Op-Ed by U.S. Senator Mark Pryor On Honoring Arkansas’s Veterans

As our nation celebrates Veterans Day, we have the opportunity to reflect upon the enormous sacrifices our servicemen and women have made and continue to make every day to protect our freedoms. This holiday also gives us a chance to renew our commitment to taking care of our veterans, who risked their lives to take care of us.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have been proud to help increase funding to improve services and facilities for veterans this year. In the annual spending bill currently before the Senate, we have placed a significant emphasis on addressing both the medical needs of our aging veterans as well as emerging needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, we have made significant investments in services for veterans living in rural areas, including more mobile clinics, rural health consultations, and tele-health initiatives. These steps enable the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide the high-quality, tailored services that our nation’s veterans deserve and have earned.

I have also been closely working with the VA to ensure our veterans receive the best services in the most efficient way possible. The VA does a great job providing care and benefits to our veterans, but structural inefficiencies can reduce the quality of these programs and make it harder for veterans to get the services they need. During a congressional hearing this summer, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki testified that he needed congressional authority to hire high-ranking officials who could focus solely on the department’s financial management activities. He assured me that this authority, if granted, would allow the VA to concentrate more of its resources on delivering services to veterans.

In July of 2009, I introduced the Veterans Administration Efficiency Act, which supports the department’s efforts to streamline its operations in order to better serve veterans and protect taxpayer dollars. The legislation consolidates acquisition, logistics and program management activities into one office under a newly-established Assistant Secretary who will oversee the agency’s financial management and procurement practices. The VA purchases approximately $13 billion in products and services every year, and will benefit from a central office charged with ensuring consistent, sound and properly prioritized spending decisions.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee recently held a hearing discussing the VA Efficiency Act, and the bill received an encouraging response. Officials from both the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) gave the legislation positive reviews, and it is expected to pass the Committee before the end of the year.

Legislation like the VA Efficiency Act is an important part of America’s commitment to honor and respect our veterans, and I will continue to fight to ensure these men and women’s needs are met. This Veterans Day, remember to express your thanks to the veterans in your community, and keep them in your thoughts and prayers throughout the year.