Report by Paula Antolini
April 6, 2017 3:39PM EDT
Photo: Rep. Esty meeting with the new VA Secretary, David Shulkin.
Congresswoman Esty Update: What She Is Doing to Advocate for Connecticut Veterans
Message from Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty:
April 6, 2017
|Working on behalf of those in Connecticut and across the country who have worn the uniform in defense of our freedom is one of my greatest honors as a representative. Two months ago, I was elected to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and named the lead Democrat on the subcommittee charged with overseeing benefits and compensation. I want to take this opportunity to update you on what I’ve been doing to advocate for the almost 40,000 veterans living across central and northwest Connecticut.
I’ve heard from veterans throughout Connecticut who are suffering from serious health complications that were likely caused by burn pits. Burn pits are areas on military bases where waste is incinerated, causing toxic fumes to be released into the atmosphere. Three weeks ago, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and I introduced the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act. Our bill creates a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions related to exposure to burn pits. We cannot repeat our shameful inaction after the Vietnam War, when the government failed to acknowledge the terrible toll of Agent Orange on our service members.
Today, there are more than 2 million American women who have worn the uniform in service to this nation, and they face unique obstacles to care in a VA system that was designed primarily for men. I joined with Republican and Democratic colleagues to announce the Deborah Sampson Act, which improves services and access at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for women veterans. Women have been serving in our Armed Forces since Deborah Sampson donned a man’s uniform in order to join the fight for American independence in the Revolutionary War. Our bill addresses gender disparities at the VA to ensure that women veterans receive the quality care they have earned through their service, including vital benefits like maternity and mental health care. Our bill is especially important now as women are the fastest growing group of veterans.
Like their loved ones who wore the uniform, veteran caregivers make huge sacrifices on behalf of our nation, but too many aren’t getting the support they need. That’s why Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) and I introduced the Caregivers Access and Responsible Expansion (CARE) for All Veterans Act. Currently, the VA Assistance to Family Caregivers program is only available to veterans injured in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001. I have heard from Connecticut veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and other eras about what a difference it would make to have access to this invaluable assistance. Our bill expands access to the veteran caregivers program to veterans of all service eras.
Finally, we must take action to stop the suicide crisis that is gripping our veterans community. Every day in this country, approximately 20 former service members take their own lives. The loss of just one of these heroes to suicide is one too many. I’m working with Democrats and Republicans to make veteran suicide prevention a federal budget priority. Last week, 123 of my colleagues and I sent a letter to House leaders requesting a minimum of $173 million in funding next year to address the veteran suicide crisis. These funds would be used for critical support services, including a 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line, in-person counseling, tele-mental health services, and resources for family caregivers.
I want to hear from you if you have ideas about how we can best support our veterans and repay them for their service to our nation. Also, if you or anyone you know is having difficulty obtaining benefits or any other problem with a federal agency, my office is here to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me by email or by phone at 860-223-8412. For additional information on my work in Congress, please sign up for my e-newsletter. You can also visit my Facebook page for updates throughout the week.
Elizabeth Henderson Esty is the U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s 5th congressional district, having been elected on November 6, 2012, and re-elected both in 2014 and 2016. She is a member of the Democratic Party.