Floor and Committee Statements

“Mr. President, I rise for a couple of moments in morning business to pay tribute to the Senate and what we have done this past year. We think we are easing towards going home. We think we are easing towards finishing the year, and everybody is excited about that. We have talked about a lot of things we haven't done. Let’s talk about what we have done, because I think this has been the most successful time I have had in Washington for 20 years.

“As chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, we have had the best success we have ever had for the most important people in the country we love--our military in the United States of America.

“I want everybody to remember four things to take home that you have done to see to it that our men and women who fight for us and keep us safe get treated the way they should every day.

“Number one is the VA MISSION Act.

“After a number of years, when we started moving towards a way to get better appointments, better timing, and better results for our veterans, we finally came together with the VA MISSION Act. We saw to it that if a veteran needed health needs met, he got them when he needed them, not when it was convenient for him to get them. If the VA couldn’t provide them, the private sector could. He could go to the private sector.

“We have done everything we can to expand accessibility to quality healthcare. Our vets are the most important assets we have.

“The second is the accountability bill.

“For a lot of years, we saw on the front pages of the newspapers that the VA had done stupid things and that a lot of VA employees had done stupid things. The way they got corrected--the way they got punished--was to be transferred to another VA office. We finally passed a bill whereby if you don’t do your job, if you hurt the people you are there to protect--meaning our vets--then you get fired. You have a 10-day appeal, and then you are through. You don’t get paid forever. You don’t get moved. You don’t get switched around. We make sure you have pure accountability. Because of that, the VA is more responsive today than it has ever been.

“With that, we had to put in whistleblower protection to allow our vets who find out something is going wrong but who are afraid to say something to have the protection that everybody has with whistleblower laws we have passed.

“The third biggest problem we had and the number one headache we have is seeing to it that veterans’ benefits are timely and that they get a good appeal. The timeliness in approving veterans’ applications for that had gone to as much as a year and a half to two years before they had gotten decisions.

“Now we have better accountability with the improved results we are seeing in giving our veterans their benefits and their approvals in a more timely way. I hope, before I leave the Senate, whenever that will be, we will get it down to almost zero. They don’t get the luxury of waiting when they are on the battlefield. They have to pull and fight when they are confronted. So we need to make sure they get that benefit today.

“Lastly and most importantly, as we have said, our veterans are our most important people. We now have the agency focused in the right direction. We have a good [VA] secretary in Secretary Wilkie. We have a good focus in what we are doing, and we have passed the types of acts that are necessary to get a bureaucracy to become a responsible organization. We have seen to it that the benefits we are supposed to protect are not only protected, but are delivered as well.

“Thank you for the time I have been given to address the Senate. I hope all of us go home and remember that our most important people are our veterans.

“Also remember what each of you has done in passing these improvements--seeing to it that the GI bill is now permanent for everybody in that there are no more caps on their time; seeing to it that veterans in the Reserves and veterans on active duty are treated the same; and seeing to it that we have accountability and benefits for our veterans so no one is left behind and so the United States of America will continue to be the greatest country on the face of this Earth.

“I yield the floor.”