On Veterans Day 2021, the Biden Administration announced new actions to address health effects of military exposures on veterans. The White House provided a fact sheet outliningnew initiatives to address health impacts of military service:
Exposure to contaminants and environmental hazards poses a major health concern for veterans of all generations. There are also gaps and delays in the scientific evidence demonstrating conclusive links between known exposures and health impacts, leaving many veterans without access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and high-quality treatment to address significant health conditions. For example, it took decades to provide access to compensatory benefits and health care to many Vietnam era veterans for conditions presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure. For the newest generation of veterans, concerns about burn pits and other exposures continue to mount. While the federal government has taken some steps to address these issues, including implementing registries to track veterans exposed to potentially hazardous substances, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing more to enable timely access to services and benefits for those potentially exposed to hazardous materials.
As we mark Veterans Day and honor those who have worn the uniform of the United States, the Administration is moving forward to support our service members and veterans who may have encountered environmental hazards by:
Developing and testing a model for establishing service connection. It can be difficult for veterans to prove connection for disabilities resulting from environmental hazards. To mitigate this difficulty, VA may create presumptions of exposure in order to establish service connection for various chronic conditions when the evidence of an environmental exposure and the associated health risks are strong in the aggregate but hard to prove on an individual basis. In order to deliver benefits more quickly to veterans who developed disabilities due to exposure to environmental hazards and to lower the evidentiary burden on such veterans, VA developed a new model to accelerate the decision-making process to consider adding new presumptive conditions. This new model takes into consideration not only consensus reports from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, but also includes analyses of data from other sources as well, including data from the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Veterans Health Administration. The new model relies upon a multi-faceted scale to evaluate the strength of scientific and other evidence and allow VA to make faster policy decisions on key exposures. VA successfully applied this model to examine the association between exposures to particulate matter and three respiratory conditions, as announced last May.
Adding new presumptive conditions. In August, VA began processing disability claims for asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis based on presumed exposure to particulate matter. Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations and other areas and who developed these conditions within 10 years of military service are now eligible to apply for disability benefits and access to VA health care. This rulemaking was based upon application of the new presumptive model and involved careful review of a study conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as other evidence assessed by VA subject matter experts.
Applying new model to review evidence of service connection for rare respiratory cancers and constrictive bronchiolitis. VA will further test the new presumptive model to assess potential associations between military environmental exposures and constrictive bronchiolitis, lung cancers, and rare respiratory cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx or trachea and salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea. The President has directed VA to complete the review of rare cancers and provide recommendations about new presumptions of service connection within 90 days. Based on the results of this review, the Administration will consider initiating additional rulemaking. Once the process is complete, the Administration will continue to test this model on additional health conditions and exposures to ensure more timely review and consideration of potential service connection.
Improving data on individual exposures. The Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record (ILER) is the primary Department of Defense and VA application to track, record, and assess environmental and occupational exposure to potentially hazardous substances. Currently, ILER is not scheduled to reach full operating capability until September 2023. To ensure full capability of the ILER, DoD plans to expand and accelerate the development schedule—and add additional data—enabling more comprehensive information on health risks of potential exposures to be more rapidly incorporated into service member and veterans medical care and benefit decisions.
Raising awareness of VA benefits related to military exposures. Many veterans are unaware of their eligibility for benefits and services related to potential military exposures. In addition, some claims adjudicators may not have up-to-date awareness of recent policies related to conditions newly presumed to be service-connected. In October 2021, VA launched an outreach campaign to inform service members and veterans about eligibility and benefits related to chronic disabilities that may be due to military exposures while in service. This includes efforts to embed educational and outreach materials into the Transition Assistance Programs (TAP) and as part of the Solid Start program, which reaches out to transitioning service members at regular intervals during the first year following their military separation. VA will also initiate new public service announcements and live events to encourage early and regular engagement with VA and other federal agencies for benefits, health care, and other services. VA also plans to provide refresher trainings for all claims processors, share information related to military exposures, and host a series of Q&A sessions related to implementation of the new presumptive disabilities that were implemented this summer. VA will also revise Frequently Asked Question materials and call scripts to ensure that front line employees are able to better assist veterans through the claims process.
