Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Every day, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide. Some even take their lives in the parking lots of VA hospitals and clinics, waiting for care they desperately need.

Every election year, we hear the same rhetoric from politicians, young and old: We’re going to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs, show respect toward the ones who have served and restore veterans’ honor.

But nothing ever changes. The VA is as broken as it’s ever been. Congress has done next to nothing to help those returning from war zones. Veterans are still dying at an alarming rate.

The health care system for veterans is a gantlet to navigate. And many of our service men and women remain on the streets with nowhere to turn. America is quitting on the very men and women who pledged they would never quit on us.

Veterans and their families need revolutionary changes in their health care and resources available to them. We can first start by holding congressional members accountable. If I’m elected to Congress, the first piece of legislation I will propose will be to require every member of Congress and their staff to go on the veteran health care plan. If it’s good enough for our veterans, that means it’s good enough for our congressional leaders.

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Second, I will call on Secretary Robert Wilkie to take action against providers who have a history of misconduct. Recently, the Government Accountability Office found Veterans Health Administration facilities are hiring providers who have a long histories of misconduct. Americans’ taxpayer money should not be awarded to providers who repeatedly violate our rules and principles.

As a member of Congress, I would also bring forward legislation that consolidates the VA’s 1,200 facilities. These places lack critical components of highly effective care. The government should be investing in state-of-the-art video and digital technology to ensure every veteran has immediate access to care and specialized expertise, regardless of where they live and the condition they have. We must reduce low-volume, poorly staffed locations.

We also must focus on rural care for our veterans. Let’s face it: Many veterans live hundreds of miles away from a VA facility or provider. Rural care should be privatized so that communities can adequately serve their populations and get the red tape out of veteran health care.

As someone whose 24-year military career began as a private on active duty and ended with retirement as a lieutenant colonel in the reserves, I know the sacrifices made by our veterans to ensure we all live safe, fulfilling lives. We should show our gratitude to our service men and women by fixing a broken health care system, connecting them to the right resources when they return home and putting our money where our mouth is to fund the VA.

It’s time to stop putting out talking points that move voters in our corner every two years and start pushing through policies that change lives.

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Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican state senator from Ottumwa, is seeking the GOP nomination in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District.