During August, Iâ€™ll visit constituents throughout the vast 23rd District of Texas. Iâ€™ll make my way from El Paso to Eagle Pass to San Antonio to Fort Stockton and everywhere in between.
August is the time that Congress escapes the heat and humidity of Washington for the quiet and comfort of home.
I love spending time with family, friends, and of course, constituents; however, Iâ€™m not happy that Congress is taking the month of August off.
Before taking a break, Congress has a lot of work to do. It should stay in town and finish its work.
The only real thing Congress has done â€“ or at least nearly done â€“ is taking a first step towards solving the crisis at the VA.
As I write this column on Tuesday, a deal has been struck amongst Senate and House negotiators regarding the Veterans Access to Care Act. I expect to vote on it before the end of the week.
In all honesty, Congress had to take some serious action to ensure veterans got the medical care they earned, need, and deserve. Medical care for veterans is more than a commitment; I view it as a sacred obligation.
The compromise bill will cost about $17 billion and will help ease wait times at VA health care facilities across the nation, including VA facilities in El Paso, San Antonio and Kerrville.
The bill provides funding for more physicians, nurses, medical care staff and support personnel. Since I come from a rural area far from the nearest VA facility, two other provisions of the bill are critical.
For the first time, rural veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA facility are allowed to receive private care from physicians in their hometowns and cities. And, veterans who have to wait for more than 30 days to see a VA physician can choose to see a private provider, instead.
I had pushed for each of these provisions. In fact, I took part in the floor debate about the hiring of additional health care providers. I also argued fiercely that we needed more VA health care facilities across the country.
A total of 27 VA health care facilities will be added or expanded in this new legislation. Texas is getting new VA health facilities in Waco, Tyler and Lubbock. In addition, the VA health care facility in San Antonio will be expanded.
Lastly, there were a lot of people at the VA who really shouldnâ€™t have been working there. As part of the compromise, the VA can fire employees who have wronged veterans and affected their health care. This is important â€“ those who hurt our veterans must be held accountable.
Since taking office, I have heard the stories of pain, anguish, sadness and anxiety from veterans, their moms, dads, wives, daughters and sons.
Veterans and their families expressed their frustration towards the VA with me. The way things have been done at the VA is appalling. Hopefully, before going on recess,
Congress will take at least this first step in the right direction.
Congress has failed to act on immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, securing the border and a myriad of other things. I expect it will at least do right by veterans.
In the weeks and days to come, donâ€™t be surprised to run into me as I travel the district. I hope to see as many of you as possible. As always, if you need help with a federal issue or agency, please call our offices: (210) 927-4592 in San Antonio; (915) 872-1066 in El Paso; (830) 488-6600 in Del Rio; and (830) 752-1864 in Eagle Pass. Feel free to email me at [email protected]
or visit www.gallego.house.gov.
Itâ€™s an honor to represent you. Please let me know how I can be of service.
U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego, D-Alpine, represents the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.