Expanding training for VA and non-VA providers. Veterans often find that their providers and compensation and pension examiners are not well-trained to understand or treat veterans’ exposure concerns. To address this issue, VA has completed a contract with the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM) to provide a five-module certificate training program in military environmental exposures. This will provide a basic level of competence for all VA- and non-VA providers across the nation that will help better treat veterans with concerns about toxic exposures. VA will require all providers to complete the first module of this training for an entry-level understanding of the health outcomes of military exposures and encourage the remaining four modules for certification.
Establishing network of specialized providers and call center. Veterans with concerns about the health outcomes of military exposures experience inconsistent care to address these specific issues, especially outside of VA. Beginning in 2022, VA will launch VET-HOME, The Veterans Exposure Team-Health Outcomes of Military Exposures. VET-HOME will consist of two interconnected parts: a call center for veterans and providers, and a nationwide network of specialists. Veterans with questions about environmental exposures will call into a central location and be guided through the registry exam or environmental exposure process. They would then be referred to one of 40 environmental health providers across the United States who would use a telemedicine platform to assess and if necessary refer the veteran to a VA facility to complete any specialty testing, like a pulmonary function test or other lab work. Providers with questions on military exposures would be referred to one the 40 military environmental heath subject matter experts. The results of the consultation would be shared with the veteran’s primary care doctor, helping to deliver better care to the veteran.
Extending Eligibility Period for VA Health Care. Some Veterans do not have concerns about their health until several years after deployment or leaving service. At present, VA allows veterans to receive free VA health care for up to 5 years after discharge or release for any condition related to service in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation New Dawn (OND) in Iraq. This is called an “enhanced eligibility period.” To ensure that veterans who served in these conflicts have access to health care from VA, the Administration will call upon Congress to implement a change to the statute to enable a longer enhanced enrollment period for the 3 million veterans who deployed to support recent combat operations.
Taken together, these actions will improve our understanding of the health effects of military-related exposures, educate providers and veterans about these exposures, and provide timelier access to health services and benefits for individuals who were exposed. The Administration will continue to prioritize efforts to support veterans who were exposed to environmental hazards during their military service. At the same time, the Administration will work with Congress on its encouraging ongoing efforts to ensure we are able to quickly and fairly recognize additional presumptions of service-connected disabilities, in order to live up to our sacred obligation to provide veterans the care they have earned.
As Second Lady in the Obama Administration, Dr. Jill Biden worked closely with First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of bettering lives for military families. VP Joe Biden, candidate for President, is proposing a plan to reinvigorate and expand that program for military families, caregivers and survivors. This is from the Biden campaign:
FACT SHEET: The Biden Plan to Fulfill Our Commitment to Military Families, Caregivers and Survivors
As parents of a service member who deployed to Iraq, Vice
President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden understand that it’s not just military
members who sign up to serve our nation, their families do too. The Bidens
understand the sleepless nights, wondering if your deployed loved one is safe;
the difficulties children experience while their parent is serving far away;
and all the added sacrifices and challenges, big and small, military families
face because they choose selfless service. Our military families never fail to
give their best to the United States, and we owe them our best in return.
Less than one percent of Americans sign up to serve. They volunteer to
shoulder the sacrifices necessary to keep our country safe. That’s why Vice
President Biden has long been adamant that, as a nation, our one truly sacred
obligation is to properly prepare and equip our troops when we send them to
war, and to take care of them and their families — during deployments and when
they return home.
Building on the Biden Commitment to Military Families
The Obama-Biden Administration made support for our military families a
signature issue–and a personal priority. Together with First Lady Michelle
Obama, Dr. Biden created Joining Forces, a national initiative driving
top-level focus on the issues that matter to military families, service
members, and veterans including employment, education, and wellness. Joining
Forces supported opportunities that led to the hiring or training of more
than 1.5 million veterans and
military spouses and drove reforms in all 50 states to reduce credentialing
barriers for qualified military spouses seeking employment. Dr. Biden also
supported the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) Military Spouse Employment
Partnership, which brought together hundreds of companies to help 100,000 military spouses find
As a life-long educator, Dr. Biden spearheaded “Educate the Educators”–a
commitment from more than 100 colleges and universities to
take steps to meet the unique needs of military-connected children–and championed the GI Comparison tool to
help veterans and military family members choose high-quality post-secondary
educational institutions. She also worked to make sure that all 50 states signed the Interstate
Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children to better
address relocation challenges facing military school-aged children.
Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden continued this commitment after leaving
office, making support for military families a key focus of their continued
public service. The Biden Foundation sought to drive
economic opportunity for military spouses, create supportive educational
environments for military-connected children, and change the conversation
around mental health for service members, veterans, and their families.
