Tales of the McCabe: Bergman, Mace Bill Protects, Expands Trump-Era VA Reforms

One of President Donald J. Trump’s most significant accomplishments in his first term was overhauling the Veterans Affairs Department, specifically reforming and upgrading medical care for veterans.

Central to those Trump reforms was the policy that allowed veterans to seek treatment in the private economy when treatment was unavailable or not timely at the veteran’s local V.A. health facility, with the 2017 Veterans Choice Act and then the 2018 MISSION Act.

For the first time, veterans were empowered to participate with their V.A. medical professionals in their medical plans, and the whole V.A. mindset changed as vets were no longer expected to drive more than 30 minutes for routine care or wait more than 20 days for routine care appointments.

As a veteran myself, I have been fortunate to have had relatively easy access to Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities and care throughout my black-market journalism career. However, access to a private sector alternative is critical for many veterans’ well-being. 

A similar transition toward private sector options for veterans has been happening in the disability benefits space. 

Traditionally, so-called “Veterans Service Organizations,” like the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion, staffed local veteran support offices and were available to veterans struggling to navigate the V.A.’s disability claims bureaucracy. 

However, these VSO representatives, many of whom are unpaid volunteers, have been increasingly overwhelmed by the demand for help from veterans – a problem worsened following the passage of the PACT Act in 2022, which significantly expanded disability benefits for some veterans. The result is that many veterans around the country have been unable to get the help they need to file their claims.

Private sector services have stepped in to fill the void. These companies, many run by veterans and former V.A. employees, help disabled veterans file claims and get the right disability rating from the agency. This saves the veteran from having to hire an expensive attorney to appeal their rating and wait additional months or years to get what they are owed.  

What works for the veterans, though, does not necessarily work for the VSOs and the attorneys, who are watching the private services work their side of the street. Apparently fearing a loss to their customer base, these VSOs and attorneys have been lobbying Congress to ban the use of private companies. 

Capitol Hill Democrats, led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), are championing their cause by pushing the GUARD VA Benefits Act. This bill would effectively make private benefit services illegal. 

Bergman, Mace sponsor the PLUS for Veterans Act

On the other side, Capitol Hill conservatives, led by Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI), a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), are working to extend Trump-era reforms by introducing legislation that would allow private services to continue helping veterans with their disability claims. 

The Bergman and Mace bill, H.R. 1822, the PLUS for Veterans Act, is now in the House Veterans Committee awaiting action. 

Mace, the daughter of an Army general and the first female graduate of The Citadel said the bill was crafted to address concerns about private companies operating in this area while preserving their role in helping veterans. 

“This legislation is a testament to our commitment to honoring the sacrifices and service of our brave men and women in uniform,” Mace said.  

“The PLUS Act ensures veterans can access the benefits and services they deserve without unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, streamlining the process and providing them with the support they need,” she said. 

“It also ensures bad actors who take advantage of veterans are severely punished,” she said. “We are committed to working towards a system which properly takes care of those who have served our country.”

At the bill’s introduction, Grover Norquist, the president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, said he opposes what the Democrats are trying to do to private services—and wants the action to be in the other direction.

“Congress should be focused on removing government barriers to an overly complicated V.A. process; instead, Democrats want to ban an entire industry that helps veterans navigate the federal government to get access to their benefits,” Norquist said.

“Bergman’s bill protects veterans’ rights while acting as a safeguard against such heavy-handed bans on the private sector,” he said. “ATR urges every Member of Congress to support this bill.”

Speaking as a veteran of two overseas tours, this is madness.

Just leaning back from my keyboard, I am thinking of three or four of my battle buddies who used private services to make their V.A. disability claims dress-right-dress. 

For these Joes, it was not just about getting the help they needed; it was also about saving the time these cases take up—and making things right for the rest of their lives, which could not start as long as they were fighting with the V.A.

Veterans want to put their fighting days behind them.

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