Brian Mast never thought about giving up—even after losing both of his legs during a night mission as a special operations bomb disposal expert serving in Afghanistan. Rather, he transformed fighting for our country on the battlefield to fighting for the common good in the halls of Congress.
After a bomb exploded beneath his feet, Mast’s team took life-saving measures, applying tourniquets to both legs. His last memories of Afghanistan were of being loaded into a helicopter, saluted and told he would be OK.
Upon waking 10 days later at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the long, painful process of surgeries and rehabilitation began. “I lost two legs, a finger, what I thought was my life purpose, and I lost my job,” he says.
Mast recalls his father’s encouraging words: “Brian, you can’t let this keep you down. You’ve got to find a way to pull yourself up and get back to work. You can’t let your kids see you give up and sit on a couch for the rest of your life.”
This would turn out to be one of the most important and transformative lessons he would receive.
Determined to find a way to continue fighting for his country, Mast set out to run for the 18th District of Florida congressional seat. Winning the coveted spot, Mast got to work on a campaign promise, advocating for veterans by opening the first-ever congressional office inside of a VA facility.
With serious issues facing VA facilities nationwide, Mast has first-hand knowledge of what veterans are facing. The moment he retired, his medical care was transferred from under the Department of Defense where “things happen immediately” to the Department of Veteran Affairs where “I’m at the exact same place and all of the sudden one place doesn’t have my records.” Additionally, wait times for medical treatment went from immediate to several months, which can be particularly devastating for Vietnam veteran cancer patients who were exposed to chemicals during their enlistment.
“Our veterans were not injured or damaged doing something selfish,” Mast says. “Rather, they were doing something selfless, and it cost them dearly. They deserve to never be failed.”
Mast began to fulfill his campaign promise of opening an office at the West Palm Beach Department of Veterans Affairs immediately upon election. The process took 12 months of “being nickeled and dimed” with hurdles before finally achieving his goal of providing improved access to veterans and correcting long-standing issues within the VA. The bipartisan space will be shared with Reps. Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch.
“I want to know about successes and failures within the VA,” Mast says. “You want results? Start scrutinizing it. People will start to move with urgency if they know they are being scrutinized.”
Concurrently, Mast is taking on the water crisis in Florida, beginning with joining the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington. He is also vice-chair on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, handling authorizations related to Lake Okeechobee, dike restoration, Everglades restoration and EPA projects. Mast offered legislation to fund harmful algae bloom and hypoxia research.
“You have to fight for those dollars, and we are going to make sure the Corps of Engineers have every dollar they are asking for so we can get these projects completed,” Mast says. “If they don’t get the dollars then it doesn’t get approved, and that’s why it’s important that I’m sitting on that committee.”