As President and First Lady, the Bidens will ensure we keep our national
commitment to military families by relaunching and strengthening Joining
Forces, making it a priority for a Biden Administration.
We know that many future service members come from military families. So family
readiness is integral to mission readiness, both now and in the future. This
cannot be an afterthought. It is a national security imperative, and it should
be resourced and supported as such.
Providing Resources for Military Spouses, Caregivers, and
Prioritizing Support for Military Children
President Biden will inspire a future generation of
Americans to volunteer for military service by ensuring we fulfill our
obligations to the generations who have already answered the call to serve our
country and by supporting the well-being of ALL military families.
Modernize Compensation to
Keep Pace with the Current Economy: Today,
more military families are struggling to make ends meet, and
some report food insecurity, lack of quality childcare, and poor financial health.
That is totally unacceptable. Military service members and their families risk
everything for our country–they must be guaranteed a living wage. But the
existing compensation framework simply does not allow military
families–especially those who are young and more vulnerable–to thrive in
today’s modern economy. President Biden will work aggressively to update the
federal workforce compensation framework for service members so that the
government leads the way in ensuring hard-working families can attain a middle
class life, and he will support legislation which will, in the meantime,
provide an additional allowance for military families living below the poverty
Create Stability by
Increasing Time between Permanent Change of Station (PCS) Moves: Every year, more than 400,000 Permanent Change of Station
(PCS) moves occur for service members and their families. This
system is expensive, and it is broken. Military families consider frequent
relocation as a driver for negative outcomes in career opportunities for military
spouses, military child education, and the
development of supportive social networks. While every service member and
family understands that mission is paramount, we must invest in solutions that
build stability for families and set conditions for service member retention
and military family well-being.
As president, Biden will commission research and develop solutions to support
the increase of time between PCS moves while ensuring we meet targets for
Operational and Personnel Tempo in order to meet our national security demands.
This will require that we comprehensively examine the potential positive and
negative impacts of any changes to deployment cycles, unit assignment policies,
and force size calculations. One such solution could be investing in the
creation of virtual or hybrid learning scenarios for mandatory Professional
Military Education (PME) so that service members and their families can remain
in place, rather than PCS to a new base for a short educational tour.
Ensure Military Spouse
Professional and Economic Opportunity: Military
spouses are often more highly educated than their civilian peers, yet they face
an unemployment rate of around 30%. Frequent relocation
and high operational tempos often stifle their career trajectory. The military
personnel system was designed with the single-earner family in mind, but many
military families, like their civilian counterparts, depend on earning a second
income or simply want the opportunity for the military spouse to pursue a
career. Military families are increasingly experiencing challenges such
as food insecurity or insufficient savings for
emergencies, and with far too many military spouses unemployed or
underemployed, meeting these needs is a challenge. LGBTQ military spouses may
also be disproportionately affected when they reside in states that are allowed
to discriminate based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Trump Administration has not only allowed but encouraged these
discriminatory practices, all while claiming to support the military. It’s
hypocritical and just plain wrong.
To increase economic opportunity for military spouses, President Biden will:
Invest $500 million in a 3-year Department of Defense (DOD)
military spouse entrepreneurship pilot program, which will provide
micro-grants, mentorship, and technical assistance to military spouses who are
interested in starting or growing small businesses.
Ensure that the DoD’s Military Spouse Education and Career
Opportunity office is fully funded and staffed so that effective programming
such as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), My Career
Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarships, and the Military Spouse Transition
Program (MySTeP) have the opportunity to deliver results and raise awareness
and utilization among military families.
Build bridges between the private sector and the U.S.
government to help educate employers about the value of military spouse talent,
drive commitments to hire, retain, and promote them, and create concrete career
opportunities, as Joining Forces did.
Expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to include
Undo the Trump administration’s discriminatory policies and
redouble efforts with state officials to ensure that LGBTQ military spouses
have the support they need to pursue successful careers.
Continue efforts begun during the Obama-Biden Administration
to put an end to unnecessary occupational licensing requirements. While
licensing is important in some occupations to protect consumers, in many
occupations licensing does nothing but thwart economic opportunity. If a
military spouse who works in an occupation that requires a license or
credential and has to move because of their military member’s career, they may
have to get certified all over again. As president, Biden will build on the
Obama-Biden Administration’s efforts to incentivize states to reduce unnecessary
licensing requirements and to ensure licenses are transferable from one state
to the next.
