Every American owes every individual who has served in the U.S. military a huge debt of gratitude. As a grateful nation, the United States of America must never fail to honor those who risk their lives in its defense, to recognize their sacrifices nor to provide them with every benefit to which they are entitled following their time of service, including education, disability, survivor, home loan, and memorial service assistance, as well as the best healthcare available. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is charged with this moral responsibility and must be held to the highest standards of excellence in fulfilling its duties.

At times in our history, our nation has shamefully failed to fulfill these sacred obligations to our former men and women in uniform. Both during and after the War in Vietnam America neither appropriately nor adequately honored its service members, who faithfully answered its call to arms during such a difficult time. More recently, the VA has been derelict in its duty to provide timely and needed health services, especially to those who served in the War Against Terrorism. Disgracefully, in recent years thousands of veterans have died during prolonged waiting periods to see a doctor or to receive necessary medical care, with little action taken by VA officials to remedy the situation. This, along with a decidedly anti-military attitude displayed by the previous administration, also created a sense of hopelessness among many vets, resulting in an unprecedented suicide rate among their ranks. This is completely unacceptable.

We believe that VA leadership and employees must be held accountable for these failures, and support congressional efforts to make it easier to fire those responsible. We also believe that in order to improve its service to our veterans, VA’s senior leadership positions should be held by presidential appointees rather than career bureaucrats. It should go without saying that our vets—especially our wounded warriors—whether still in service or discharged, deserve the best medical care available for whatever injuries or disabilities they suffer during active duty, including the loss of limbs, mental health issues, multiple traumas, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some of these conditions require a new commitment of targeted resources and personnel for treatment and care to advance recovery. This includes allowing veterans to utilize both medical and psychological health facilities in their local communities—not just those provided by the VA—especially when distance and/or wait times make prompt VA care prohibitive. In addition, greater steps need to be taken to reduce and prevent suicides among our hurting veterans. No vet who calls a VA Suicide Hot Line should ever be kept waiting. Those suffering psychological or emotional trauma should also have direct access to military chaplains of their religious preference, as well as to secular or faith-based counselors, who are readily accessible to them.