Washington, Nov. 1 – As veterans complete their service to their country, they require employment to sustain a living, provide a place to live and contribute as they reenter civilian life. 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.
As part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for president, senate or governor about their plans to address this issue. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer. The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to question 13 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “Do you have a plan for veterans with disabilities facing barriers transitioning from active duty to civilian employment?” This was adapted from a similar question, number 12, in the presidential questionnaire.
Ensuring veterans have every opportunity available is a nonpartisan issue, which is demonstrated by the statements of senate and gubernatorial candidates alike. In their responses, many candidates were passionate about both addressing the prevalence of PTSD among returning veterans and defending veterans’ rights to have the opportunity to achieve a good standard of living. While many had varied plans regarding employment for returning veterans with disabilities, they agreed that veterans deserve them.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who introduced the Careers for Veterans Act, responded about the importance of ensuring “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.”
Burr’s opponent, Democrat State Rep. Deborah Ross, called for lowering “barriers to transitioning back home” through support for “laws like the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
In Vermont, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said his plan would involve a scholarship program for veterans, “providing them access to higher education and thus laying the foundation for consistent, future employment.”
The plan of Democrat Sec. Sue Minter, who also is running for governor in Vermont, calls for collaboration. “I will work with our Veterans Administration offices, including Vermont’s VA hospital, and Vermont’s National Guard to identify and support those veterans encountering barriers to employment, whether those barriers involve health care, housing, education, training or the need for supportive services,” she responded.
Check out the candidates’ full responses below:
NOTE: Donald Trump declined to respond to the survey.
Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D)
“I have put forward a comprehensive plan to support all of our veterans, including those with disabilities, to ensure they have access to the health care and benefits they deserve. As with many other issues affecting PwDs, I have championed the rights of veterans with disabilities throughout my career. As First Lady, I fought for veterans who had what we later identified as Gulf War Syndrome. As the first New York Senator on the Armed Services Committee, I partnered across the aisle with Senator McCain to help raise money for a new, state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility to help seriously wounded service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. With support from the Wounded Warriors Project, the National Military Family Association, and the Military Officers Association of America, I introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure a continuum of care for severely injured service-members and address problems frustrating their transition to civil life. I built on my longstanding record of fighting for soldiers with latent and toxic wounds of war when I introduced legislation to support the family caregivers of service-members with traumatic brain injury. Following up on complaints I heard from soldiers at Walter Reed and other medical centers about widespread difficulties with disability claims, I introduced the Restoring Disability Benefits for Injured and Wounded Warriors Act of 2007 and the Protecting Military Family Financial Benefits Act of 2007 to ensure that wounded soldiers and their families receive the disability and financial benefits they need and deserve.
Building on my record of service in the Senate, I will ensure the VA fulfills its mandate of providing veterans with disabilities the highest quality care. Importantly, my plan focuses not only on the pressing challenge of reforming the VHA, but also on modernizing and synchronizing the full spectrum of veterans’ benefits across the federal government so the VHA can refocus on what it does best: providing veteran-centric, service-connected care. Alongside the creation of a standing President’s Council on Veterans to coordinate this cross-government approach, I will oversee an end-to-end evaluation of the full scope of benefits afforded to our current and former military members to ensure that our support is smart, effective, and designed to best meet the needs of veterans with disabilities today and for generations to come. I will end the disabilities backlog by streamlining and simplifying the claims process; improving the VA’s partnership with the DOD; and launching an Innovation Initiative that connects the VA with leaders in the nation’s leading businesses, universities, and non-profits to develop 21st-century solutions for sustainably managing the claims and appeals process.
I will continue to champion for comprehensive coverage for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries by increasing funding for mental health training, education, and family outreach; setting up state-based veteran programs as part of my broader effort to combat drug and alcohol addiction; and strategically employing the private sector to expand access to ongoing care. Former members of our armed services, as well as the vets of tomorrow, deserve access to world-class medical and counseling services whenever and wherever they are needed. This is why a crucial part of my platform includes reviewing and upgrading discharge categorizations for service members who have been improperly separated from benefits due to service-related mental health issues, as well as ensuring that military sexual trauma is addressed in the same manner as other forms of post-traumatic stress. We need a VHA designed for the 21st century, and this includes requiring the provision of reproductive services across the VHA to ensure women have access to the full spectrum of medical services they need.