Fully fund installation-based child care facilities and
expand awareness of the DoD fee assistance program, as supported by leading advocates
for military families,, so that military spouses can more easily
pursue their educations and careers and tap into respite care to relieve
stressors of deployments.
for Caregivers:Caregivers of
wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans face a variety of
challenges, including negative health outcomes, lost wages, and difficulties
planning their future. They are essential to military families and our
veterans, and we owe them the same commitment and support that they show to our
wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans.
As president, Biden will:
Ensure that caregivers of active duty service members
receive adequate professional and peer support, including competent mental
health care, financial readiness training, and transition support throughout
the rehabilitation timeline (whether that is leading to the service member’s
medical retirement or a return to duty).
Provide transparency and high-touch case management via
in-person or telehealth sessions with caregiver coordinators for those
caregivers enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Caregiver
Support Program, especially to provide personalized assistance as they navigate
dual eligibility for benefits and services from both the DoD and VA.
A critical part of meeting our commitment to military
families is to do so on time, something the Trump Administration has failed to
do. President Biden will ensure that the eligibility expansion for the VA
Caregiver Support Program meets its timelines and collects longitudinal
satisfaction data through regular surveying of those enrolled or enrolling in
Help caregivers of wounded, ill, injured, or elderly
veterans pay for long-term care by providing relief through the creation of a
$5,000 tax credit for informal caregivers, modeled off of legislation supported
by AARP. This tax credit will be in addition to the financial support provided
by the VA Caregiver program.
Support proposals to expand opportunities for much needed
respite care for caregivers, to include those offered within DoD, VA, and
through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Institute a waiver for the Survivors’ and Dependents’
Educational Assistance Program (Chapter 35), so that spouses and survivors who
have not accessed their benefits in the allotted time frame will have the
opportunity to request additional time.
Improve Military Child
Education: There are more
than 1 million children of active
duty service members worldwide. Whether they are educated in Department of
Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools, local school districts, parochial
schools, home schools, or online schools, military children require support to
ensure they have every opportunity to succeed in their education.
As president, Biden will:
Propose legislation to expand the Military Student
Identifier (MSI) to all military-connected
children (to include children of National Guard and Reserve personnel
regardless of activation/order status), children of veterans, and children of
deceased service members or veterans, who are often impacted by the service of
their parents. Under the Obama-Biden Administration, we passed into law the
Every Student Succeeds Act, which included the MSI, a designation that allows
educators and schools to better understand where military-connected children
are receiving their education, and how we can better support
them. Currently, the MSI extends only to children of active duty service
members, excluding children of National Guard, Reserve, veterans, caregivers,
and children of the fallen. But these children face unique challenges too,
and we need to know who they are so we can determine what support they need .
Promote efforts across states to streamline enrollment
requirements, standardize educational resources, and train teachers and
school-based leadership to ensure we are meeting the unique needs of military
children effectively, no matter where they study or how often they have to
Promote greater awareness of the Interstate Compact on
Educational Opportunity for Military Children among military families,
teachers, and administrators.
Create and disseminate training tools that empower
military-connected parents to better advocate for their children.
Provide financial incentives for school districts to train
educators on the unique needs and barriers faced by military-connected youth so
that they are able to help military children thrive, no matter where they
receive their education.
Support and protect post-9/11 GI benefits for veterans and
qualified family members by strengthening the GI Bill Comparison Tool and
School Feedback Tool to help put an end to post-secondary institutions’
Enact legislation eliminating the so-called 90/10 loophole
that gives for-profit schools an incentive to enroll veterans, service members,
and military family members who are using the GI Bill or Tuition Assistance in
programs that aren’t delivering results.
Improve Behavioral Health Services for Military Dependents: Children and spouses in military families are
resilient, but they do experience high levels of stress, whether due to
frequent moves, deployment and training schedules of the service member, or
weak social/emotional support networks. School-age children and adolescents who
experience separation from a parent (either through deployment or other
assignments) show higher levels
of emotional and behavioral distress. About 25 percent of high
school freshmen and juniors in a military family have reported suicidal
thoughts during the previous year, and the stresses of military life can exacerbate health issues,
among them depression, anxiety, or substance use disorders.
Biden has committed to achieving mental health parity, expanding access to
behavioral health care, and removing the stigma surrounding behavioral health
issues. He will redouble our efforts to ensure enforcement of mental health
parity laws and expand funding for mental health services.
