U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning poses with Bob Gobble, a World War II veteran from North Carolina. North Carolina Veterans' Aid
U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning poses with Bob Gobble, a World War II veteran from North Carolina.

NC’s veterans have been exposed to toxic burn pits and contaminated water. Congress needs to be ready to make it right.

[Editor’s Note: The following is a commentary from U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat elected from North Carolina’s 6th District.]

Earlier this year, I welcomed nearly 100 veterans from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. during the Triad Honor Flight. As we gathered at the World War II Memorial, Bob Gobble, a lively, 99-year-old World War II veteran celebrating his 76th wedding anniversary, shared with me his message to the country and Congress: “We must come together, unite, and always take care of our neighbors.” 

Mr. Gobble’s message should serve as a reminder to us all that we owe it to our veterans to care for one another, to look past partisan divisions, and do more to support the brave service members who protect our freedoms. 

During my first term in Congress, I have seen first-hand the hard work our service members and their families do to protect our freedoms.

I met with troops stationed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, at US Central Command and US Special Operations Command in Tampa, at the VA Clinic in Kernersville, and at Fort Bragg, where I was privileged to serve Thanksgiving dinner to troops and their families.

At each location, I talked with service members who shared their stories of service and sacrifice. I am inspired by the incredible skills, intelligence, and courage our service members have and their remarkable commitment to our country. 

As Sixth District Congresswoman, I’m proud to represent more than 15,000 veterans who live in the Triad and more than 650,000 veterans statewide. I’ve met with veterans throughout the district, and the organizations that serve them, and I’ve heard time and again there is more that we can do to support those who’ve served.

We must increase the resources that help veterans successfully re-enter civilian life, find good jobs, secure affordable housing for their families, and access medical treatment that is timely, affordable, and accessible. 

Since taking office last year, my team and I have closed 187 veterans’ cases, helping veterans to access health care at the VA, receive the benefits they are owed, and award medals of honor for service. I’m pleased that we’ve been able to help so many veterans, but it should not be so difficult for them to get the care they deserve.

I’m committed to advocating for change which is why I’ve spoken with VA Secretary Denis McDonough, and the new Executive Director of the VA’s Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network, Paul Crews to demand solutions and improvements in veterans’ services.

On Memorial Day, I attended a beautiful ceremony at the Carolina Field of Honor in Kernersville to honor fallen American heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I stood with veterans, military families, and active duty service members as we remembered and honored those who gave their lives for our country.

One of my staff members is a Gold Star Mother and having her by my side during the ceremony underscored the mixture of pride and sorrow that military families carry with them not just on Memorial Day, but every day.

We cannot speak of gratitude for service member’s sacrifices and fail to show it. Congress can and must do more to support veterans, active duty service members, and military families. In Washington, D.C., I’ve cosponsored and voted to pass several bills to improve the VA, increase access to VA clinics, invest in mental health care, and increase military pay.

This includes the Honoring Our Pact Act, landmark legislation that would make it easier for veterans exposed to toxins from burn pits and other contaminants to access specialized health care from the VA. This bill also included the Camp Lejeune Justice Act which would allow service members at Camp Lejeune to recover damages from harm sustained because of exposure to contaminated water on base. 

I also cosponsored the STRONG Veterans Act, a comprehensive, bipartisan legislative package which will expand eligibility for more student veterans at veteran centers; provide better suicide prevention resources at the VA for minority veterans; increase and expand VA mental health staffing and training; expand the Vet Center workforce; bolster outreach; and improve the Veterans Crisis Line.

And I’ve cosponsored the Major Richard Star Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide disabled veterans with the full military benefits they deserve, including service-earned retirement and disability compensation from the VA. 

This legislation is an important first step, but we can’t stop there. Last week, I hosted the first meeting of the Sixth District Veterans Working Group. This working group includes veterans, leaders of veteran service organizations, and local government officials, working together to offer ideas and solutions to the challenges impacting veterans, service members, and military families.

We plan to meet regularly so that I can hear from those whose lives have been forever changed by their service to our country. I remain committed to working across the aisle to deliver results on the promises our nation makes to brave service members and veterans whose sacrifices protect our freedoms.

Congresswoman Kathy Manning represents North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District.