Issue Position: Veterans - Commitment to America's Service Members: Past and Present
America owes its liberty, its prosperity, and its future to our veterans who have dedicated their lives to protecting our great country. John McCain has fought to honor our national commitment to our veterans who have given their careers and livelihoods to ensuring our freedom. He believes we must provide for service members and their families while they serve, we must help those who return from combat to adjust to civilian life, and we must honor and never forget the service of those who do not return.
John McCain has been a leader in Congress, fighting for all those who serve and their families, improving veterans' health care, providing veterans with the benefits they have earned, easing their transition to civilian life, and honoring the fallen.
Providing for Our Service Members
John McCain believes that meeting the needs of our service members who defend us is our obligation and is essential to our national security. He worked to increase pay scales for servicemen and women during both the Persian Gulf War and the current War on Terror and to increase enlistment and reenlistment bonuses for reservists and guardsmen. He also sponsored bills to give special tax relief to deployed service members and to set up overseas savings programs for the men and women fighting in the Gulf War.
Honoring the Service of Reservists and Guardsmen
The nation's reserve personnel have been a vital component of the Global War on Terror, with reservists serving side-by-side with active duty members in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe. John McCain believes that the fundamental role of reservists has changed over the last decade, and given their invaluable role and the tremendous sacrifices that these men and women have made, they should receive additional benefits than those that they have traditionally been granted.
For this reason, John McCain has supported legislation to expand retirement benefits for reservists, supported provisions to expand eligibility for health care benefits for reservists and their families, and sponsored legislation to grant survivor benefit payments to the spouses of reservists who die during or as the result of training.
Improving Veterans' Health Care
John McCain believes that America's veterans who dedicated themselves to protecting our country deserve the highest quality health care. He is committed to ensuring that veterans' health care programs receive the funding necessary to provide the quality health care our veterans need and deserve. He has worked to ensure that the Veteran's Affairs provides care for all eligible veterans, no matter where they live or what they need. In addition, John McCain has fought to ensure that retired servicemen and women have meaningful access to affordable health care.
Funding Veterans' Health Care
John McCain has voted repeatedly, throughout his career, to ensure that the Veteran's Affairs health care programs receive the funding necessary to serve our veterans. He has supported numerous funding increases, initiatives to make the VA more efficient, and proposals to give higher pay to VA doctors in order to recruit and retain high quality physicians and dentists.
Expanding Veterans' Access to Health Care
John McCain has worked to ensure that geography does not prevent veterans from receiving the care they have earned. He supported measures to allow veterans in remote areas of Alaska to get care at existing facilities run by the Indian Health Service or tribal organizations. He also rallied support for a demonstration project to send mobile health centers to remote locations where veterans need care. In addition, he sponsored legislation that would ensure that health care funding is distributed fairly, and that eligible veterans in all regions of the country can equally access high quality health care.
Serving the Special Health Care Needs of Veterans
John McCain understands that veterans face a broad array of health challenges, many of which disproportionately afflict our former service members. He has fought to ensure that veterans receive health care that reflects their unique needs.
For this reason, John McCain advocated for guaranteeing health benefits to veterans who have been exposed to radiation. He also worked to advance studies on the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and to give disability benefits to veterans with cancer and other health problems caused by Agent Orange. He supported efforts to provide veterans with treatment for tobacco related illnesses and substance abuse problems, and he sponsored legislation to cover mental health care in military retiree health plans. John McCain has also been a leading advocate for providing veterans with hospice benefits.
Health Care for Retired Veterans
John McCain believes that all military retirees, even if they are not eligible for VA health care, should be provided with meaningful access to health care. The federal government should ease the burden of health care costs on those people who have dedicated their careers to protecting our freedom. He has supported allowing military retirees to remain eligible for CHAMPUS or TRICARE military health care programs even when they reach the age of 65 and are eligible for Medicare. He has also consistently supported efforts to give military retirees tax breaks to help pay health insurance premiums, and he has opposed placing user fees on military retirees for using military medical facilities.
Providing Veterans with the Benefits They Have Earned
John McCain strongly believes that it is our duty as a nation to provide our veterans, who dedicated their careers, risked their personal safety, and sometimes sacrificed their lives in order to protect us, with the benefits that we have promised them and that they have earned.
John McCain has voted consistently to increase funding for veterans' benefits, recognizing that the people who serve our country should get priority over the disgraceful amounts of spending on corporate subsidies and wasteful pork barrel spending. He also pushed for various initiatives to ensure that veterans who are eligible for benefits know what they are entitled to and have the resources to obtain their benefits.
