The Vermont congressional delegation has called on the Army and National Guard to continue funding an essential outreach program for Vermont veterans returning from deployments in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Vermont Guard's first-of-its-kind outreach program was funded since 2006 by federal grants secured by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. With a 2010 grant of $2.4 million about to run out, a congressional budget logjam threatens continued funding for the important program.
The Army and National Guard may continue funding this program if Pentagon leaders direct them to do so.
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) asked Army Secretary John M. McHugh and Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, to designate funds to continue the program's operation this year and to develop a plan to continue the program in the future.
Their letter said, "These programs ensure Guard families have access to information regarding physical and behavioral health care, substance abuse treatment and prevention, and marriage and financial counseling services which make a difference for Guard member's successful reintegration following deployment."
The Vermont program has been used as a model by other states that have begun similar outreach programs. The Vermont delegation spearheaded a bipartisan campaign to gain the support of the congressional delegations of several states that have similar programs. Forty offices in the Senate and House have signed onto the effort.
A front-page article last year in the Stars and Stripes featured the Vermont program and said military leaders predicted it would become a model for the nation.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
The Honorable John McHugh
Secretary of the Army
Washington, DC 20310-0101
General Craig McKinley
Chief of the National Guard Bureau
The Pentagon 1E157
NGB 1636 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1636
Dear Secretary McHugh and General McKinley:
We are writing in support of National Guard outreach and reintegration programs operated in eight cities throughout the country which are set to expire. We encourage you to find the necessary funding for these programs throguh Fiscal Year 2011 and develop a strategy for continuing their operation in future years.
Our states currently operate outreach programs which go beyond the nationwide Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program and provide critical services to National Guard members and their families. These programs ensure Guard families have access to information regarding physical and behavioral health care, substance abuse treatment and prevention, and marriage and financial counseling services which make a difference for a Guard member's successful reintegration following a deployment.
We respectfully ask that the Army and National Guard work together to find the additional funding necessary to allow the programs in Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Minnesota to operate through the remainder of FY 2011.
Finally, given the evidence which has shown the tremendous success of these state programs, we ask that the Army and National Guard develop a proposal and expand the program to additional states and territories. We ask that this proposal be sent to the signatories of this letter as well as the Chair and Ranking members of the relevant committees in the Senate and House of Representatives as well as the co-chairs of the National Guard Caucus in both chambers.
We appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your response.
Kelly A. Ayotte
Michael F. Bennet
Frank R. Lautenberg
Jeffrey A. Merkley
G. R. Butterfield
Bill Pascrell Jr.
Collin C. Peterson
Steven R. Rothman