It is also essential that we invest in an infrastructure that promotes health
and well-being, reduces risky behaviors, and provides timely, convenient access
to high-quality mental health and substance use/abuse services for military
dependents. We must ensure that DoD facilities are fully staffed, equipped,
resourced, and able to support the behavioral health of military dependents. If
this capacity is not in place, we must invest in solutions to create additional
affordable, accessible, and high-quality capacity in the civilian sector. Care
must be effective and grounded in evidence-based treatments. Providers must be
culturally competent, educated in the unique needs of military families. And
families who seek support should never go into debt for treatment or be
concerned about confidentiality.
The Biden Administration will:
Increase funding for and expand access to telehealth for
military families, particularly in areas not able to access timely care.
Expand the number of free, non-medical Military OneSource
counseling sessions for military families from 12 sessions to 18
and expand access to Coast Guard families regardless of activation status.
Invest in recruiting and retaining behavioral health care
professionals in military treatment facilities to ensure there are enough
clinicians to support the needs of not only our active duty force, but military
Redefine the federal “Health Professional Shortage Areas”
(HPSAs) to specifically include military-impacted geographies.
Expand the National Health Services Corps to incentivize
early professional behavioral health providers to serve this population.
Re-prioritize and expand the work of the Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) interagency task force on the
behavioral health needs of veterans and military families, to include issues
related to traumatic brain injury, substance use disorder and addiction, and
other related conditions. Additionally, President Biden will fully restore SAMHSA’s focus on
evidence-based solutions and appoint a specific position on the
Domestic Policy Council to drive a whole-of-government focus on these
Direct the Department of Defense to produce a robust, annual
report on the state of military family behavioral health, in coordination with
VA and SAMHSA.
Housing: The government has
broken its trust with military families by providing sub-par housing. Now, we
have to work twice as hard to rebuild this trust. That will require the utmost
transparency and accountability from both the government and the private sector
partners charged with housing the families of our service members.
The Biden Administration will:
Enforce a comprehensive and standardized tenant bill of
rights for all military families, and as advocates have rightly demanded,
ensure DoD senior leadership enforces compliance. We won’t be making more
empty promises to military families. We will hold these landlords, and
Require regular, standardized, objective, and published
reporting of military family satisfaction and concerns from all housing.
Establish a public-facing document outlining expectations of
quality and consequences for all housing providers and, when necessary,
terminate long-term leases held by private companies.
Families: Long periods of
sustained war-fighting have made us reactive in our responses to military
family needs. To best support these families and optimize their health and
well-being, we must improve our understanding of their current and emerging
needs. We can’t be caught on our heels. We must anticipate and prepare
solutions that respond to the evolving needs of military families across the
military life cycle. We must be able to track and identify emerging trends so
that we can be nimble and responsive to the changing needs of our military
As president, Biden will:
Convene a multi-disciplinary working group of policy makers,
program leaders, and research and subject-matter experts to construct a
strategic research plan to inform solutions to support military families.
Designate specific resources for research and development
related to military families outcomes within the budget of the Office of the
Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, to include resources
for research within both the Military Family and Community Policy and the
Defense Health Program.
Require that DoD work across the federal government to
leverage national and state-level assessments of health and well-being to
ensure they appropriately assess military affiliation in ongoing data
collections across the United States. It is imperative that all national
surveys include variables that allow us to examine how well military families
fare relative to others.
Vice President Joe Biden, candidate for president, with Dr. Jill Biden, issued a statement on Veterans Day, and his campaign issued a detailed plan about what a Biden Administration would do for veterans. Here are is the statement and fact sheet from the campaign:
memorably wrote that, “A soldier is the most holy of all humans, because [they
are] the most tested.” From Fort McHenry to San Juan Hill, from the Argonne
Forest to Midway, from the Mekong Delta to Fallujah, and on every battlefield
between, America’s veterans have always been the most tested among us — and
they have never failed in their duty.
In each generation, a small fraction of Americans serve and sacrifice on behalf
of us all. Less than one percent of our population risks everything to protect
our country, incurring in the rest of us a debt far greater than our nation
could ever repay. We have always believed that the most sacred obligation of
our government is to do right by the men and women who defend our nation at war
— to care for them and their families, both while they are deployed and after
they come home. It’s an obligation we are honor-bound to keep.
