Veterans in a vintage jeep hand out Wounded Warriors flags during the annual Veterans Day Parade along Fifth Avenue on Nov. 11, 2023, in New York City.

Veterans in a vintage jeep hand out Wounded Warriors flags during the annual Veterans Day Parade along Fifth Avenue on Nov. 11, 2023, in New York City. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Give administrative leave to veterans for VA appointments

COMMENTARY | This is a necessary step in honoring our veterans in federal service.

The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015 marked a significant step forward in supporting our nation's heroes, particularly those who have transitioned into federal employment. This acknowledgment of the unique challenges faced by disabled veterans is commendable, yet it doesn't completely address the broader needs of all veterans in federal service, especially in light of recent changes to the VA's scheduling system.

Consider the following: Approximately 30% of federal employees are veterans. They have transitioned from the structured and disciplined environment of the military to the civilian sector, often carrying the physical and emotional scars of their service. These scars require ongoing medical attention, a need that is well-served by the VA's healthcare system. However, the VA's new scheduling system poses a challenge: it assigns appointments based on availability, often with little flexibility. With the system allowing only one cancellation, veterans are in a precarious position - they must attend the appointment or risk losing crucial medical care.

The current provisions under the Wounded Warriors Act, while beneficial, are a one-time benefit and do not offer ongoing support. Moreover, they are only applicable to a subset of veterans. The predicament of attending these rigidly scheduled VA appointments puts undue stress on our veteran employees. The solution? Administrative leave for VA appointments for all federal employee veterans.

By instituting administrative leave for VA appointments, the federal government can alleviate the stress and uncertainty faced by its veteran employees. This policy would not only show a deep respect for their service but also ensure that these veterans do not have to choose between their health and their job. This is especially important for the significant number of veterans who do not qualify under the Wounded Warriors Act but still require regular medical attention.

Opponents might argue that this policy could lead to decreased productivity. However, this concern is outweighed by the benefits. Veterans who can attend their medical appointments without the stress of missing work are more likely to be focused and productive when they are on the job. Moreover, the morale boost from knowing their employer supports their health and well-being is invaluable.

Additionally, by accommodating veterans in this manner, the federal government sets a standard for other sectors to follow. It sends a powerful message about the value and respect we place on those who have served our country.

In conclusion, extending administrative leave for VA appointments to all veterans in federal employment is not just a matter of policy -- it's a statement of our national values. It's about honoring the sacrifices of those who have served and ensuring their transition to civilian life is as smooth as possible. The Wounded Warriors Act was a step in the right direction; now, it's time to take the next step.

Michael Embrich is a veteran, former member of the secretary of Veterans Affairs' Advisory Committee on the Readjustment of Veterans, and former congressional staffer.