This is part of a series of reports on Latino first-term members of Congress.
First-term Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-California) is an emergency room physician who represents California’s 36th congressional district. The 41-year-old Coachella Valley native and son of farm workers holds a medical degree and two master’s degrees in public policy and in public health from Harvard. Ruiz was sent to Congress after defeating seven-term incumbent Representative Mary Bono Mack last November in a redrawn district that has become more Latino.
Rep. Ruiz was able to speak with NBC Latino to discuss his first nine months in Congress and some of his goals.
As a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Ruiz has taken a role to reduce the veterans’ claims backlog. The backlog of claims from veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan has been an ongoing problem for the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the Veterans Benefits Administration, over 60 percent of claims are left pending for over 125 days.
Congressman Ruiz has introduced a bill to help identify and eliminate red tape in the claims process. Another bill Ruiz has introduced would help streamline the flow of information from the Department of Defense and other departments and agencies to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He thinks that the use of electronic medical records could help speed up the process.
“The biggest bottleneck is to get information from the Department of Defense. If we can integrate electronic medical records, this could go as fast as a click of a mouse,” Ruiz explained.
California’s 36th congressional district includes vast stretches of farmland and is home to a large immigrant population. When asked if a comprehensive immigration bill could pass before the end of the year, Ruiz said that the pressure must remain on Congress to act.
“For far too long Congress has failed to act on a comprehensive plan for reform. I believe that comprehensive immigration reform should be bipartisan and include an earned path to citizenship for those who work hard and play by the rules,” Ruiz said. “It’s critical that we continue to advocate for the introduction of a comprehensive bill before the end of this year.”
With a debt ceiling showdown looming and House Republicans using the debt limit debate to attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, Ruiz said that this was another example of “hyper-partisan political gamesmanship” that the American people are tired of. Then he turned the conversation to what he thinks needs to be done to improve upon Obamacare.
“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect bill — there are many issues that need to be addressed to make it work. For instance, we need to focus on training more doctors,” Ruiz stated. “There is currently one full time physician for every 9,000 people. The medically recommended number is one physician to 2,000 people. We are severely underserved in my district. We can improve the health care law by expanding access to physicians.”
Ruiz stressed that although he is now a Congressman that he considers himself to be a physician first.
“I approach problem solving as a physician, and I put my patients’ needs above anything else. And that is the approach I take as a congressman. The people I serve are my highest priority and their needs surpass any other needs,” Ruiz said.
Congressman Ruiz said that he will continue to build upon the work he has been doing with veteran’s affairs and that he will be holding a veterans summit in his district on November 2.
Adriana Maestas is a senior contributing editor at Politic365 and one of the co-founders of the DailyGrito.com. She resides in California.