Benishek: Veterans issues trump term limit pledge

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek

Imagine the Washington agency tasked with helping our veterans telling someone to “go away and never come back.”

Unbelievable, right? But that is what one Vietnam veteran was told by the VA in 1967. Nearly 50 years later, he came to our Veterans Assistance Fair at the Cheboygan National Guard Armory and finally received the help and support he deserved. At the same fair, we helped a 92-year-old World War II bomber pilot obtain a health card so after seven decades, he could finally have access to the benefits that he had earned.

While I’m glad we were able to help these two, I wish I could say their stories were the exceptions. However, the Veterans Administration in Washington continues to fail our heroes returning home from war. As the only member from Michigan on the House Veterans Committee, I’m working to confront these issues and hold the bureaucrats at the VA accountable for failing our veterans. In fact, as chairman of the Subcommittee on Veterans Health, we’ve already uncovered incompetent leadership, billions of wasted spending and inadequate policies that hampered caregivers.

These problems took years, if not decades, to create and I realize the solutions won’t come about overnight. But we can no longer accept the VA’s word that changes are happening. We must follow through and hold them accountable.

Recently I was asked if I intended to seek another term in Congress. To keep working in Congress for our veterans, and everyone in the 1st District, would mean breaking a pledge I made when I first ran. In that campaign, I stated my support for term limits, saying, “three terms and you’re retired seems about right to me.”

But I also hate to walk away from a challenge, especially when I’ve worked in the Iron Mountain VA for 20 years as a surgeon, serving one veteran at a time, to now having the ability to serve millions of veterans every day as a leader on veterans’ issues in the House. My training as a physician taught me to never walk away from a patient and I can’t start now.

It may feel like last year’s campaigns just ended, and they have. But the questions about whether I am considering running again are valid and I felt it was necessary to explain my reasoning and address this now so that we can move past the political discussions and continue to focus on the issues facing families in northern Michigan.

While I do support term limits, I believe for them to be effective they must apply the same to every member of Congress.

A career in Washington is not what I’m looking for, because I already have one — serving the U.P. as a doctor for 30 years. What being a member of Congress has allowed me to do, though, is serve our veterans and the families of northern Michigan.

My focus has been on helping to provide an environment that will get government out of the way of job creators and allow our economy to grow. We’ve worked to bring businesses, educators and the community together to improve and expand vocational education opportunities for individuals so they can gain the skills needed to secure good paying jobs.

My position on the House Agriculture Committee has given me the chance to work hand in hand with our farming community to strengthen and support their operations. And we have achieved bipartisan success in helping our outdoor economy by protecting Sleeping Bear Dunes, improving access to our forests, and recognizing the vital role the Great Lakes play in our everyday life.

Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, represents Michigan’s 1st District.