U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., brought back his 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.
Back in 2016, Yoho and then U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., pushed the “Working to Integrate Networks Guaranteeing Member Access Now Act” (WINGMAN). That 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 2016 without opposition and Yoho was able to get it through the U.S. House back in February 2017 but he wasn’t able to get it across the finish line over in the U.S. Senate. 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.
Yoho brought the bill back last week with more than 60 cosponsors in the House.
“The interaction between congressional offices and the VA, on behalf of our nation’s veterans, should be seamless. 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,” Yoho said when reintroduced the bill. “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- at the very least- information about the 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.
“I am hopeful that members of the 116th Congress will prioritize reforming the veteran claims process and pass this commonsense bill, which has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the past. I want to thank all of my colleagues for their support and for helping to enact changes that are so desperately needed to help our veterans and their families,” Yoho added.
Crist, Lawson, Rooney, Rutherford and freshman U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., have signed up as cosponsors of the bill.
So far, there is no Senate sponsor. Back in 2016, Republican U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mark Kirk of Illinois, who was defeated that year, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota championed the bill but it failed to cross the finish line in the Senate.