Working together to help veterans get benefits

In January 2010, the nation of Haiti was ripped apart by a catastrophic earthquake. We were strangers at the time, arriving from different states and backgrounds — one of us an emergency room doctor from Southern California and the other a U.S. Army colonel from New York — to provide relief to the people of Haiti in the days that followed the disaster.

We witnessed a nation in crisis and working side by side we saw firsthand what Americans are capable of achieving when we come together. Our work in Haiti was a testament to the fact that as Americans, we have far more in common than we have apart.

The only thing that mattered in Haiti was the task at hand: saving as many lives as possible in the aftermath of destruction. It has been more than three years since the tragedy in Haiti enabled us to serve others together. In that time, our separate paths led both of us to the U.S. House of Representatives, one of us serving as the Democratic congressman from California’s 36th District and the other as a Republican congressman from New York’s 19th District. We both came to Congress to improve the lives of the people we serve and to find solutions to the many challenges facing our great nation.

Unfortunately, hyper-partisanship has led to gridlock in Washington — and too many members of Congress are focused on what divides us more than working together.

Never has there been a greater need and a more profound opportunity for members of Congress to work in a bipartisan way to put the American people first. That’s why we both joined the No Labels “Problem Solvers,” a bipartisan coalition of more than 80 members of Congress who meet regularly to build trust across the aisle and come up with solutions.

We believe that building bipartisan relationships with our colleagues will make Congress more effective and efficient. We believe that despite the hyper-partisanship in Washington, we can get things done if we put aside our political differences as Democrats and Republicans and focus on what unites us as Americans. We may not agree on everything, but we can agree on enough to make a difference.

It starts with a simple conversation. When we first sat down for lunch at the Capitol to reconnect, we found immediately that we share a common passion — serving our veterans and eliminating the veterans’ claims backlog.

As a doctor and a soldier, we know we can do better than we’re doing today, and that’s why we teamed up to better help our veterans transition from military to civilian life. Together, we introduced the 21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act. This legislation is part of a longer-term fix. By bridging the gap between the Veterans Affairs electronic health records and Department of Defense electronic health records, this bill will ensure more efficient and effective delivery of veterans’ health care.

To be sure, our bill is only one of many steps we need to take to eliminate the VA backlog and improve care, but it is the kind of common-sense, bipartisan collaboration that our men and women in uniform deserve and the American people want to see.

As we learned in Haiti, we cannot fix everything immediately, but we won’t be able to fix anything unless we work together. Our effort with our No Labels colleagues on the 21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act has shown us what Congress can accomplish. It is our hope now that our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress will join us in becoming part of the solution.

Dr. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from Palm Desert, represents California’s 36th Congressional District. Rep. Ruiz was medical director for the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization and awarded the Commander’s Award for Public Service from the 82nd Airborne in 2010 for his work in Haiti.

Col. Chris Gibson, a Republican, represents New York’s 19th Congressional District. Rep. Gibson served as the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne, which provided emergency relief in the aftermath of the earthquake.


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