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On the Issues: Compassion for Veterans

Military service has changed over the last fifty years. Ongoing combat operations lasting almost 20 years and multiple deployments of both Active Duty and Reserve Component personnel have created a group of American military veterans with unique support needs. More than 780,000 of these veterans live in Virginia, and more than 100,000 in the First District alone. These heroes deserve security in their lives, and it’s time to make sure each and every one has the health care, housing, and education resources they earned.

The rigors Veterans face in combat contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. Many leave military service with serious physical injuries and disability. This kind of mental and physical trauma can lead to homelessness and suicide. More than 40,000 veterans experience homelessness and suicide kills more than 20 Veterans a day. 

This is wrong, and we need to fix it. Our brave men and women deserve better. 

National Guard and Reserve Component personnel now make up part of the operational strength of the US military. Upon release from temporary active duty, they return to a civilian health care system that is poorly equipped to manage their unique ailments. 

Furthermore, women serve more and more often in combat roles. These mothers and daughters volunteered to defend the Constitution, but many of them faced sexual assault and harassment that commanders ignored or trivialized. We need to make sure they get the support they need. 

We need to support these citizen soldiers.

After World War Two, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act helped create America’s Middle Class. It’s time for a 21st Century Service Member’s Readjustment Act so I’m proposing a Compassion for Veterans Plan that gives the men and women who passed on a chance to build wealth, and instead volunteered to protect our Constitution, a chance to catch up. 

Compassion for Veterans would provide a severance package for every honorably discharged service member, including:

  • A year of health care coverage under Tricare. Double that for veterans who served in combat, and three years for anyone wounded in action. 
  • A lump sum payment of a month’s base pay per year of service up to ten.
  • A year of military housing allowance based on pay grade at discharge and geographic location paid monthly. 
  • A combat tour bonus of $2,000 for each tour in a combat zone and a $5,000 bonus for Purple Heart recipients.
  • Giving veterans control over their education benefits by creating an Education Resources Account they can use to pay for college or other training for themselves or their families.

Compassion for Veterans also means we need to:

  • Conduct a systematic two-year audit of VA facilities and programs to make sure veterans are getting the best care possible with the shortest wait times possible. 
  • Stop the rush to privatize the Veterans Health Administration and identify ways to  help veterans who have difficulty receiving health care. We need to bring health care to veterans in rural areas, but sending them against their will to civilian providers who lack the special expertise they need isn’t fair.
  • Expand the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers and increase caregiver stipends to ensure every veteran gets the in-home care they need. 
  • Create an office in the Veterans Benefits Administration focused on transition assistance to inprocess new eligible veterans and make sure they get enrolled in the assistance programs they earned. Universal enrollment is the end goal.
  • Consolidate programs designed to provide mental health care and prevent veteran suicide and homelessness. Make sure these programs include specific support for women veterans suffering from trauma resulting from sexual assault or harassment. 
  • Expand eligibility for VA health care to National Guard and Reserve Component service members who have served in combat zones on Active Duty, whether or not they’ve left the military.