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VA Critic Florida Rep. Brian Mast Calls For Greater Healthcare Access For Veterans


Brian Mast has been a public servant all his life, and this past week he was sworn into the 115th Congress. Mast, a Republican, represents the 18th District of Florida in the southeastern part of the state. He served in the Army for 12 years and he is a double amputee. He lost both his legs when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan. He said that improving the Department of Veterans Affairs will be one of his top priorities. Elsewhere in the show we will be talking to a freshman Democrat, but now we're joined by Congressman Mast. Welcome.

BRIAN MAST: Hey, thank you for having me this morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I saw you haven't wasted any time. Earlier this week, you were on the House floor criticizing the recent U.N. Security Council vote condemning Israel, which President Obama abstained from. What are some of your other priorities going forward, sir?

MAST: Well, that was, you know, one that was actually a very high priority for me. Not only did I serve in the U.S. Army for 12 years, but I also served with the Israeli military, and so obviously something very close to my heart. But, you know, beyond that, my top priorities are the shameful treatment that's happening to my fellow veterans as they walk into their VAs not getting the care that they've earned or the care that they deserve. And very specific for my area is making sure that the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee - a lot of people saw that going on this summer where we had large green algae blooms across the breadth of South Florida - making sure that that comes to an end.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What changes specifically would you like to see to how veterans get their health care?

MAST: I am, of course, a critic of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but I'm a critic because I want them to be better. I don't think that they should cease to exist. I think that they should up their game. And I think the number one way that you get them to up their game is also the way that you make the lives better for every single veteran. And that's giving veterans access to total choice in their care. Our veterans have to have the choice to be seen at whatever provider they wish for whatever reason.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sticking with health care but more broadly, your party has decided to make repealing the Affordable Care Act their first order of business. In your view, what should that replacement look like?

MAST: Well, the replacement's going to look like a lot of things. You're going to see a big push for us expanding the market for people to purchase their health care. And I'm sure you've heard a lot of that, purchasing health care across state lines. That's going to be one of the biggest pieces that you see of that. Making sure that there are risk pools out there for people so that we can maintain that coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. You know, when I look at the Affordable Care Act, I think that's probably one of the biggest benefits is that, you know, there's so many people that have been able to find coverage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But one of the big criticisms, of course, is that you've said what it shouldn't look like, but you haven't been very clear about what it should look like.

MAST: And, you know, this is something that you're going to see hashed out, you know, over the coming months on the floors of Congress. And I think probably one of the biggest benefits of hashing this out on the floors of Congress and other places is that the same mistakes are not going to be made when Obamacare was passed the first time on Christmas Eve of 2009 and people didn't get to read this 2,900-page bill. Now you're going to get to see this done in the light of day. Everybody's going to get to have input from both sides. And it's going to be accomplished in the way that it should be accomplished.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to come back to one of your other priorities which you talk about, Lake Okeechobee and the waterways there. There's been a lot of discussions about EPA regulations being rolled back. How is that going to affect your plans in central Florida?

MAST: Well, you know, when you look at the EPA, I think one of the worst things that I've seen as it pertains to my area of south Florida is that we had this literally toxic water coming into our waterways and the EPA was not raising hell about this. And as a result, you didn't see, you know, an emergency declaration where we were now getting assistance from an organization like FEMA to help us clean this water up. And that was a major failure of the EPA. They need to continue to exist, but we need to see the EPA certainly do a better job.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Republican Congressman Brian Mast. Thank you so much for being with us.

MAST: I appreciate the time. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.