Members of Congress are often criticized for their partisan approach and their inability to successfully address the serious challenges facing our nation. Despite a few recent "breakthroughs" in the political gridlock in Washington, too often our politicians seem incapable of --or unwilling to--cross party lines to repair what has become a broken legislative system.
Over the past eight years, I have had the pleasure of speaking to and working with several members of Congress--from both sides of the aisle--on our shared mission to address the needs of those who serve and their families. In addition, I have had the honor of testifying before the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs. Each time I have been asked to testify about the issues that affect the military and veteran community, I have been impressed with the bipartisan tone of the committee and the civil and mutually respectful nature of the discussion. It has been abundantly clear that the men and women who sit on these congressional committees care deeply for the military and veteran community.
I have also been impressed with the depth of understanding that many of those on the Hill have about the issues affecting returning troops and their families. And it isn't just the members of the House and Senate who are passionate about caring for those coming home from war. Many of the staffers who work on the Hill are veterans themselves. They add so much to our discussions, and while they demonstrate loyalty to their bosses and their party, it is apparent that their commitment to and concern for their brothers and sisters is primary in their hearts and minds. I have been pleased to find so many members of Congress and staff members genuinely interested in looking to leverage partners and create opportunities that will ensure that those who serve come home to effective support and needed opportunities.
In fact, some Congressional offices are willing to go beyond compassion, understanding and networking. They are working to enact legislation that will improve the care and support available to the 2.6 million men and women who have served in these conflicts over the last dozen years. These offices also understand that in addition to providing direct care to those who wear the uniform, we must ensure that we recognize and address the needs of the families who also serve, sacrifice and sometimes suffer.
When it comes to addressing the invisible injuries of war -- including post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) -- we know that one size doesn't fit all. There are many excellent efforts and organizations doing great work to engage, support, and assist returning service members and their families in an effort to ensure that all who serve come home to lead the lives they want and deserve. Some of the organizations that work with the military and veteran community provide traditional care and support, but many other valuable services are now being offered by organizations providing "nontraditional" or "alternative" therapies or interventions. Yoga, meditation, breath work and acupuncture are just four examples of nontraditional approaches that can alleviate the pain of both the physical and the psychological consequences of war. In addition, organizations like Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues encourage and support returning veterans through opportunities to continue to serve their communities and their country. To make the most of all of these important offerings, we as a nation must continue to look for effective ways to connect dots and encourage collaboration so that those in need see the choices available to them.
In November, Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rich Nugent (R-FL) announced new legislation called the Veterans and Armed Forces' Health Promotion Act of 2013. One of the goals of this bipartisan effort is to expand the scope of holistic care, education and research for the signature wounds of war such as PTS and TBI. The legislation also seeks to establish complementary and alternative medicine pilot programs for mental health and pain management treatment for veterans at 10 different locations across the United States. In addition, this initiative requires the development of some basic wellness programs -- designed to prevent common health problems -- to augment the services that are provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
I was especially touched by the comments made by Congressmen Ryan and Nugent in the press release announcing the act.
"One of my greatest responsibilities as a Member of Congress is to ensure our veterans and active duty armed forces are getting the benefits and care they deserve," wrote Congressman Ryan. "This legislation will go a long way towards dramatically improving the quality of care that our wounded warriors receive, and propel the VA and DoD towards innovative healthcare solutions for the complex challenges they face. I believe these complementary and alternative approaches can help preemptively address needs and ultimately create less expensive treatments for long term veteran healthcare."
Added Congressman Nugent, "Our military is an all-volunteer force and we owe it to them to ensure they get the very best medical care and support when they come home. One critical part of that is doing everything possible to address health challenges that are specific to veterans. There are steps that the VA and DoD can take to innovate and find better ways of delivering the care that Congressman Ryan and I are dedicated to making sure happens. This legislation will further that effort and I am very proud to be able to help move it forward."
It appears that members of the Senate are also taking up the challenge to improve the care for those coming home from war. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and John Tester (D-MT ) have introduced the Veterans' Health Promotion Act of 2013, as the Senate companion bill to the House legislation described above. The Senate bill was referred to and marked up by the Veterans Affairs Committee and is currently awaiting full Senate action.
Of course, there is no single act of legislation that can or will ensure that all of those coming home receive the care and support they need from our grateful nation. But legislation can be an important element in a comprehensive and integrated system of care. Our goal must be to develop a system that recognizes and utilizes the many great efforts and approaches that currently exist -- both traditional and nontraditional. We must have a system that is mindful of the reality that no one agency or organization alone can address the complex consequences of war for those who serve. And we must develop a system that values innovation, collaboration and coordination so that all individuals and efforts that offer hope and effective care are welcome to participate and included in the implementation of a plan that effectively welcomes all who serve home to our communities.