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Rep. Charles Rangel Headshot

Our Sacred Obligation to America's Defenders

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Yet again, the Republican solution to governing has failed the American people, and their only action is to shift the blame by criticizing President Barrack Obama and calling for the resignation of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki. However, this does not address the root of the problem.

It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that the VA has the funds necessary to support the more than 8 million veterans currently enrolled in the VA Health Care System.

Unfortunately, Republicans have funded the VA by on average about $2 billion a year less than President Obama requested. And in February, Republicans blocked a bill in the Senate that would have increased VA funding by $21 million, despite the fact that the population of new veterans -- and the corresponding number of claims -- has increased dramatically in recent years. Consequently, while funding for the VA has indeed risen, it has not been by nearly enough.

In fact, Republicans have consistently voted to not support our country's veterans. They voted against H.R. 466 -- the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act -- which would have prohibited discrimination against veterans who receive treatment for illnesses, injuries and disabilities incurred by service in the armed forces. They also voted against H.R. 1168 -- the Veterans Retraining Act -- which would have provided assistance to unemployed veterans while enrolled in an employment and training program. And they voted against H.R. 1171 -- the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization -- which would have expedited the reintegration of homeless veterans into the labor force by reauthorizing programs including job training, counseling, placement services and child care services.

Like President Obama and Secretary Shinseki, I am outraged by the injustice that has been inflicted on our nation's men and women in uniform. There is no question that the VA needs to identify and eliminate all inappropriate practices within its facilities and discipline any employees found to be involved in those practices.

It is highly disturbing that what happened in Phoenix is not an isolated incident. Rather, it has uncovered a stark reality that is occurring across the country: Veterans are dying or being seriously injured while waiting for care.

Many of our country's veterans return home with lost limbs, spinal cord damages, or traumatic brain injuries. Others are afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suffer from vivid flashbacks, terrifying nightmares and insomnia. As a veteran who was wounded in action during the Korean War, I know all too well the extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make.

Our veterans should not continue to suffer pointlessly. Republicans need to do more than wave an American flag. Rather, they need to work with my Democratic colleagues to pass legislation that provides the VA with the funds it needs.

When America's heroes need medical treatment, we owe it to them to ensure that they have the best possible care and support available. That is why it is so disgraceful that at least 40 of our veterans died while waiting for treatment from the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona. Ultimately, these tragic deaths serve as a grim reminder that we are not doing enough to honor our sacred obligation to repay our country's heroes for all that they have done.

Our veterans risked their lives so that the rest of us can know safety. Let us not just stop at thanking them for their sacrifices. We must honor them by ensuring that they receive the care and support that they not only deserve, but earned.