A Bipartisan Group of Florida Congressmen Want Congressional Offices Inside VA Facilities to Help Veterans

By KEVIN DERBY Sunshine Sunshine State News

Inside a VA facility

Inside a VA facility

On Monday, two congressmen from Florida — Republican Brian Mast and Democrat Darren Soto — paired up to proposal a bill making it easier to have congressional offices inside U.S.  Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.

Mast and Soto unveiled the “Improving Veterans Access to Congressional Services Act” to streamline the process for members of Congress to have offices in VA facilities.  

Brian Mast

Brian Mast At the start of last year, Mast, who served in the Army and who was wounded when serving in Afghanistan in 2010 which resulted in the amputation of both his legs, became the first member of Congress to open an office in a VA facility when he set up shop in the West Palm Beach VA. Since then, he has been joined by three Democrats who represent the area — U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Alcee Hastings — as they all take turns in the office meeting with constituents and helping veterans. For his part, Soto has an office in the Lake Nova VA which he opened back in August.

“Serving veterans in our community is not only deeply personal to me, it’s also the most frequent request that I get as a member of Congress,” Mast said.  “Opening the first-ever congressional office inside a VA hospital has allowed us to help veterans on the spot: when and where they’re having an issue.  Every single member of Congress should do the same at their local VA and this bill will pave the way to make that high level of service a reality for our veterans.”

Darren Soto

Darren Soto“At its core, this legislation is about helping our veterans,” Soto said. “Having congressional offices located inside VA facilities allows for more efficient and easily accessible services provided to veterans who need it most. Almost half of our office’s constituent casework are veterans cases. Since we opened our congressional office in the Lake Nona VA Hospital, we’ve been able to increase our in-person, same day walk-in services for veterans. Representative Mast and I are proof of the benefits our offices can provide. We hope this can be replicated in VA facilities across the nation.”

The congressmen bemoaned the red tape currently stopping members of Congress from opening offices in VA facilities. 

“The Improving Veterans Access to Congressional Services Act would cut down on this bureaucracy by requiring the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to permit a member of Congress to use a facility of the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of meeting with constituents of the member,” Mast’s office noted. “Moreover, the bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop regulations regarding the use of VA office space by ,members of Congress, mandating that the space be made available during normal business hours and in a location that is easily accessible to the member’s constituents.”

Mast brought out a similar proposal last year but he was not able to get it over the finish line.