Washington, Nov. 11 – As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, it is important to truly remember our veterans and ensure we are taking care of their needs.
One of their top priorities is employment. Government policies that help veterans with disabilities get and keep jobs are a win-win because they allow veterans the dignity and financial benefits of work and also grow our economy and save taxpayer money.
One year ago, President Elect Donald Trump said, “I will” when asked if he is committed to getting more veterans and people with disabilities employed.
“You gotta give them hope, build their spirit,” Trump said during a town hall in Newton, IA. “The unemployment numbers don’t tell the whole story.”
Trump has provided some specifics on how he would help veterans and people with disabilities who are not employed. According to his campaign website, Trump’s plan to reform the Veterans Administration includes increasing funding for job training and placement services (including incentives for companies hiring veterans), educational support and business loans.
There are currently 495,000 veterans who are unemployed. Many of them need job training and/or psychological counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are 3.8 million veterans with a disability. In Iraq and Afghanistan, 50,000 troops received significant injuries, 2.6 percent of whom had a major limb amputation. Of the approximately 2.7 million veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, nearly 20 percent have PTSD. In 2016 so far, 352,619 soldiers have been diagnosed with PTSD.
Answering a question by a veteran on healthcare at last year’s town hall, Trump claimed he’s “been the strongest by far toward the veterans.”
“Our veterans are being treated in many cases worse than the illegal immigrants that are coming in,” Trump said. “The waiting time in a reception room for a doctor now is the longest in the history of the Veterans’ Administration. People are waiting five or six days. Can you imagine you or me or anybody waiting five or six days to see a doctor?”
Trump detailed his plan that if a veteran visits a VA and is told he has more than a day’s wait, he can go to a public or private doctor or hospital nearby.
“If you go to the doctor’s office and you have a day wait, you can’t get service, then you’re going to go to a private doctor, or you’re going to go to a hospital nearby – public or private. You’re going to get yourself taken care of and we’re going to pay the bill,” Trump said, claiming this plan would be cheaper than what’s currently happening.
“Tens of thousands of veterans are dying waiting for a doctor – on things that could be cured with a pill, with a minor procedure,” Trump continued. “We’re going to take care of that. We’re gonna make the vets proud again to be an American.”
Trump’s written plan also acknowledges veteran’s “invisible wounds” by increasing funding for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and suicide prevention.
“This funding will help provide more and better counseling and care,” Trump’s plan states. “With these steps, the Trump plan will help the veteran community put the unnecessary stigma surrounding mental health behind them and instead encourage acceptance and treatment in our greater society.”
Ensuring veterans have every opportunity available is a nonpartisan issue, with many politicians paying attention to the prevalence of PTSD among returning veterans and veterans’ ability to have the opportunity to achieve a good standard of living.
Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who successfully unseated Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk for the U.S. Senate seat, has a unique perspective because she is veteran who became disabled while serving in Iraq.
“As a disabled Veteran, the issue of post-military transition is deeply important to me. I have dedicated my life to serving my country, and honoring those men and women who risk their lives every day to protect our nation. While serving at both the IDVA and the VA, I launched innovative programs and helped write legislation to help Veterans find jobs and to combat Veterans’ suicide and homelessness, especially for those veterans with disabilities. I get my own healthcare at Hines VA, so I am committed to making sure the VA health system works and delivers great health outcomes for all Vets.”
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who just won re-election, introduced the Careers for Veterans Act, which ensures “veterans are able to take advantage of the skills they acquired in the military and transition them to licenses and credentials needed for civilian employment.”
“Further, the bill would require the federal government to hire 10,000 qualified veterans and give preference to disabled veterans,” he added.
RespectAbility, along with several partners including Paralyzed Veterans of America, developed a resource called the Disability Employment First Planning Tool. This document details those practices and the most-effective models. If the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, which was signed into law a year ago, is put into place thoughtfully, it will help to reduce the government’s expenditure on SSI benefits, while enabling veterans with disabilities with the opportunity to become independent.
With help from Paralyzed Veterans of America, we’ve identified two other areas of concern for veterans and some ideas President Elect Trump could use to create his policies.
1) Do you support allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide or pay for reproductive services, including IVF, for veterans who have incurred a catastrophic disability while in service that precludes them from having children?
The VA currently does not provide health care benefits for procreative services to veterans with a service-connected condition that prevents the conception of a child. Reproductive assistance provided as a health care benefit through VA would ensure that these veterans are able to have a full quality of life that would otherwise be denied to them as a result of their service.
For many, one of the most devastating results of spinal cord injury or dysfunction is the loss of, or compromised ability, to have a child. As a result of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, many service members have incurred injuries from explosive devices that have made them unable to conceive a child naturally. While the Department of Defense does provide reproductive services to service members and retired service members, VA does not. When veterans have a loss of reproductive ability due to a service-connected injury, they must bear the total cost for any medical services should they attempt to have children. It is often the case that veterans cannot afford these services and are not able to receive the medical treatment necessary for them to conceive. For many paralyzed veterans, procreative services have been secured in the private sector at great financial and personal cost to the veteran and family.
2) Do you support expanding access to comprehensive caregiver support services to all catastrophically disabled service-connected veterans, not just those injured after September 11, 2001?
Severely disabled veterans with a service-connected injury or illness do not have full access to caregiver support programs and services from the VA. As a result of Public Law 111-163, the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010,” the VA only provides the Comprehensive Caregiver Support Program to caregivers of veterans with a service-connected injury that was incurred after September 11, 2001. The benefits include health care coverage through the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program of Veterans Affairs, a monthly stipend based on the care provided, and payment for travel and lodging when participating in medical appointments with a veteran.
The majority of PVA members are excluded from these VA caregiver benefits because of the arbitrary selection of the September 11, 2001 date, or because the law excludes veterans with serious diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS), both of which have a catastrophic impact on activities of daily living, and eventually leave veterans dependent on caregivers.
Quality programs that meet the critical needs of service-connected, catastrophically disabled veterans should not be denied because of their date of injury. No reasonable justification, other than cost considerations, can be provided as to why pre-9/11 veterans with a service-connected injury or illness should be excluded from the comprehensive caregiver program.
As severely disabled veterans begin to age, their caregivers will bear an increasing number of responsibilities. Without support services, quality of care is threatened and the veteran is more likely to be placed in costly institutional care. Both the exclusion of “serious illnesses and diseases,” and the use of the “date of injury” as an eligibility requirement for such an important benefit is unfair, and likely to have negative impacts on veterans’ quality of care and well-being.