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Sen. Thom Tillis celebrates 2017 successes for service members and veterans

As many prepare to toast to “Auld Lang Syne,” elected officials are taking the end of the year to celebrate successes and plan for 2018.

North Carolina’s U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is no exception.

In a series of emails sent since Tuesday, Tillis has discussed his 2017 accomplishments as a senator as well as his legislative goals for the new year.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Tillis focused on his work on two of the five Senate committees on which he serves, Armed Services and Veterans Affairs. He cited these successes for veterans and service personnel:

  • He co-sponsored the bipartisan Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which included provisions to improve veterans’ experience when using GI Bill education benefits; reinstated lost benefits; and ensured education benefits for veterans, service members and surviving spouses and children.

Tillis said he also secured supplemental impact aid to local education agencies for military dependent children.

  • He co-sponsored the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which protects whistleblowers and allows the VA secretary to fire employees.
  • Tillis said he fought for medical coverage and compensation for Camp Lejeune Marine Corps veterans suffering from medical conditions caused by exposure to contaminated water.

His efforts and those of other officials led to the VA allocating $2.2 billion for compensation payments for exposed veterans. Tillis’ team also sought compensation for exposed family members and contractors.

Tillis said he also secured money or much-needed improvements to Lejeune living quarters.

  • A provision in bipartisan legislation co-introduced by Tillis was included in the Department of Defense budget for 2018. It created a center of excellence in the Department of Veterans Affairs to better understand health effects of burn pits and treat those affected by them.

Tillis also announced plans to improve trauma care at Camp Lejeune early this year and held a hearing about researching, diagnosing and treating traumatic brain injury and concussions among service members.

Tillis co-sponsored the Veteran Apprenticeship and Labor Opportunity Reform Act that was signed into law in November. The bill increases veterans access to apprenticeship programs by streamlining the certification process for nonfederal apprenticeships based in more than one state.

Similarly, Tillis co-introduced legislation that could streamline the process in which service members and veterans can apply for a commercial driver’s license.

The senator held a hearing on service member and military family readiness programs, investigating the need to improve military child care services and expand employment opportunities for military spouses.

He secured $1 million for a pilot program on public-private partnerships for telework facilities on military installations outside the United States, enabling spousal employment.

Tillis looks to the future

In 2018, Tillis said, he will seeek to provide military men and women with support services as they move from active duty to reserve and onward. Support services include job training and acquisition as well medical and psychological care.

“That’s something that’s missing,” Tillis said. “There’s a big gap between your active service and your veteran service, and I want to work on bridging that gap.”

Tillis said the first step is evaluating current programs.

“It’s really taking a look at programs that were well-intentioned but not working and getting more funding and more authorities for programs that are working,” he said.

For the Armed Services Committee, Tillis said the evaluation of programs needs to occur nationwide, not just in North Carolina.

Some current shortcomings, he said, are caused by two factors: layered and inefficient policies in the Department of Defense and congressional impediments.

Tillis cited “near-peer competitors” to the U.S., China and Russia and their ability to develop next-generation capabilities much faster than the U.S.

“There are a lot of inefficiencies … that the (Department of Defense) deals with because it was a good idea and a bad implementation,” he said. “We’ve got to recognize we’ve got to act to free up the Department of Defense to have its full potential.”

 

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