Here in Alabama’s Second District, we are fortunate to share our portion of the state with two of our nation’s finest military installations: Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery and Fort Rucker down in the Wiregrass. I’m honored to serve our district that is home to these installations, thousands of active duty and reserve personnel, and more than sixteen thousand military retirees.
In fact, according to last year’s federal statistics, our district has the thirteenth largest population of military retirees in the entire country, and many of these men and women were active duty servicemembers. We owe these individuals who have put on the uniform a great debt of gratitude, but unfortunately, our heroes often do not receive proper care.
I’m sure you recall that just a few years ago, the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) was involved in a scandal of epic proportion. Some changes were made and new local leadership was installed, but CAVHCS still ranks as one of the nation’s worst VA medical centers.
To be clear, some veterans have told me that they have had positive experiences receiving care at CAVHCS, and I’m grateful for that, but isn’t this how the standard should be across the board, for every single veteran? Failure to properly treat even one veteran is still failure, and right now, the VA is failing far more than succeeding.
With my position on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, I recently had the opportunity to speak to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie during a hearing. I was grateful to have a direct conversation with him about my concerns with failing VA medical facilities, including our system in Central Alabama.
During the hearing, I introduced myself to Secretary Wilkie and explained the severity of the problems our veterans face in Southeast Alabama. According to the VA’s own data, CAVHCS continues to be a terrible VA health care system, and I am sick and tired of getting status quo answers as to why. The VA’s goal should be for every single system in this country to be the very best it can be for our veterans. But, at CAVHCS, we’re seemingly unable to get even the simple things right, like just saying “hello” and greeting a veteran when they come in for their appointment so they feel valued and like someone cares.
As I told Secretary Wilkie, I am eager to cultivate a strong relationship with him and with his Department so that we can work together to make badly needed improvements at CAVHCS and other health care systems across the country. I also invited him to Southeast Alabama to visit our VA so he can see firsthand what is happening. It’s not working, and it is not the way it should be, so I hope to host him in the Second District soon so that he can see the state of affairs for himself and work with us to make changes.
At the end of the day, my priority is simple. I want to be in public places at home in our district, like church, the grocery store, or restaurants, and have veterans approach me and tell me how wonderful their experiences at the VA are. Instead, I usually speak with men and women, sometimes with tears in their eyes, who have flat out given up hope of ever receiving proper treatment, or in some cases, receiving care at all.
We should be giving veterans the absolute best care available in a timely fashion, and it just is not happening. This is a huge disservice to the men and women who have served us all, and I will not stop making the case to Secretary Wilkie until we get this right. In the meantime, if you are a veteran who needs any kind of assistance with the Department of Veterans Affairs, please contact one of my offices immediately. My staff and I work for you, we are grateful for your service, and we will fight for you.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.