Our Community's Greatest Strength
Our region is fortunate to have so many veterans, servicemembers and military families call it home.
Servicemembers come to the South Sound to be stationed and an increasing number stay for their retirement due to our high quality of life. The last two years alone have seen a 24.2% increase in separated or retired active duty personnel moving to Washington--the 6th highest rate in the nation. As the Iraq war has ended and the Afghanistan war is winding down, over one million servicemembers are expected to leave the military before 2016. As current rates hold, we can expect many of them to come to Washington.
Our region is a better place to live because of our military families. Veterans and servicemembers are hardworking individuals who help sustain our region's economy. They're active in our community and care about its future.
We need to support them as much as they support us. It is crucial veterans and active servicemembers have access to good housing and health care benefits, fair pay and retirement benefits and support for their families. As an increasing number are expected to call Washington and the South Sound home in the coming years, we must act now to be prepared to support them in increased numbers.
Congress needs to ensure that TRICARE and the VA provide the highest quality medical care in the world to veterans, servicemembers and their families.
Advances in battlefield medicine have allowed more wounded warriors to return home. This is great news. However, it also requires our military's healthcare system to adapt to a higher-rate of disabled combat veterans who need medical care and rehabilitation. Congress needs to make sure that this money is prioritized in any budget it produces.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen the highest level of traumatic brain injury of any conflict in American history--effecting about 230,000 members of the military. Our military's healthcare system needs to be consistent and speak with one policy for our active duty, and guard, and reserves, as One Military. It needs to provide diagnosis for PTSD and TBI among other combat injuries and stay consistent from the point of diagnosis through the Disability Evaluation System process to provide the best care possible.
Female servicemembers make up more than ten percent of our active duty forces. These servicemembers have also seen more combat in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars than in previous conflicts. The military's healthcare system needs to make sure it is appropriately dealing with the unique needs of healthcare for women.
Just as new technology is making the civilian healthcare system quicker and more efficient, TRICARE and the VA must be continually improved to process healthcare claims faster and reduce waiting times for servicemembers, veterans and their families.
Transition Assistance Program:
"Concurrent Receipt" (CRDP, Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments): This refers to those military retirees who not only get a retiree pension, but also qualify for disability payments from the VA. Currently, only military retirees who also qualify for 50% service-connected disability compensation receive both full retirement and disability compensation. Veterans who have a less-than-50% service-connected disability are shortchanged because they only receive their retirement pay with a dollar-for-dollar offset. Retirement pay and VA disability compensation are provided for different reasons and purposes. One should not be offset from the other. Congress should extend concurrent receipt to all eligible veterans.
Mental Healthcare and Suicide Prevention
Mental healthcare for our servicemembers, veterans and their families cannot be overlooked. The wounds we cannot see are sometimes the most harmful.
Servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have seen the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder of any conflict in American history. Congress needs to make sure there are enough trained professionals capable of diagnosing and treating each servicemember or veteran affected by PTSD. Congress also needs to make sure these professionals are available and accessible to our servicemembers and veterans no matter where they live or what their financial circumstances may be.
In the past decade, the VA has noted a significant increase in suicide rates amongst veterans. More needs to be done to identify the causes of this increase and possible remedies. Research has shown that veterans receiving healthcare through the VA are less likely to commit suicide.
Families of servicemembers and veterans can also develop mental health problems as a result of their loved one's military service. Congress needs to make sure that military families get the access they too need to mental healthcare services.
The 2010 Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act made progress on all these fronts. Congress needs to make sure this legislation is properly implemented and strengthened as necessary.
Education and Job Opportunities
Our nation's economy is leaving many veterans and military families behind. The unemployment rate amongst recent veterans is consistently higher than the national average. Unemployment Rate for Post 9-11 Veterans from 18-24 years of age was 20.2% in January of 2012. Disturbingly, more than 100,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. This is unacceptable.
Veterans make great employees. They're hardworking, smart and dedicated. However, many employers don't think to seek out veterans when filling open positions. Congress needs to give the VA and the private sector more resources that they can use to connect employers looking to hire with qualified and ready-to-work veterans.
Many veterans find themselves after leaving the services without the higher education or vocational skills needed for their intended career path. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, passed in 2008, greatly increased the available funding for hundreds of thousands of recent veterans looking to pursue higher education.
Congress needs to keep funding this landmark legislation and work to remove the expiration of the benefits. A veteran's service to his or her country does not expire. Nor should his or her education benefits through the G.I. Bill. Congress also needs to make sure veterans have access to benefits supporting vocational training.
We need to end veteran homelessness. On a given night in 2009, nearly 76,000 veterans nationwide were homeless, and approximately 136,000 veterans spent at least one night in a shelter. Secretary Shinseki of VA has a stated goal to eradicate veterans homelessness in the next 4 years. Congress needs to make sure the VA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and private shelters are equipped with the resources needed to house homeless veterans and get them back on the right track.