Lastly, my plan recognizes that ongoing care of our veterans with disabilities and their families cannot and should not be limited to the effects of war on their long-term health. Our veterans are an enormous asset to the future of our economy and the vitality of our communities, and as President I will work to support and broaden initiatives that provide educational benefits, job training, and support for service members entering and re-joining the workforce, to ensure that all our vets – no matter their wounds of war – have the chance to get ahead and stay ahead.”
State Sen. Colin Bonini (DE-R)
“Increase incentives for hiring veterans in state government, including for veterans with disabilities. I am a supporter of Victory Village, which provides housing and other supports for veterans, including training for veterans with disabilities and support in the workforce.”
Rep. John Carney (DE-D)
“I believe, as Vice President Biden has often said, “Our nation’s one truly sacred obligation is to prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way, and to care for them when they return home.” After 15 straight years of conflicts, more and more Americans are returning home bearing the visible, and invisible, scars of defending our nation. As a member of Congress, one of my most important responsibilities is to help Delaware veterans get the care and support they deserve, including access to quality healthcare, housing, and employment. I have been a strong advocate for improving healthcare for veterans through the VA system, and a vocal critic of the VA, particularly in Wilmington and Philadelphia, when it was discovered that veterans were not being provided the timely care they needed. For the last two years, I have hosted Veterans Office Hours events in every county of the state to bring together federal agencies, service organizations, and local nonprofits to help address whatever needs veterans express. I have also co-hosted, along with Delaware Senators Carper and Coons, more than 30 job fairs for Delawareans, including a dozen specifically for veterans looking to connect with employers. If I’m elected Governor, I will look to continue these efforts and find additional opportunities to support veterans returning to civilian life.”
Gov. Steve Bullock (MT-D)
“Montana is one of just ten states implementing the Veterans Direct Home and Community Based Services Under the program, veterans are given a flexible budget for services that can help them continue to live at home or in their community. Veterans are assisted by local Area Agencies on Aging in deciding for themselves what mix of services will best meet their personal care needs, hiring their own personal care aides (including family or neighbors) and purchasing items or services in order to live independently in the community.”
Ms. Linda Coleman (NC-D) – running for Lt. Gov.
“Veterans return from service with a unique skill set that can benefit employers and the overall community. We need to protect veterans from discrimination. Veterans, especially those with service-connected disabilities such as PTSD, need job training and job assistance programs to ensure they and their families are able to live with respect and dignity. I support employers and employment programs that seek to hire our skilled veterans. Those employers should be rewarded with grants and tax credits for connecting veterans with jobs.”
Mr. Mike Weinholtz (UT-D)
“The Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs has taken this issue quite seriously, and I applaud them for their continued efforts to help bring down the barriers veterans with disabilities deal with when returning home.
However, like most state agencies, the department has been expected to more with less, and this is placing a real strain on the department as more and more service members are returning home from conflicts around the globe. As governor, I would like to ensure that this department receives the support it requires to help transition this important population back into the workforce, be it through partnering with the Department of Workforce services and/or USOR, or by making direct connections with companies that offer career opportunities to those who have been harmed while protecting our nation.”
Sec. Sue Minter (VT-D)
“I do not feel that we are providing enough support for our veterans, especially those with disabilities. I will work with our Veterans Administration offices, including Vermont’s VA hospital, and Vermont’s National Guard to identify and support those veterans encountering barriers to employment, whether those barriers involve health care, housing, education, training or the need for supportive services.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (VT-R)
“I plan to work with the Vermont National Guard on a scholarship program for those who serve and have served our country, providing them access to higher education and thus laying the foundation for consistent, future employment. When my father returned from World War II as a double amputee, he found work with the State of Vermont in the Transportation Department. This speaks to our State’s record of open hiring practices and, in honor of my father’s legacy that will never change under my watch.”
Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“Kamala Harris believes that we must provide our nation’s veterans with the support they earned while wearing our nation’s military uniform. Over the years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been plagued by scandal and budget crises, resulting in disgraceful levels of service and irresponsible delays in providing medical care and disability benefits. As California Attorney General, Kamala formed a working group to fight scams and other predatory conduct uniquely targeting service members and veterans. She also went after predatory for-profit colleges like Corinthian for their misleading ads to veterans, and has called on the VA to restore GI Bill benefits to veterans defrauded by Corinthian. In the Senate, Kamala will champion a robust VA for our veterans. She will fight to ensure that when veterans leave military service, they have the support they need to readjust to civilian life, including proper physical and mental health care, higher education and occupational training. Kamala will bring together federal, state, and local government leaders plus Veteran Service Organizations and non-profits to ensure that every veteran knows what benefits they earned and how to access those benefits, and she will work to streamline the claims and appeals process for veterans’ benefits.”
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-D)
“As a senior member of the House Armed Services, I have worked hard to not only ensure our servicemen and servicewomen are well-equipped and trained while in the military, but have also focused on the quality of life for our veterans especially during transition. Particularly following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, service members were not only transitioning into the civilian world with physical disabilities but also mental health disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries. We found that these mental disorders were hampering essentially disabling these young men and women from finding employment.
I believe we must continue to provide effective mental health screening before service members are discharged from the military in order to not only identify these mental illnesses early but to ensure they are provided the health assistance they need. I will continue to work to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs are funded to provide the best medical services on a timely manner to those who are disabled. It is imperative that we provide the necessary resources for veterans with disabilities. Continuing to set up programs through government where priority is given to disabled veterans is also extremely vital.”
Mr. John Carroll (HI-R)
“No, however I am aware and concerned and will be working with the VA to ensure full coverage for veterans.”
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“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.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (IL-R)
Co-Founded the Veterans Job Caucus: In 2012, Senator Kirk and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) established the Congressional Veterans Jobs Caucus that seeks to create solutions for the challenges of all Active Duty, Reserve and Guard members face as they transition to civilian life – including those that come home with injuries from their service.
Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-D)
“I support the continued leadership of Secretary Robert McDonald. I think he is the right person to lead the VA in delivering needed training, counseling, and health care services for our disabled veterans.”
Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“I support increased tax credits for those who employ veterans with disabilities. I also want to improve discrimination protections for veterans and military families set out in the Uniformed Services Reemployment and Readjustment Act (USERRA) and the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA).”
Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“I am a proud supporter of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, as well as the ADA. I will make sure these are enforced to the letter of the law. Furthermore, expanding the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for veterans with disabilities is an initiative that I am excited to support.”
Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“Veterans are owed every ounce of support we as a country can provide them for their service. We must retool the entire Veterans Affairs system to ensure that all needs of those transitioning out of service into civilian life are met.”
Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)
“As the daughter of a veteran, I am committed to improving the lives of all veterans including those with disabilities. When elected, I hope to serve on the Veterans committee.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“With the Walter Reed National Medical Center located in my Congressional district, I am very concerned with the treatment and transition of our wounded warriors. We must continue to expand research into traumatic brain injury, advanced prosthetics, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other issues that many of our returning veterans face and that can present barriers to employment. In addition to continuing to work to improve access to health care through the VA system, we must also provide necessary resources to tackle the disability claims backlog. Finally, we must increase investment in education and job training programs and make the Work Opportunities Tax Credit for veterans permanent to prepare veterans for employment and incentivize employers.”
Sec. of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, I have seen firsthand my fellow soldiers return from active duty with disabilities incurred during their service to our country. With the number of veterans with disabilities increasing, it has become imperative for our country to not turn our backs on the men and women in uniform who gave so much. This includes making sure our veterans, particularly those with disabilities, have the resources and support they need upon return. I fully support laws — such as the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act – that protect veterans from employment discrimination.
