Delaney Op-Ed: Helping Veterans Access Medical Leave

Congressman John K. Delaney authored an op-ed on his legislation to help disabled veterans in the Frederick News-Post. The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act […]

Congressman John K. Delaney authored an op-ed on his legislation to help disabled veterans in the Frederick News-Post. The Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act significantly shortens the required period of employment for a disabled veteran to have access to medical leave.

The text of Delaney’s op-ed on the bill is below:

Helping Veterans Access Medical Leave
Rep. John K. Delaney
Frederick News-Post, 11/15/15

Thanks to the courage, sacrifice and service of America’s men and women in uniform, we are blessed to live in the greatest country in the world. From Bunker Hill to Afghanistan, America’s service members have answered the call, defended our country and fought for our values. As a nation, we have a duty to support our veterans when their service ends and we must do everything we can to ensure that they and their families can enjoy a healthy and productive life. That commitment to veterans should be fundamental to who we are and we should be aggressive in correcting any deficiencies in this obligation.

One of the major setbacks impacting the health and prosperity of America’s veterans is managing a disability. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the scope of this issue. According to the Census Bureau, over 3.7 million veterans have a service-connected disability and the percentage of disabled veterans has grown rapidly in the last decade. Here in Maryland, over 66,000 veterans have a service-connected disability, a number larger than the population of many cities and counties in our state.

There is much we should do to support disabled veterans, including continuing to reform and improve the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce wait times and upgrade care, as well as strengthening veterans job-training and educational options. At the same time, one of the most fundamental steps we can take is allowing disabled veterans to take time off from work so that they can receive medical care.

That is why I will introduce the Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act, which significantly shortens the required period of employment for a disabled veteran to have access to medical leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This legislation will help veterans with service-connected medical conditions receive the treatment they need, allow working veterans to continue to support their families and prevent veterans from being forced to delay needed health care procedures simply because they aren’t able to take time off.

In drafting this legislation, I consulted with leading veterans’ organizations and gathered feedback on how we can best tackle this problem. To date, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association and Military Veterans Advocacy have endorsed the Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act. With these renowned organizations supporting the bill, I am hopeful it will receive strong bipartisan support in Congress.

Right now, FMLA, bipartisan legislation that was signed into law in 1993, is the primary law for job-protected unpaid leave. Under the law, employees that work for an FMLA-covered employer (small businesses are exempted) become eligible for job-protected unpaid medical leave after 12 months on the job. For most Americans, this might make sense, but it isn’t appropriate for disabled veterans who often require regular medical care. Under my legislation, veterans who have a service-connected disability rating of 30 to 50 percent would qualify for leave after eight months and those with a disability rating higher than 50 percent would qualify for job-protected medical leave after six months of employment.

I don’t believe that a disabled veteran should have to delay medical treatment for a full year. That’s bad for veterans, bad for their families and bad for our country. While most employers are honored to hire and employ veterans and would work to do the right thing, the Medical Leave for Disabled Veterans Act would ensure that our veterans have access to their necessary medical care.

Veterans bring dedication, professional experience and a wealth of transferable skills to the workplace. To complement their individual value, the federal government also offers economic incentives to businesses to facilitate hiring veterans, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Special Employer Incentives program.

As a signer and supporter of the Veterans Bill of Rights, I believe that elected representatives in Congress have a responsibility to make sure that veterans’ issues remain at the top of the agenda in Washington. My office hears from veterans every day who are having difficulty receiving their benefits — the benefits they’ve earned. Sadly, the frustration of my constituents matches the numerous national reports of massive problems at the VA. The reports are truly appalling, and while most VA employees are dedicated, we simply have to have better results. The Baltimore VA, which processes the majority of claims for Marylanders, has been one of the worst-performing in the country.

For this reason, I’ve supported significant VA reforms and supported the new Veterans’ Choice Program, which allows veterans to receive private care. I believe this program should be expanded. I’ve also fought for increased federal funding for Fisher House, a nonprofit that provides free lodging near hospitals for military families. If any veteran or their family needs help with a claim or needs an advocate, I encourage them to contact my office immediately.

With all the difficulties that many disabled veterans face, the last thing we should do is give them another hurdle. Let’s make sure that disabled veterans are able to take time off to see their doctor and receive the medical care they need.