Sunday, November 11, 2012

WHAT DOES THIS ELECTION REALLY MEAN FOR VETERANS?


Veterans Day is a day to remember and honor all American men and women who served our country. But this year, it's also a day to reflect on just what impact last week's election will have on America's 22 million veterans.

In his stirring victory speech late Tuesday night, President Obama passionately reminded the nation how important it is to support our warriors and their families. He reiterated that support today in a speech at the Arlington Memorial Cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater, saying, "No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home."


The president has initiated many positive changes for veterans these past four years, specifically in the areas of mental health care, housing, education and jobs. But there's still so much that needs to be done. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki promised to end veterans homelessness and the massive veterans benefits backlog by late 2015, and establish a joint VA-Department of Defense (DoD) lifelong medical records system by 2017. 

But is this realistic?

An AP story today notes that an upcoming report is expected to show the number of homeless veterans has actually dropped by at least 15,000 since 2009. According to AP's sources, the drop is the result of an aggressive two-pronged strategy by the current administration to not only take veterans off the street but also prevent new ones from ending up there.

But Bob McElroy, president and CEO of the San Diego-based Alpha Project and a man I admire for his tireless dedication to helping the homeless, tells AP flatly, "It's baloney to say it (veteran homelessness) will end in 2015. This needs to be a priority for decades to come."

In order for the Obama Administration to reach its goal of ending homelessness among veterans in just three short years from now, sources tell AP, it’s going to take more than doubling the current annual (record) progress, billions more in federal money, and more commitment to programs aimed at the root issues that cause homelessness, including mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, and poverty. Can the president achieve this?

Among the other important issues facing veterans in Obama's second term, according to Leo Shane at Stars & Stripes, are the VA's ongoing problem of not having enough staff members to handle the mental health crisis among veterans, and the Veteran Benefits Association (VBA)’s chronic claim delay and error crisis, which was also covered this week by Aaron Glantz of the Center for Investigative Reporting.



One of the best ways to find thorough, clear-eyed analysis of the homeless problem and all the other pressing issues facing our veterans and how they'll fare these next four years is to go straight to those who work with veterans every day. On its website, Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that focuses its practice exclusively on veteran disability issues, offers a list of vital issues facing veterans in the President's second term.

They include the suicide epidemic (each day 18 veterans kill themselves); chronic delays processing Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits; the vacancy at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; the landmark lawsuit, Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki, which I've been following for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and is now on its way to the Supreme Court; and the departure of long-time veteran advocate Bob Filner (D-CA), the newly elected mayor of San Diego, and what it might mean for future hearings held by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Other important questions raised by Bergmann & Moore on the firm's website include: Will Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, a former top VA political appointee elected to the House as a Democrat from Illinois, serve on Veterans’ Affairs? Will the “fiscal cliff” exclude VA, as the Obama Administration insists? And what about the urgent need for revised regulations for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), a serious wound impacting hundreds of thousands of veterans harmed by roadside bombs?

All good, timely questions, and ones I hope to address here in the coming weeks, months and years. To readers, I make this promise: I will keep covering any and all issues important to our brave heroes for as long as this blog, and I, exist.

8 comments:

  1. All excellent points.

    Add one more: "And will the Administration finally address the detailed report and recommendations of the VA's Gulf War Illness advisory committee, which in June gave VA a unanimous vote of No Confidence on VA's Gulf War Illness medical research efforts?"

    Thank you for your enduring attention to issues of critical importance to our veterans, Jamie. You're one of a very, very few.

    -Anthony

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    1. Good question, Anthony. I will stay on top of this, as well. Thanks for reading, and for your all you do for veterans.

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  2. Good article, Jamie. I think the president is way off base, however, in proclaiming, "No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home." I think it is coddling and patronizing to tell our returning soldiers, who are likely some of society's more resilient, resourceful, and high achieving individuals, that they need not fight for a job upon their return. I see this as yet another politician's good intentions devoid of any true appreciation of the human spirit.

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    1. Thanks Andy. I don't interpret this comment by the president that way, at all. I do not see how you can see these comments in that light. But I respect your opinion and thank you for sharing it.

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