Blumenthal Testifies Before Veterans Affairs Commitee on Bill to Improve Services

(Washington, DC) – Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today advocated for the Honoring All Veterans Act of 2011 before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, legislation he introduced last week. The bill seeks to improve significantly aid and services to veterans in the areas of employment, housing, education and health care. It is the first piece of legislation introduced by Blumenthal since he became a member of the Senate in January 2011.

“The VA has taken some very strong steps toward the goal of building a 21st-century support system, but the gaps in the system remain, and they are debilitating and devastating for many of our veterans. We can do better, and we must do more,” said Blumenthal. “The legislation I’ve introduced provides a comprehensive package of 16 provisions aimed at better healthcare, jobs, educational opportunities, and streamlining and modernizing the VA.”

The unique provisions of the Honoring All Veterans Act of 2011 were crafted in consultation with veterans groups in Connecticut and across the country, and have the support of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

The Honoring All Veterans Act includes the following provisions:

Job and Educational Opportunities for Veterans. The unemployment rate of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans doubled from 2007 to 2010 and the Department of Labor estimates that over 1 in 4 veterans in their early twenties were unemployed at the beginning of the year, twice the rate of their non-veteran peers. Aiming its specific measures to aid veterans who are seeking education and employment, the Honoring All Veterans Act:

  • Increases the number of participants in independent living programs that allow veterans to participate in family and community life, and increase their potential to return to work.
  • Provides funding for outreach on campuses to help veterans maximize their ability to study and gain employment.
  • Authorizes a Department of Defense study of how best to ensure that civilian employers and educational institutions recognize veterans’ military training and qualifications. The military recruits the most talented men and women in America to serve and invests heavily in their professional development. Enabling the transfer of certificates and licensed skills from the military to civilian jobs would ensure that training accrued during service is not lost.
  • Directs the Department of Labor to help employers hire veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the hallmark injuries of Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Authorizes veterans to reuse the DOD Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and meet with counselors at any military installation for up to one year after leaving the service to receive information about job hunting, education and career development.

Assist Homeless Veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 76,000 veterans across the country are homeless on any given night, and nearly twice that number will be homeless at some point during the year. The current per diem given to homeless veterans does not address the rising costs, and regional variations in helping homeless veterans. Additionally, in early 2008 foreclosure rates in military towns were four times the national average. To assist homeless veterans the Honoring All Veterans Act:

  • Reforms the per diem program to take account of service costs and geographic disparities.
  • Helps military families who are on the verge of losing their home, by permanently extending their foreclosure protection.

Improve Veteran Health Care and Mental Health Services. Our veterans deserve the best health care that we can provide including treatment addressing the rapid increase of TBI and PTSD among returning soldiers. While twenty percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from such injuries, even when these injuries are diagnosed, service members often do not receive a full course of treatment.  To address health care shortcomings in treatment of veterans Honoring All Veterans Act:

  • Addresses these injuries and others by requiring the Department of Defense to identify and close the gap between screenings and treatment of brain injuries like TBI and PTSD.
  • Provides the Department of Veterans Affairs with a new source to recruit medical professionals through the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
  • Authorizes the VA to access state prescription drug monitoring programs in order to address substance abuse.
  • Allows military family members to access VA counseling services such as marriage and family counseling while a service member is deployed.
  • Directs the VA to improve rehabilitation and reintegration plans that address long term care for veterans with TBI.

Modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs. A 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs must streamline the transition from active service to veteran status, have a responsive board of veterans appeals, and constantly be updating pensions to reflect the cost of living for those that depend on them. To build on the work of Secretary Shinseki has done to modernize the VA, the Honoring All Veterans Act:

  • Provides for the Department of Defense and VA to work together to monitor the medical evaluation process for veterans and identify and solve challenges that arise.
  • Appoints an independent board to review all DOD to VA transition issues including benefits and electronic medical records.
  • Preserves the rights of veterans who have their documents misfiled when looking to claim lost or insufficient benefits before the Board of Veterans Appeals.
  • Increases the pension for disabled veterans married to one another who require aid and attendance.