The recent news about the crisis at the VA health system is very troubling to me, and it is clear that these problems need our immediate and persistent attention. During my time in Congress, I have made it a priority to get veterans the quality healthcare they deserve, and I have many times spoken out about the number of veterans who take their own lives. I worry deeply about veterans waiting for the mental health help they need. Too many of these men and women are seeking help that is out of reach, but we now know that the price of not treating all of those in need is too high. I believe that the high suicide rate among our veterans is the ultimate metric of a failed system.
As these systemic problems at our Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country are becoming well publicized, I join with all Americans in speaking out on behalf of those who have given so much to our nation. No veteran should have to wait months for care. Not taking the time and care necessary to provide adequate health care to our veterans reflects poorly upon our nation.
We need to change the VA system in a way that is going to fix this problem and heal our veterans, and we must work to rebuild the trust with veterans and their families. The House of Representatives has taken the first step by passing the Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014, which directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts with non-VA facilities to furnish hospital care and medical services to veterans. In addition, veterans who reside more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility would be provided service in a closer, non-VA facility.
Last year, I introduced the Veterans and Armed Forces' Health Promotion Act of 2013, which would dramatically improve the quality of care that our wounded warriors receive, and propel the VA and the Department of Defense towards innovative healthcare solutions for the complex challenges they face. I believe these integrative approaches can help preemptively address these needs and ultimately create less expensive treatments for long term veteran healthcare.
All of this is possible only if our vets can get appointments and be seen by their doctors in a timely manner. The bottom line is this -- our veterans must be seen and treated properly, in a timely matter. The needs of the veterans should be at the center of this discussion. We need to ask the question: What do our veterans need and how soon can we deliver on those needs? The people who are not dealing with it appropriately need to be held accountable. This has been going on for too long, and it is unacceptable.
The Veterans Health Administration has a long history of outstanding service to our veterans. It has dedicated doctors and nurses, and serves millions of our veterans with the best healthcare the country can provide. But the problem of access to health care for our veterans is primary. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Co-Chair of the Military Mental Health Caucus, I will always advocate to put veterans first. We cannot overlook the fact that the current system is broken and these men and women deserve better quality treatment. We are learning a hard lesson that this issue can no longer be ignored and that improving the wellbeing of these individuals is crucial for the United States of America.
Tim Ryan represents the 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.