Caring for Our Disabled Veterans
John McCain has been a leading advocate in the Senate for disabled veterans throughout his entire career. He fought for nearly fifteen years, introducing numerous bills, to ensure that veterans with service-connected disabilities can receive the retirement benefits that they have earned, as well as the disability compensation benefits that they are entitled to. He has also worked to ensure that veterans can have their disability claims processed in a timely manner, working with the VA to rectify its huge backlog of claims and providing additional resources for that purpose.
John McCain believes very strongly that service members who suffered permanent injuries in service to our nation should not be forced to give up their disability compensation in order to collect their retirement pay. For this reason, John McCain has been a staunch supporter of repealing the historic ban on receiving both disability and retirement pay at the same time. Over the past few years, John McCain has successfully pushed for provisions to compensate disabled retired veterans for this disparity. Now, because of his efforts, veterans with severe combat-related disabilities are able to collect their retirement and disability compensation at the same time. John McCain will continue to fight for equal treatment of disabled veterans under the retirement system. In an effort to help disabled veterans with their health care, he cosponsored a measure to allow disabled veterans to be enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the same health insurance offered to Senators and Congressmen. He has also supported higher payments to disabled veterans and survivors of veterans who died because of service connected injuries.
John McCain has worked to increase VA resources for paralysis research, and he spearheaded an effort to establish a Blind Rehabilitation Center in Tucson, Arizona to help the 1,200 vets on waiting lists for rehab services for the blind.
A Leading Advocate for Gulf War Veterans
John McCain has always been a leader on veteran's issues, and Congress has often looked to him, particularly during times of conflict and war. On January 31, 1991, Senator Bob Dole appointed John McCain Co-Chairman of a task force to make recommendations to the Senate regarding effective policies to help the men and women and their families who served in Operations Desert Shield/Storm. John McCain worked with his colleagues to identify the most beneficial proposals, including doubling veteran and service member life insurance benefits, the establishment of a death gratuity payment for Persian Gulf service members, housing loan benefits for Gulf War veterans, expanded reemployment rights, and providing readjustment counseling for veterans.
Easing the Transition to Civilian Life
John McCain believes that we must do what we can to smooth the transition for veterans from military to civilian life. He has strongly supported educational and job counseling programs to help veterans get civilian employment. He has worked to provide new educational assistance for reservists. He also fought to extend the availability of G.I. bill education benefits for Vietnam veterans, and to expand flight training benefits to more veterans. In addition, John McCain is a strong supporter of the Troops-To-Teachers Act, a program to train veterans to become teachers, and introduced legislation to extend the program. John McCain also believes that we must provide more assistance to veterans who are recently discharged and has worked to extend unemployment and vocational training benefits for veterans.
John McCain has also been a strong advocate for those veterans most in need. He has supported numerous bills to help homeless veterans by providing them with counseling, independent living training, and residential treatment programs so that they can address and overcome those ailments that plague many homeless veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.
Protecting Veterans from Financial Loss
John McCain has also worked for a number of other financial protection and relief provisions for service members and veterans. He supported amendments to the bankruptcy reform bill that would protect veterans from being denied bankruptcy claims if they incurred their debts while defending our country. He also sponsored legislation to extend the tax filing deadline for Gulf War service members. In addition, he pushed for legislation to protect veterans from scam artists and loan sharks who would prey on low income veterans by offering them a small amount of "fast cash" to sign over their veteran's benefits.
Protecting for the Families of Our Fallen Heroes
John McCain believes that in addition to our national duty to provide benefits to veterans who return from combat, we must honor those who do not return and provide for their families with a death gratuity benefit and meaningful life insurance coverage. During the last two major military conflicts, John McCain worked to increase death gratuity payments. He cosponsored legislation to double the death gratuity payment in 2003 for service men and women who are killed in the War on Terror. He also sponsored legislation during the first Gulf War to increase the death gratuity payment, and to double the soldier and veterans' group life insurance.
In 2007, after learning about problems that the families of some service members killed in combat were having accessing the death gratuity payment, John McCain introduced legislation to allow service members to designate who they want their benefits to go to in the event of their death. John McCain has also worked to increase the survivor benefit plan for widows or widowers of retired veterans.
Honoring the Service and Sacrifice of Our Past and Present Veterans
John McCain has worked throughout his time in Congress to fulfill our nation's solemn duty to honor those veterans who sacrificed their lives to protect our liberty. In 2006, he sponsored legislation to immortalize the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial as a symbol honoring veterans of the Korean War.
He also advocated for the creation of a number of other veterans' memorials, including a memorial to honor disabled veterans and the National Native American Veterans' Memorial. He sponsored legislation to create National Medal of Honor Sites to honor recipients of the Medal of Honor. He worked to create Arizona's only National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix, and he authored legislation to ensure that veterans have honor guards at their funerals.