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Senate must push VA nominee to strengthen system

How can I support our veterans?

This is the question I get asked more often, by more people, from every walk of life and every part of our country. It speaks volumes about the generosity of a great nation.

Whether it's a teenager from my hometown of Tad, W.Va., or the president of the United States, my answer is the same: Do something good, now, to improve and empower the life of a paralyzed veteran and his or her family.

So when our Capitol Hill lawmakers asked me, "How can we support our veterans?" my answer was plain and simple: Fully fund Veterans Affairs health care and benefits. Do it now, I said. Seriously wounded heroes -- from the Greatest Generation to the latest generation -- shouldn't have to beg for a veterans' health and benefits system that fully meets all of their needs.

Lt. Gen. James B. Peake, the president's nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, will get the opportunity to share with the nation how he will support our veterans during his Senate confirmation hearings.

The general has the opportunity to do something now to support our veterans -- and through leadership, deal with some of the critical long-term problems and challenges that must be addressed to honor and help those who have served, who are serving and who will serve.

If Peake is confirmed, he must use his leadership and influence to help:

Pass the budget bill that contains an increase for veterans' health care now. But the general must do more. He must help lead the charge for mandatory funding of veterans' health care and benefits. What is mandatory funding? It's guaranteed ample funding to meet all of the health care and benefit needs of every veteran -- past, present and future. At the moment, all of their needs are not being fully met.

Implement the good recommendations from the many commissions dealing with veterans' health care, and be a strong independent voice against the bad recommendations that could, in fact, deeply damage a system that in many respects is one of the best in the world.

For example, two good recommendations from the main commissions are the establishment of a single medical examination with a clear delineation of the responsibilities of the Department of Defense and VA and the implementation of a unified medical record system for both departments.

Sustain VA excellence and meet the challenges facing the department head-on. For example, our nation's health care system has a nursing shortage and the VA is no exception. Veterans Affairs must hire and retain more nurses and specialist doctors to fully meet the needs of all our veterans.

This Veterans Day, I would like to express my thanks to every American for doing something good for paralyzed veterans, not just one day a year but year round. We really appreciate the fact that you care.

Randy L. Pleva Sr. is president of Paralyzed Veterans of America.

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