America’s veterans have risked their lives so that their fellow citizens can enjoy the freedoms this country was founded on. These are some of the finest and most accomplished people you will ever meet. I have always been grateful for the courageous among us who volunteer to sacrifice so much for the United States. They not only put their lives on the line but also spend extended time away from their families, who must support them from afar and face unique challenges of their own on the home front. It is very disheartening when our veterans don’t receive the proper care and regard that they deserve. If I am elected, I will engage with veteran advocacy groups in an effort to promote programs that are of the utmost importance to our veterans, reserves and active duty personnel.
Tragically, each day an average of 20 U.S. veterans take their own lives. Every veteran and member of the military must have access to the very best mental health care and community support services. We cannot stop fighting for this until it is achieved. I fully support tasking the next VA Secretary with making suicide prevention a top priority.
Few veterans obtain the health care they have earned. This is especially the case for women, who face the most egregious conditions in terms of care. We need to acknowledge and seriously upgrade services for women veterans. They are tackling more substantial positions and responsibilities in our armed forces, in both support and combat capacities. As a matter of fact, the number of women serving in the military is expected to increase over the next five years while the number of men is expected to decrease. Outside of the Department of Defense (DoD) itself, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) is the biggest agency in our government. While the staff of the VA are doing a wonderful job caring for our nation’s veterans and their families, we must do more to support them as they reintegrate back into civil society.
It is absolutely crucial that our service members receive the support they need when they return home from active duty. As they begin the process of transitioning out of service and getting reacclimated to civilian life, the proper support can greatly impact our heroic men and women during their time of transition as well as the months and years to follow. Unfortunately, many of our veterans aren’t fully aware of all the various services afforded to them, or do not know how to take advantage of the support available. Resolving this information gap will require more outreach to our veterans and a significant, coordinated effort among multiple stakeholders, including the military, VA, community groups and non-profit organizations.
Despite previous commitments from officials to try to reconcile the gulf between the DoD and the VA, we still don’t have a tenable method of sharing information as straightforward and vital as electronic health records. Our veterans are getting lost in the shuffle when these two departments fail to share the data. As a result, they wind up not getting the care they need when adjusting from active duty back to life in civil society.
Among all new veterans, a mere 60 percent are actually registered for VA health benefits. Additionally, many National Guard members and reservists often wrestle with their passage between the DoD and the VA. These service members and veterans frequently struggle to acquire their medical and service records, due in large part to multiple government agencies not sharing records. This results in more hold ups applying for VA services and benefits. We can and should do better. Although we have the technology to connect these information silos, previous administrations and Congress have been unable to deliver viable solutions. We must change that now and make it a priority to find suitable remedies.
Yet another challenging issue is veteran homelessness, an unfortunate, distressing reality for far too many of our veterans. Confronting this difficult problem entails working to prevent our veterans from becoming homeless to begin with. To grapple with this issue, the VA will need a more comprehensive grasp on the number of service members and veterans who are in jeopardy of becoming homeless. Figuring out who is coming back with addiction, PTSD and other types of mental health issues will be of paramount importance. This also means that more research and studies on these subjects is going to be required. Struggling to find long-term employment opportunities, keeping housing, and returning home to broken families can all be contributing factors here. We need a more workable system that keeps tabs on the needs of veterans and examines the circumstances that can cause homelessnes. This is a moral imperative.
Our future is inextricably linked to the courageous women and men who continue to opt in and defend democracy at home and abroad. We must do a better job of supporting those brave Americans willing to risk everything, so that we set them up for success during and following their service to their country. Our freedom depends on it.