I have also called for a larger solution to fix the broken VA system. That includes cutting red tape and reducing cumbersome paperwork requirements. Government bureaucracy should not be an obstacle to treatment at VA hospitals or receiving benefits that veterans have earned. While I was in the service, much of the paperwork was done automatically, but once men and women become veterans, they’re on their own when they need it most– and that needs to be fixed. In doing so we can provide the care and support our veterans with disabilities need.
As Secretary of State, I pushed for passage of the Startups for Soldiers Act, which would waive all business start-up fees for members of the Missouri National Guard and active duty military members returning to Missouri. It is important to me that veterans, with or without disabilities, who have dreams of starting their own businesses have the tools to do so.”
Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“As a veteran myself, few issues are of greater concern to me than supporting veterans with disabilities. I authored H.R. 1816, the Vulnerable Vets Housing Reform Act, legislation which was recently signed into law and will help reduce veterans homelessness amongst low-income, disabled veterans. The bill reverses a flawed HUD policy that counted a VA benefit reserved for disabled veterans as income, thereby reducing the amount of housing assistance that veteran received. This bill will help keep our most vulnerable veterans in their homes.
I am also a cosponsor of H.R. 1581, the Veterans Education Tax Security Act. The VETS Act ensures that discharged loans would be excluded from gross income in the case of (1) totally and permanently disabled (TPD) veterans, as determined by the Secretary of the VA, (2) deceased veterans, and (3) deceased members of the Armed Forces.”
Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“As Attorney General, I worked with Holly Petraeus to raise awareness about predatory lending practices and scam artists targeting our troops. In Reno, I heard stories from veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries and PTSD who had been persuaded to sign up for college classes, and didn’t even remember doing so. That didn’t stop the for-profit colleges from pressing them for full payment, even though they were not regularly attending classes. I took on the for-profit colleges that tried to use veterans to enrich themselves and joined 20 other Attorneys General to recover $2.5 million that had been stolen from our veterans. But I didn’t stop there. I joined with 12 other Attorneys General and pushed the federal government to close the loopholes in the Military Lending Act that allowed predatory lending against our veterans. As a U.S. Senator, I will continue protecting our veterans from scam artists and predators as they transition from active duty to civilian employment.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“I have cosponsored the Hire More Heroes Act, bipartisan legislation that would incentivize companies to hire more veterans by exempting the business from the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate if the veteran is covered by TRICARE. This would also cover veterans with disabilities. I have also cosponsored the Manufacturing Skills Act, a bill to establish a program that promotes reforms in workforce education and skill training for manufacturing, as well as identify challenges faced within the manufacturing sector by underrepresented and disadvantaged workers, including veterans or those with disabilities. Additionally, I have cosponsored the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, which would have authorized the Attorney General to award grants to establish or expand veterans treatment court programs, improving outcomes for transitioning veterans that get into trouble with the law.
Additionally, wounded warriors and disabled veterans should have access to the very best when it comes to treatment options, and that includes top of the line prostheses and prosthetic sockets. New Hampshire is fortunate to have a number of wonderful firms with employees who devote their lives to developing this sort of innovative technology that will help our wounded warriors have an improved quality of life. There is a particular focus on developing better technology for lower limb amputees, and I have used my position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to repeatedly get language in the annual defense bill that improves the quality of prostheses and prosthetic sockets for our wounded warriors.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I am committed to fulfilling our obligations to all of our veterans by ensuring that they and their families receive the benefits they’ve earned and by supporting efforts to help our returning servicemen and women secure high quality jobs.
As Governor, I helped launch Operation VETS Connect to enhance New Hampshire’s existing efforts to support veteran hiring. I worked to hire more veterans service officers at the New Hampshire Office of Veterans Services and helped make permanent a commission studying the effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries suffered by members of the armed forces and veterans in the line of duty. And I have supported veterans courts to help provide alternatives to incarceration for some veterans with disabilities through participation in behavioral health treatment programs.
In the Senate, I will continue fighting to ensure that our veterans receive the support that they need and have earned. My priorities include continuing to reform the VA and working to eliminate VA wait list errors. I also strongly support efforts to make it easier for veterans to access mental health care. And I will work to improve veterans’ education and to build on New Hampshire’s efforts to end veteran homelessness, including expanding housing vouchers for veterans in need.”
Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“I believe the first step is to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is providing quality, timely health care to veterans with disabilities. As the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I helped write legislation in 2014 to address the VA health care crisis. This law established the Veterans Choice Program and provided $5 billion in additional resources to enhance VA facilities and hire more medical providers at the VA.
I recently introduced the Veterans Choice Improvement Act to take additional steps to reduce the hassles and delays veterans are still experiencing in getting medical care. This is a matter of utmost importance to veterans with disabilities.
Transitioning veterans need access to education to facilitate their transition to civilian employment. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is a tremendous program that has helped many veterans and their family members, and I have been proud to support it.
I have also championed legislation to ensure that disabled veterans are able to access services like the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program. Too often, veterans facing the toughest barriers to employment were not able to access the very services designed for them.
I have also introduced the Careers for Veterans Act to ensure 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.”
State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
“I understand the sacrifices veterans make to protect freedom and the folks here at home. My dad was a doctor in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, and he taught me the importance of taking care of those who serve our country. This is especially important for the twenty-five percent of veterans who report service-connected disabilities. Laws like the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act are essential to protecting disabled veterans transition back to civilian employment. We must continue to support veterans with disabilities and lower barriers to transitioning back home.”
Mr. Joe DeMare (OH-G)
“No. but I intend to study this important issue and create one.”
Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“I believe our veterans should have all of their needs met, no matter the expense. I support providing our Veterans with insurance, education, housing, and rehabilitation if needed. Currently the system is set up so difficulty that most veterans fall through the cracks and never receive help, which contributes to the suicide rate. The Department of Veterans Affairs pays a ridiculous amount of money to the people in charge and this has to end. I believe by ensuring the people in charge of our Veterans Affairs are actual veterans themselves is the first step in ensuring they receive quality care. Second, we need counselors available to every veteran prior to leaving the service and throughout their lives that are able to navigate both the VA system and as well the job market. Third, we need specific health care that is based on Veterans only, this will ensure they are able to see the doctors they need to and as well receive the medical treatment they deserve. This will also enable the ability of the doctor to be able to apply for the grants needed for housing adjustments, medical supplies, and physical therapy. Currently, American’s have a stigma about veterans, especially those with PTSD. There needs to be education and campaigns that advertise this and educate the public regarding so this can be stopped. There needs to be a law passed that punishes employers against discriminating against Veterans. There needs to be a hiring initiative that prioritizes veterans in the job market that focuses on ensuring disabled veterans are able to acquire employment they are able to do. I meet veterans often that are disabled and either homeless or stuck at the bottom of society, these veterans tell me about how they are not receiving help nor the funds they should be. This is a disgrace, and America should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this to happen. Just as there are programs for offenders, refugees, and others there needs to be programs that ensure no veteran is left behind especially those who are disabled. I understand that many of these laws exist however they are grossly abused and I believe that an entire VA package needs to be submitted solely about Veterans with proper enforcement and funding set up.”
Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“My brother served in the Marines for a number of years and I saw firsthand how difficult it can be to transition back into civilian life. I support increasing services for veterans—from healthcare to housing and job support, to getting a handle on day-to-day things like paying bills. All of these services should have special provisions for those veterans with disabilities, ensuring that the transition is smooth for vets across the board.”
Mr. Jay Williams (SD-D)
“I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected. As a veteran myself, I am aware of the issues facing veterans especially when dealing with PTSD and I am committed to working to see these veterans receive the assistance they need and deserve.”
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“Veterans with disabilities have valuable skills to contribute, and I support policies like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit that promote veteran hiring. But a tax credit alone doesn’t eliminate the barriers that veterans with disabilities encounter as they transition into civilian employment. I support comprehensive health care for veterans, including mental health care, and I would oppose any effort to privatize veterans’ health care. I also support programs that give veterans opportunities to pursue further education and training, and I voted for the post 9/11 GI Bill. My opponent voted against the Veterans Jobs Corps, which would have employed 20,000 veterans and doubled the tax credit for hiring veterans with disabilities.”
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.
The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at https://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.