Helping Working Disabled Veterans Get the Care They Need

America's disabled veterans answered our country's call and when their time in uniform is done, our country must stand with them. One of the key issues all veterans face is making the transition to a civilian career, and for veterans who need extra medical attention this can be even more difficult.

Last week, I filed bipartisan legislation with my colleague Congressman Chris Gibson to expedite protected medical leave eligibility for disabled veterans. Congressman Gibson served in the Army for 24 years and completed four combat tours in Iraq, and I'm proud to work with him on this critical issue. Our bill, The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, has a straightforward goal that the American people overwhelmingly support: helping working disabled veterans receive health care and provide for their families.

Under current law, disabled veterans -- as well as all other workers at businesses with over 50 employees -- become eligible for job-protected unpaid medical leave only after they have been employed for a year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Given that disabled veterans often have additional health care needs, this can make working difficult. This problem was brought to my attention by a constituent, who shared his story with my office. As we did more research and spoke with veterans advocates, it became clear this was a major problem across the state and nationwide. While many employers do the right thing and provide flexible schedules for disabled veterans, I felt that it was important to provide all disabled veterans with a solution that would help them have access to medical leave.

Here's how our bill works: we accelerate the eligibility process for disabled veterans. Under the Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, disabled veterans will no longer have to wait a year to be guaranteed the time off they need. Instead, veterans with a disability rating of 30-50% will be able to take medical leave after eight months on the job and veterans with a disability rating of over 50% can do so after six months. I think this is the right thing to do, striking a proper balance.

The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association and the Military Veterans Advocacy. In crafting this legislation we worked closely with veterans groups and received their input on how to improve the bill. I am humbled and honored to have their support. When these organizations speak, Congress should listen.

More broadly, when you speak with Maryland veterans you understand that they deserve better service from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The wait times are too long, it's still too difficult to navigate the bureaucracy and it can be needlessly difficult to have claims resolved. This is a national scandal and every lever of the federal government should be used to improve service at the VA, from legislative reforms, additional funding and holding poor managers accountable. The American people are both united and angry on this point and have demanded better. There are many truly dedicated VA staff that are trying to do the right thing and serve veterans, but systemic failures are hurting their ability to do their job. We have to solve this problem.

In addition to supporting VA reform and The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, I am also working to make sure that the federal budget reflects our national values and supports worthy veterans initiatives. This year I have led the effort to increase funding for the Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit that provides free lodging near military and VA hospitals for military families. Since 1991 over 250,000 families have benefited from Fisher House, which offers apartment-style family-friendly lodging. Each of the last four years I have fought for Fisher House, because I believe no veteran's family should have to choose between being together at the hospital and paying their bills. After two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need is growing and Fisher House would like to build new facilities around the country, so that they can help more families.

To date, over 30 Members of Congress have signed on to cosponsor The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, and I will continue to work to build support for this effort in the House. Despite all the dysfunction in Washington, I believe that when it comes to helping veterans and keeping our fundamental promises as a country, we can come together and do the right thing.

Lastly, if you or a family member need help with VA benefits please do not hesitate to contact our office. We can help.