On Veterans Day, Americans come together to honor and thank the brave men and women who have risked their lives to protect our nation's values.
It is a particularly special occasion for North Carolina, a state blessed with a rich military tradition. Nearly 10 percent of North Carolinians are veterans, and we are home to Fort Bragg, the largest military installation in the free world, the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Army Airfield and the nation's Global Response Force.
While we all share a tremendous pride for our military and those who have answered the call of duty, we also know that merely lavishing words of praise on our veterans isn't enough. Our nation has made promises to provide our veterans with quality health care and work and educational opportunities upon their return home. However, the unfortunate reality is that we have fallen far short in repaying America's collective debt of gratitude.
Veterans continue to face unacceptable wait times at VA clinics. The VA's offering of mental health care services and resources has been wholly insufficient in meeting the demands of those who served. Additionally, in the midst of a rapidly evolving workforce that has grown increasingly competitive, Washington has fallen short in providing 21st century job training and educational choices for veterans.
Make no mistake, while I've expressed my fair share of frustrations and criticisms of the Obama Administration and the VA system, I also know that fulfilling our promises to veterans requires bipartisan ideas, collaboration and execution.
That is the approach I have taken during my brief time as a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. One of the first things I did was visit all of North Carolina's VA Medical Centers in Fayetteville, Asheville, Durham, and Salisbury, where I met with facility leaders and staff, and personally received first-hand updates from veterans on wait times and other challenges facing the VA system.
I have worked with my colleagues across party lines to author and support legislation that holds the VA accountable and improves the lives of veterans. I have also developed a close relationship with VA Secretary Robert McDonald, and together we have formed a working group to create a long-term strategic vision for the VA that focuses on the implementation of efficiency-focused solutions that will improve the speed and quality of care.
We have seen some progress in Washington over the past year. The Senate took a necessary step toward prioritizing mental health care services for veterans by passing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention For American Veterans Act, a bill that I co-sponsored. The legislation, which was signed into law by President Obama, directs the Secretary of the VA to conduct annual evaluations of mental health care and suicide prevention programs and then make any necessary improvements.
Additionally, I've teamed up with my colleague Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a Democrat, to introduce a series of commonsense bills aimed at increasing access to affordable and quality education for veterans and their immediate family members. This week, I will be introducing another bill with Sen. Brown that will help modernize parameters of programs covered by VA education benefits to include online programs.
Supporting our veterans will always be among my top priorities as your Senator. Any veteran in North Carolina who is having an issue with the VA - whether it's facing an unacceptably long time to get an appointment, or receiving substandard care or service - should immediately contact my regional field office by calling 919-856-4630 or emailing me on my website at tillis.senate.gov. Members of my staff are ready and willing to help you navigate through the red-tape at the VA to help ensure you receive the care you have need.
This Veterans Day, let us not only thank our veterans, but also recommit ourselves to providing them with the care and opportunities they have earned. We can and must do better to repay the brave patriots who have given us all so much.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, is a member of both the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee.