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Rep. Crow Targets VA Hiring Red Tape, Lagging Vet Suicide Data

Congressman shared thoughts on improving VA Health System during weekend campus event

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What You Need To Know

Colorado Congressman Jason Crow addressed veteran and military health conference attendees at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, sharing his legislative priorities to improve the VA Health System.

Removing red tape in the healthcare hiring process is a top priority for U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, who held a town hall April 23 to discuss pending legislation aimed at improving access and delivery of care for veterans and military service members. 

The forum was part of the second annual Partnerships for Veterans & Military Health Conference at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Acknowledging he was “speaking to the choir,” Crow at the town hall addressed an audience of care providers and leaders from around the nation to exchange knowledge, build connections and help solve healthcare issues faced by veterans and military service members.

CrowINSETU.S. Rep. Jason Crow

Crow, who represents Colorado’s 6th congressional district, including Aurora and parts of Adams and Douglas counties, shared how his personal experience serving in the U.S. Army led him to Washington, D.C.

“My military career started out of economic necessity like it does for many people,” said Crow, who enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard for college tuition assistance.

Before leaving military service in 2006, the former Army Ranger served three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Crow tapped his veterans benefits to attend law school in Colorado, but said he still struggled to make ends meet and ended up working nights and weekends to make up for regular delays in his tuition and stipend. 

“That experience turned me into a veterans advocate because I was on the leading edge of veterans in the 9/11 era,” he said.

Chipping away at bureaucracy

Before running for Congress, Crow primarily worked with veterans transitioning to civilian life. Now in his second term, Crow said improving the healthcare system for veterans is one of his main priorities.

He noted the VA currently has 35,000 to 45,000 vacancies, further compounded by a lengthy hiring and onboarding process, making it harder for veterans to access care. 

“There are amazing providers – many of whom are in this room – willing to earn less working at the VA than they could in the private sector because they love the work,” he said. “They feel passionate about the work and want to serve our veterans, but they're not willing to wait around for six to nine months to get a job.”

Crow discussed a bill he introduced to create a veterans’ access-to-care pilot program among select VA health centers. The pilot would test a process of rapid identification and candidate onboarding, that, if successful, could be scaled across the system. 

“We're going to try to hopefully push this bill through,” he said. “We're working hard on it, but it's hard to get anything done in Congress these days.”

Another priority for the congressman is addressing the high rate of veteran suicides, particularly the lack of data on the number of those deaths occurring on VA campuses. 

“It’s hard to make good policy without good data,” he said, noting he introduced a bill that would require the VA to submit data on these suicides to help determine how to best reduce and prevent them.

Honoring a commitment to veterans

In the Q&A session, Crow fielded several questions, including the ongoing debate regarding VA privatization. Crow said the VA is uniquely positioned to care for veterans because it offers “a kind of 360 (degree) care that you can’t find in the private sector,” and he’s focused on improving the system, not outsourcing.

 “There is an unwritten contract, if you're willing to step up and serve and put your life or limb on the line – or your mental health or your family's health – this country will be here for you,” Crow said. “The moment the country stops satisfying that contract is the moment people stop being willing to do that, and that's a problem, so we have to make sure that we're continuing to make that commitment in the VA.”

He also recognized CU Anschutz for its symbiotic relationship with the Rocky Mountain VA Medical Center and for the campus’ ongoing efforts to support veterans and military service members with numerous programs and services, including the Marcus Institute for Brain Health.

“We have this amazing opportunity on this campus because of the fact that it's unified … and we do take advantage of that in the VA,” Crow said. “There are collaborations and sharing of resources and medical professionals in ways that we don't see on other campuses around the country.”

Guest contributor: Jessica Ennis, special contributor