A year in review: The First Female Combat Veteran in the U.S. Senate

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Last year, after she took office, WOWT 6 News sat down with Senator Joni Ernst in Washington, D.C. to see how she was adjusting to the new job. A year later, WOWT's Brian Mastre caught up to Iowa's Junior Senator. She’s the nation's first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate and has wrapped up her first year in office with laser focus on one demographic group.

"I've really focused a lot of veteran's issues," said Ernst.

It makes sense when you realize it's in the wheelhouse of Iowa Senator Joni Ernst The senator from Red Oak spent 25 years in the National Guard.

"First bill I introduced in the U.S. Senate last year was improving access to mental health care for veterans. We see, according to the VA, 22 veterans everyday who take their own lives from suicide and that has to stop," said Ernst.

Most recently, she fired off a letter last month to Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald. She’s demanding answers after an inspector general report uncovered at least 23 veterans who contacted the Veterans Crisis Line and went to voicemail. Their calls of distress were never returned.

"Absolutely horrified that this would happen to veterans at a point where they are very vulnerable. They've taken that step to call a crisis line and they're received on the far end with either music or a waiting system or it rolls over to voicemail. Totally unacceptable. That should never happen," said Ernst.

Senator Ernst is urging the VA and the crisis line, whose calls increased by more than 100 percent in one year, to have the back's of the troops who protect our freedoms. It's unclear what happened to the 23 veterans who left voicemail messages with the crisis line.

"It's my great hope they went to family or some other support network and got the help that they needed,” Ernst said.

In a presidential year, where legislating seems to be on pause for all the national drama, Senator Ernst says she's staying out of the fray and doing the work of the people.

Along the same lines with bi-partisan legislation, earlier this month Senator Ernst urged the Army to allow women Air Force Service pilots who flew domestic missions during World War II to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A recent rule change stopped the honor.