The veteran community is facing numerous crises in this country and as geopolitical tensions continue to rise, America must make the hard choices to ensure we properly take care of the men and women who defend our freedoms around the globe.
While there are many issues that plague our veterans, the assistance programs that the government provides when our troops return home are falling short. More specifically the benefits and housing programs need to build upon past success and not further disrupt any progress that has been made to date.
The veteran’s benefits program is our obligation to the brave men and women who have served this country. Unfortunately, the current system is both underfunded and confusing, leaving veterans at a disadvantage when seeking the benefits, they are ethically, medically, and legally entitled to.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the largest and most complex agencies in the U.S. government. The last two decades of war have produced the greatest number of veterans since the Vietnam War, and the system’s cracks are starting to show as backlogs get longer and backwards incentive programs emerge.
Congress is set to take up a key bill that would speed health care and benefits to millions of veterans exposed to burn pits during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans diagnosed with cancer, lung disease, and other respiratory problems suspect they were caused by the toxic exposure, and we should support efforts to identify and help those that need assistance and provide key benefits they have earned.
President Biden mentioned this bill and the need to provide better benefits and services to our veterans in his State of the Union speech, but in his latest VA budget request, his administration proposed the elimination of veterans choice on benefits claims by attempting to revive ill-advised VA “reforms” considered in the last Congress. This request would remove the ability for private claims agents to be accredited and process VA benefits claims, robbing our veterans of the freedom to choose.
Also recently, during a joint Veterans Affairs Committee hearing some members of Congress were attacking companies that help veterans navigate the VA, simply because they make a profit. That’s not how we should judge VA consultants - we should judge VA consultants on whether they do a good job of securing better and needed benefits for our vets.
While good intentioned, volunteer organizations who support the VA disabilities benefits program cannot do it all. Veterans need help and we need a change. Current law allows for veterans to seek fee-based consultation on their benefit claims if they choose. Any legislation around this issue must ensure a veteran’s right to choose is not jeopardized.
Another key issue that we need to focus on is housing. Veterans experience homelessness at a disproportionately high rate compared with the rest of the population. In 2019, 21 out of every 10,000 veterans were homeless. While these numbers are improving, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the veteran population hard due to many of them having disabilities that can limit their employment options and segment them into industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic.
In its 2022 budget request last year, the VA asked Congress for $2.2 billion for homelessness programs, a 16% increase from 2021. While I am often critical of increases in government spending; we cannot abandon our men and women in uniform once they leave the service. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
We have a lot of work to do to live up to the promises politicians make when the TV cameras are on, and it is on the American people to stay vigilant and ensure we follow through for our brave men and women. Many veterans have sacrificed much for our freedoms -- it is time we paid them back, rather than shortchanging them.