The Ripon Forum

Volume 52, No. 5

November 2018

Ripon Profile of Joni Ernst

By on October 23, 2018

Name: Joni Ernst

Occupation: United States Senator, R-Iowa

First job & lesson(s) learned from it: I was taught the value of hard work from an early age, as I plowed the fields of our farm and worked construction with my dad. My first paid job, off the family farm, was working the biscuit line at Hardees. In this job, I not only learned to get up early – but also the importance of customer service and treating people with dignity.

Book(s) you’re recommending to friends: I recently read the Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It is a book that spoke to me, as it addresses many of the tough issues that rural America faces.  I would also recommend This Kind of War by T.R. Fehrenbach.  It’s a book that is widely read among the military, as it provides a close look at infantry soldiers in Korea during the 1950s, and also talks about the broader tragedies of war.

Looking back on your first four years in office, what are some of the top accomplishments you have been able to achieve during that time? Anytime that I can make a difference to improve the lives of Iowans is a win. I work hard every day to keep the promises that I have made to Iowans, and I am constantly working to find ways to cut waste, fraud and abuse in the government. For example, Sen. Heitkamp and I wrote a bill to help make the government less wasteful and more efficient. At the end of 2016, President Obama signed into law the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act, which reduces cost overruns and increases accountability to create a more productive government through better management procedures. This was my fourth bill to be signed into law during the 114th Congress.

I am also proud of my bill to scrap the Waters of the United States rule that, under the Obama Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to expand their power over farmers, small businesses, ranchers and other landowners. The 2015 WOTUS rule would give the federal government authority to regulate water on 97 percent of the land in Iowa. We Iowans have an incentive to conserve our land. We don’t need Washington bureaucrats telling us what is best. While my legislation to put an end to the expanded definition of WOTUS passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support, it was vetoed by President Obama. With the new administration, my efforts to scrap WOTUS will continue until we have a favorable solution for our state.

How about next year? What are some of the challenges still facing your State that you’re working hard to address? I am proud that Iowa was ranked the number one state by U.S. News and World Report in 2018 – a reflection of the hard work that has been done by our Iowa delegation, and the leadership of Governor Kim Reynolds. Iowa is first in infrastructure, high school graduation rates – and in the top five for health care, opportunity and four-year college graduation rates. We also have record unemployment and low taxes. But, we still have work to do. Iowa is a rural state, so access to broadband internet is very important. Rural Iowans need to have this access to expand their businesses and take advantage of the innovative technology that’s involved with agriculture.

Finally, finish this sentence — “If I could reform one government agency, it would be…”:  …the VA – we have to do better for our veterans. We have an incredible responsibility to not only make sure our country is protected, but to ensure that we live up to the promises made to our veterans. Upon being elected to the Senate, the first bill I introduced increased veterans’ access to mental health care services. One of my proudest moments was watching President Trump sign the VA MISSION Act into law earlier this year.  The VA MISSION Act helps our country reach an important milestone in providing our veterans with the quality of care they earned and deserve. This bipartisan legislation improves veterans’ access to health care services, giving those who have selflessly defended our nation greater access to hospital care, life-saving medical services and extended care services – right in their own community.

The VA MISSION Act includes my legislation with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act, which will now allow our rural or homebound veterans in Iowa, and across the U.S., to receive necessary care, including critical mental health care, from the comfort of their homes.

On July 1, 2016, President Obama signed my bipartisan Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act into law.  Suicide among female veterans is higher than that of their male counterparts when compared to the general population, and six times more likely to occur in veterans versus non-military females.  We can and must do better for our men and women alike, and this legislation does just that by requiring the VA to identify the most effective mental health and suicide prevention programs for our female veterans.

On February 8, 2016, I introduced the bipartisan Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment (SAVE) Act. This bipartisan legislation puts military sexual trauma survivors in control of their own health care by giving them the opportunity, flexibility and discretion to choose treatment options that best suit their needs, even if that care is outside of a VA facility.

Mental health, sexual assault and suicide are serious issues that affect our veterans. I will continue to fight to better address these issues and I will continue to hold the VA fully accountable for failures to provide our veterans with the care they deserve.

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