By TIMOTHY SCHUMANN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers joined a bipartisan coalition introducing Congressman Brian Mast’s, D-Fla., Wounded Warrior Bill of Rights Act to “cut through red tape, improve transparency, and increase accountability for wounded warriors.”
The goal of the bill is to ensure veterans are able to effectively appeal decisions about their medical care or medical separation and get a response about their entitled benefits in a timely manner.
“Those who put on the uniform in defense of our country selflessly do so without asking anything in return. We must have their backs when they come home. We have a responsibility to ensure wounded warriors going through the medical separation process are treated fairly with the respect and dignity they’ve earned,” said Rep. McMorris Rodgers in a statement issued by her office accompanying the bill’s introduction.
The bill sponsor Rep. Mast, who put his life on the line for his country, is himself one of those wounded warriors.
“When I was lying in Walter Reed, all of my time and energy was spent on recovery – learning to walk with two prosthetic legs and figuring out how I was going to continue to serve my country kept me plenty busy,” said Rep. Mast in a statement. “The last thing I would’ve had any patience for would have been trying to navigate the bureaucracy of medical separation. I want to make sure no wounded warrior ever gets stuck in this infuriating merry-go-round or is screwed over by nameless, faceless bureaucrats.”
Under the current letter of the law, those bureaucrats are a civilian-run entity known as the Defense Health Agency.
The DHA’s mission statement, according to their own website, is to “[support] our Nation by improving health and building readiness — making extraordinary experiences ordinary and exceptional outcomes routine.”
Currently, the DHA is the entity that has the power to determine if a servicemember is fit to continue military service and what disability benefits they will receive if separated.
Due to this organization being outside the normal command structure, servicemembers often find themselves unable to appeal decisions in an effective and timely manner, leading to outcomes as vague and nonspecific as the DHA’s mission statement.
The Wounded Warrior Bill of Rights would move this authority to adjudicate appeals back into the military chain of command.
“This change will protect the due process rights of wounded veterans by simplifying the appeals process to ensure a fair and speedy decision regarding medical separation decisions and disability benefit entitlement,” said Rep. McMorris Rodgers.
One bill co-sponsor, himself a medical doctor and veteran of the United States Marine Corps, agrees.
“The health of the courageous men and women in our Armed Forces is a top priority. We cannot allow Washington bureaucrats to drown servicemembers in paperwork and obscure rules while they are trying to heal and care for their families,” said Rep. Rich McCormick, R-GA, in a statement.
The bill is also co-sponsored by Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.
When available, the full text of the bill can be found on the 118th Congress legislation tracker.