuring out small, but meaningful, changes we can make to improve the VA. Because of the sacrifice of our veterans, Americans live freely in the greatest country in the world. Veterans have stood on the frontlines of freedom for us. Now, it is time that we stand up for them.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Senate Armed Services Committees. During the month of May, Senator Tuberville is honoring the sacrifices made by current and former service members as part of Military Appreciation Month.