MEMO: Bustos a Strong Advocate for Illinois Veterans since Taking Office

During her 18 months in office, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos has been a strong advocate for the veterans that call Illinois’ 17th Congressional District home.  Bustos has made our veterans a top priority, crisscrossing the region on several veterans’ listening tours to hear their concerns and fighting relentlessly to expand and protect the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.  She has led efforts to help create jobs for veterans, cut down the VA claims backlog and provide strong oversight of the VA health system, and as we head into the dog days of summer, we wanted to highlight some of those efforts:

Jobs for Veterans

Last year, Bustos joined with Republican Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08) to introduce the bipartisan Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act that would help put veterans back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, tunnels and rail lines.  She also helped introduce the Troop Talent Act of 2013, which would improve the alignment of specialty skills acquired in the military with civilian certifications or licenses required for post-service employment and offered an amendment to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act that would have made it easier to connect veterans, many of whom already have security clearances, with jobs in the cybersecurity field. 

With input she gained from her “Standing up for our Veterans” tour last fall, Bustos spearheaded a new effort to create jobs for our nation’s veterans by introducing the Jobs for Heroes Act.  This bill would not only extend, but expand two expiring federal business tax credits designed to spur veteran employment.  Additionally, every career fair Bustos has hosted has granted veterans early admission and her office organized a special veterans’ benefits workshop to help connect local veterans with the important resources in their communities.

Bustos is a member of the Veterans Congressional Fellowship Caucus and has hired veterans in both her Illinois and Washington, D.C. Congressional offices.  

Taylor Morris Act

In March, Bustos and Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced the Taylor Morris Act in an effort to ensure that veterans who suffer multiple severe injuries while serving the United States in the line of duty are treated fairly upon their return home.

Current compensation for injuries sustained in combat is capped at $100,000, meaning that a servicemember with two amputated limbs may receive the same payment as a servicemember who has lost all four limbs—despite the much greater financial hardship and longer recovery.  The Taylor Morris Act, named for an heroic quadruple amputee from the region who was injured in Afghanistan, would remove that cap so payments are appropriate to the injuries sustained.  

Oversight of Veterans Affairs Administration

Bustos, deeply troubled by the reported misconduct at VA health centers across the country, was pleased that U.S. Attorney General Holder heeded her call to open a criminal investigation of the agency.  She has also taken steps to end the practice of rewarding VA administrators with bonuses.    

Since the discovery of this misconduct, Bustos made it a priority to get detailed personal briefings from each of the three VA hospital administrators that serve Illinois’ 17th District and has made in person visits to all six VA Community Based Outpatient Clinics that serve her region, where she reviewed the scheduling procedures and heard first-hand from patients about their care.  She is committed to continuing this oversight on an on-going basis to get to the bottom of any possible shortcomings in the care our veterans are receiving.

She also supported the bipartisan Veteran Access to Care Act, which will expand veterans’ ability to seek care at non-VA facilities under certain conditions and strengthens Congress’ oversight of the VA.

A Strong Advocate for all Our Veterans

Bustos has been a leader on veterans’ issues in Congress.  She led a group of 37 Members of the House of Representative in calling for veterans to be protected during the government shutdown, and recently organized 116 Members of Congress to call on leaders of both the Senate and House to keep Congress in session during August until compromise legislation to address veterans’ health care could be worked out and voted on.

Additionally, during her time in office, Bustos has worked to cut down on the growing VA claims backlog, protect veterans education and job training programs and put an end to military sexual assault.  She has also worked to protect whistleblowers within the agency and create incentives for doctors and other health care providers to work for the VA in order to cut down patient wait times as well as supported initiatives to end veterans’ homelessness, better treat and prevent PTSD and crack down on the unscrupulous growing industry of predatory “pension advances” targeting veterans.  Furthermore, she fought for veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits overseas, led an effort to help ensure American flags purchased with taxpayer dollars are made in America and fought to repeal cuts to military retiree cost-of-living adjustments.

She also participates in the Library of Congress’ “Veterans History Project” that seeks to collect, preserve and present the personal stories of American veterans.  She frequently greets veteran Honor Flights both in Illinois and Washington, D.C. and recently supported a bill that would make travel to Washington, D.C. easier and more comfortable for Honor Flight Veterans.  She also continues to help local veterans and their families obtain replacement military medals.

Finally, Bustos participated in a bipartisan women’s Congressional delegation (CODEL) over Mother’s Day Weekend to Afghanistan.  During the CODEL, Bustos received a firsthand look at a region that is vital to both American and international security, meeting with Illinois National Guard members and active-duty service members in addition to U.S. and Afghan military and diplomatic leaders.  She also delivered Mother’s Day cards to the servicemembers made by students at Andalusia Elementary School in Andalusia.