In Their Honor

May 23, 2014 | By CAP Action War Room

Progressive Policies For Veterans This Memorial Day
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.    CREDIT: Shawn Davis

Memorial Day is a time for relaxation, but also for reflection and remembrance. The day is first and foremost about honoring American service members who are no longer with us. But there are also steps we can take to help improve the lives of the 10 million current vets and the many military families. So before you take off for the long weekend, take a few minutes to read our list of some progressive policies to help veterans:

  1. Support Vets Looking For Work. Veterans have suffered from Congressional Republicans’ refusal to extend emergency unemployment benefits. There are roughly 163,000 unemployed post-9/11 vets and more than 600,000 unemployed veterans overall. Those who volunteered to protect our nation oversees but can’t find a job back at home deserve more support from our elected officials.
  2. Give 1 Million Veterans A Raise. Of the roughly 10 million veterans in the United States today, one in ten — that’s 1 million vets — would get a boost in wages if we raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Almost two-thirds of these veterans are over the age of 40. Nobody should be paid wages so low that working full-time can still leave them in poverty, and that includes many former members of our Armed Forces.
  3. Help Keep Veterans Out Of Poverty. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a powerful anti-hunger and anti-poverty tool. But it’s been the subject of persistent attacks from some Republicans in Congress, who voted last year to cut $40 billion and push 4 to 6 million people from the program. SNAP has never been more needed for service members: there are 900,000 veterans who rely on the benefits in any given month, and military families’ reliance on the program hit a record high last year.
  4. Expand Health Care To Low-Income Residents. There are over a quarter million uninsured veterans in states that are currently refusing to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That’s just wrong. (While many people assume that all veterans have health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2013 only two-thirds were eligible and just one-third were enrolled).
  5. Implement The Common Core. The average military family moves to six different states, and each state offers a separate set of academic standards for military children to follow. When relocating to one state, a child may be way ahead of her grade level; in another, she might be far behind. Having a high-quality, unified set of standards like the Common Core State Standards provide will help military families with transitions and ensure our nation’s economy and military remain strong.
  6. Expand Background Checks For Gun Buyers. Veterans are some of our nation’s foremost experts on guns, what they can do in the hands of trained, responsible people, and how they can be used in the hands of those who want to do us harm. The massive loopholes in our gun background check system allow criminals, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people to easily access guns. Expanding background checks to all gun sales goes hand in hand with strengthening our second amendment by helping keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
  7. Pass The Employment Non-Discrimination Act. There are over one million LGBT veterans and almost 50,000 more currently serving. Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, members of the military can serve with honesty and integrity and without the fear of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the same fair treatment does not exist in the civilian sector. ENDA would go a long way to solve that problem and could also also significantly curtail high rates of veteran unemployment.

 

BOTTOM LINE: As a nation, we should pride ourselves on doing everything we can to make sure that citizens who sacrifice to protect our security and freedom are able to live healthy and secure lives back home. These are just a few of the many steps that we should take to get to that point for veterans, and create a more prosperous country for everyone.

PS: The allegations of long wait times and secret waiting lists at the Phoenix VA hospital is a serious concern and must be addressed immediately. But we must also not lose sight of the VA system’s successes, as well as its steady improvement in recent years. Here are key facts to know.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

The War on Veterans

Congress and the White House are much better at starting wars than cleaning up after them.

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Do you remember Cory Remsburg? He’s the Army Ranger who received a standing ovation from Congress during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address a few weeks ago.

Applause is nice, especially from such influential people. It sure beats those cuts the Pentagon wants to make to veteran benefits.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is now trying to sell vets on his plan to scale back the number of U.S. troops, as well as what taxpayers are spending on active-duty and retired forces. After he announced his ideas, Hagel brought them straight to a town hall meeting with soldiers at Fort Eustis in Virginia. “There was no applause,” Military.com reported.

Before and After a War, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Before and After a War, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Whenever Washington winds down its wars and our troops become needy veterans, interest in their welfare always flags. Senate Republicans just blocked a comprehensive $21 billion bill that would have beefed up veteran education, health, and other benefits.

But that’s not all. Food stamps were just cut for some 170,000 vets, pensions will soon decline, and the Department of Veterans Affairs admits a backlog of 393,000 benefit claims after making great progress toward getting caught up.

About 30 percent of the vets who serve in war zones return from the battlefield with undiagnosed or untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. Some half a million are suffering from it now.

Clearly, Congress and the White House are much better at starting wars than cleaning up after them.

Military debates in Washington generally revolve around the costs of manpower, equipment, and logistics. Finding the money needed to cover the medical bills and pensions of veterans is always harder to squeeze into the federal budget.

The Pentagon only lists 19,000 troops officially wounded by enemy action in Afghanistan and gives them good care. The other hundreds of thousands with mysterious brain or emotional injuries have to prove it. But first they need to succeed in gaining an appointment at the Department of Veterans Affairs — better known as simply the VA — and demonstrating that they were honorably discharged.

That can be tough.

William Dolphin, a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran, is now fighting for that right in federal court. The Army gave him a bad conduct discharge years ago for being AWOL upon confusion over where he was supposed to convalesce after leaving the hospital. He’s been suffering from PTSD for four decades.

“All I’m asking is that the Army recognize that I served my country proudly,” Dolphin says.

There’s another new lawsuit filed in March by a group of Vietnam vets who went through a similar ordeal. It’s seeking class-action status.

And things haven’t changed much since the Vietnam War. Washington still sees wasting record sums of money on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a high priority while vast numbers injured veterans go without adequate psychiatric care. At least 55,000 veterans remain homeless despite the existence of dozens of programs that specifically target this problem.

If our leaders really want to honor Cory Remsburg, they should stop making people go through what he experienced. It’s time to stop waging unnecessary wars and start taking better care of our wounded warriors.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow her on Twitter @ESGrecoOtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org

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Horsford Co-Sponsors Legislation Giving Greater Mental Health Access To Veterans

Washington, DC – Today, Representative Steven Horsford (NV-4) co-sponsored the bipartisan Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act, which was introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-17). Currently, veterans face a five-year window in which they must seek treatment for mental illnesses before losing their higher priority status. This legislation would eliminate the five-year window and allow veterans to seek treatment for service-connected mental illnesses, regardless of when their conditions manifest themselves.

“We must renew our commitment to provide the men and women who have served our country in uniform with the healthcare services they deserve,” said Horsford. “The Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act would ensure the services and treatments that are available to recently discharged veterans are available to all who have served in combat. This bill maintains the role of the VA to treat service-related disorders and allows its healthcare professionals to diagnose mental disorders and illnesses according to established procedures.”

Currently, the VA offers healthcare treatment and services to our nation’s veterans who suffer from service-related physical or mental disabilities. While the diagnosis of physical injuries typically is made before or shortly after separation from the military, mental illnesses may not manifest themselves until years later. Serious mental health issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder were virtually undiagnosed in veterans of previous wars, having only been added by the to the American Psychiatric Association to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) nosologic classification scheme in 1980. As the United States military and the VA continue to improve treatment for those who have served, there remains a gap for veterans struggling with mental illnesses that this legislation seeks to address.