It’s hard to imagine what can happen in a year, and the last one went by in the blink of an eye.
Only a year ago, Senator Mark Kelly took his oath of office to fill the remainder of Senator John McCain’s term, and even with his short time in Congress, the former U.S. Navy pilot and space shuttle commander has been one of the more high-achieving freshmen in recent memory.
He was the deciding vote to pass the American Rescue Plan, ensuring more relief for Arizona workers and small businesses and making sure vaccines became available for everyone.
But on top of his work to revive Arizona’s economy and fix our crumbling infrastructure, he’s been boldly out front for a key constituency in Arizona: veterans, like me, of the U.S. Armed Forces.
When young Americans sign up to join the military, our country makes a promise to look out for them and their families during our service and after. Unfortunately, our country hasn’t always lived up to that promise.
Nearly a decade ago, bureaucrats so terribly mismanaged the Phoenix VA Hospital that Congress had to step in, and the VA Secretary had to step down. Our own Senator John McCain was a key negotiator of the Veterans Choice Act signed into law by President Obama to make sure veterans aren’t hamstrung by the VA when they desperately need care.
The veterans I know want to make sure that we never have to experience that again. Now Senator Mark Kelly is walking the same path trodden by Senator McCain and doing his part to ensure that veterans always get the care they need. That’s why he sponsored the VA Quality Care Accountability and Transparency Act to provide more reporting on staff vacancies, patient wait times and improve the quality of care. That bill unanimously passed through the Senate VA Committee in July, and we urge our members in the House to support it so we can get it done.
Senator Kelly has also been a leader in ensuring that veterans, and active duty service members, get the mental health services they need. Even before the pandemic, 17 veterans a day were taking their own lives. That is an absolute tragedy, and our country must address veteran and military suicide with the seriousness it deserves.
Senator Mark Kelly introduced the Brandon Act to destigmatize the mental health care needs of service members. The Brandon Act would make sure service members get mental health services as soon as they’re needed without fear of reprisal from their superiors, working to prevent suicide and other long-term consequences associated with lack of treatment.
And Senator Kelly is not only focused on Arizona’s biggest population centers: he’s working to ensure veterans living in rural communities like my hometown of Globe in Gila County can access the care they need. He’s working on converting an underused U.S. Forest Service building in the town of Young into a veterans retreat and community center to serve the nearly 5,500 veterans who live in Gila County.
Arizona veterans earned benefits connected to our military service. We deserve the guarantee of the promise that we will get the treatment we need. That doesn’t always happen, and we count on advocates to fight for us when we finish fighting for our country. Senator Mark Kelly has proven to be an advocate Arizona veterans can rely on in just a year in office, one that makes our country better every day at living up to its promise to take care of veterans when they come home.
Brett Hunt is a veteran of the U.S. Army who served combat tours in Iraq and Kuwait.