Sunshine State News: Ted Yoho's WINGMAN VA Reform Proposal Passes House
On Monday, the U.S. House passed U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho’s, R-Fla., proposal to increase access for congressional staffers to have access to help clear the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) backlog on a voice vote.
Last year, Yoho and then U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., pushed the “Working to Integrate Networks Guaranteeing Member Access Now Act” (WINGMAN). Early last year, the two Florida congressmen and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., sent a letter to then U.S. VA Sec. Robert McDonald, urging him to give congressional staffers’ read only access for VA benefit matters. The congressmen insisted this would give congressional staffers more information and would help ease frustrations from constituents and brought that proposal into the legislative arena with the WINGMAN Act. The U.S. House Veterans Affairs passed the bill back in September without opposition.
More than 130 co-sponsors lined up in the House behind the proposal which passed by a voice vote in early December. But the bill did not pass the Senate, meaning Yoho had to bring it back which he did last month.
With Murphy now out of the House after his failed U.S. Senate bid, Yoho turned to Davis and two Democrats--John Delaney of Maryland and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona--to serve as his main co-sponsors.
“I am pleased the House has moved swiftly in passing this bipartisan bill that helps our nation’s veterans,” Yoho said on Monday after the House passed his bill. “I want to thank the committee staff for their diligence and help on this piece of legislation, as well as the co-leads of this bill – Representatives Rodney Davis, Kyrsten Sinema, and John Delaney.
“The interaction between congressional offices and the VA, on behalf of our veterans, should be seamless,” Yoho added. “It is unacceptable that extended periods of time pass by before congressional offices are able to receive the files they’ve requested from the VA to help veterans. No service member should have to wait to receive benefits they have more than earned. Our veterans and their families who have served in the defense of our country deserve a timely turnaround when filing their benefits claims.
"As a country, we can and must do better by our veterans and their families,” Yoho concluded. “WINGMAN will not get rid of the claims backlog or solve all of the problems. What it will do, however, is make the process of helping our veterans easier. Our veterans have answered the call to protect us and the freedoms we enjoy every day. It is only right that we do all we can to support and care for them in a timely manner."
The bill had more than 170 sponsors in the House including 15 from the Sunshine State: Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and John Rutherford and Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson and Darren Soto.
Crist cheered the bill’s passage on Monday and urged the Senate follow suit.
"We owe our veterans the very best service,” Crist said. “By making this important change to the claims process, we can empower congressional offices to better assist veteran constituents. After receiving unanimous support in the House, I hope the Senate takes up the WINGMAN Act without delay to better serve our nation's heroes."
Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) went to bat for the bill on Monday, urging House members to pass it.
“Veterans currently face unacceptably long wait times for information on their disability benefits claims, and as it stands now, their elected officials are often hampered by bureaucracy when try to help them,” CVA Policy Director Dan Caldwell said. “By allowing congressional staffers to access records from VBA's database, members of Congress can better address their constituents issues and get the claims process moving at a faster speed.”
Last year, Republican U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mark Kirk of Illinois, who was defeated in November, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota championed the bill but it failed to cross the finish line in the Senate.