Veterans Day offers us a moment to reflect on that obligation, and to recommit
ourselves to all that it truly means. Every one of our veterans deserves
timely, world-class health care — the very best of what our country has to
offer. They deserve comprehensive mental health support, and a thoughtful,
well-funded plan to address the ongoing tragedy of veteran suicides. They deserve
a serious approach to ending veteran homelessness, and greater resources to
help them readjust to life at home once their service concludes. Not only
do they deserve
these things — their families and caregivers do, too.
Our veterans also deserve a leg up when it comes to educational and economic
opportunities — everything from tuition assistance to skills training to
entrepreneurship programs. That isn’t just for their benefit; America benefits
enormously from the leadership, talent, and experience of veterans who gird
every sector of our economy with sinew and smarts. The GI Bill was one of the
greatest engines of widespread prosperity our country has ever conceived,
helping to cement the most resilient middle class in the history of the world
in the wake of World War II. Our veterans and our country deserve that
commitment to be upheld and advanced.
Most of all, our veterans deserve leaders who will fight for them as ardently
and as forcefully as they have fought for us.
That’s why, on this Veterans Day, we are proud to release a detailed and
comprehensive plan to honor the full breadth of our obligation to veterans and their families — and to restore the sacred commitments
that this White House has seen fit to ignore.
This plan and this cause are personal to us. Over the course of many years, it
has been our honor to visit our troops in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and
Afghanistan, and to witness their incredible strength of character firsthand.
We have been blessed to visit with wounded veterans in Landstuhl, Germany, and
at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and to welcome troops to our
home for Thanksgiving dinners and spend many Christmas Days with the heroes at
Walter Reed. When our son Beau was deployed to Iraq for a year, we whispered
prayers, and learned a small portion of what sacrifice means to the families of
those who serve.
Every one of the more than 18 million veterans in our country has earned our
admiration and our gratitude — but it is our duty to repay them with something
more than that. We must honor their service with bold policies that meet our
sacred obligation, with opportunities commensurate to the sacrifices they and
their families have made, and with trustworthy national leadership.
The Biden Plan to Keep Our Sacred Obligation to Our Veterans
believes that as a nation, we have many obligations, but we have only one truly
sacred obligation: to properly prepare and equip our troops when we send them
into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families–both while they are
deployed and after they return home. As the parents of a son who deployed to
Iraq, Joe and Jill Biden understand the gravity of this promise. Our service
members ensure our freedoms, our security, and the very future of our country.
They are willing to sacrifice everything. Many do. And each of them deserves
our respect and enduring gratitude, both while on active duty and after
separating from service.
President Trump has repeatedly failed our veterans and ignored this sacred
obligation. From the outrage of deporting undocumented veterans without
checking their record of military service, to allowing his wealthy Mar-a-Lago
friends to drive veterans policy, to pursuing policies designed to privatize
and dismantle the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Trump neither
understands nor respects the idea of “duty, honor, country” that inspires our
brave military members to serve and imbues our veterans with pride.
Biden Record of Delivering for Our Veterans
Joe Biden has fought aggressively for our service members and veterans
throughout his career in public service. His record speaks for itself. On the
broad range of issues that matter to our brave military members and our
veterans, Joe Biden has always had their back.
As a senator, Joe Biden was an early advocate for Vietnam veterans who were
exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins to be able to access the care and
benefits they deserve.
He championed funding for prosthetics for veterans and mammogram coverage for
female veterans, fought for proper burial allowances, and supported the
concurrent receipt of retirement and disability pay for veterans. He
co-sponsored the legislation to establish the Vietnam, Korean, and WWII
memorials in Washington, D.C., as well as the post-9/11 GI Bill to provide
educational benefits to a new generation of heroes.
Biden also led the way in the Senate on critical issues to protect the health
of our military, most notably driving the fight to increase funding for
up-armored Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs)
by $23.6 billion, which saved thousands of lives and limbs of U.S. service
members in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he introduced legislation to prohibit
cuts to military medical care during times of war.
During the Obama-Biden Administration, the VA also led in creating the Blue Button app to help veterans access their
health data and medical records more easily. Today, Blue Button is used by
more than 2 million veterans.
Additionally, Dr. Jill Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama created and led
the Joining Forces initiative to build support for
our veterans and military families, including a focus on increasing
employment opportunities. Between April 2011 and the end of the
Administration, Joining Forces supported programs and secured commitments
from employers that led to the hiring or training of more than 1.5 million
veterans and military spouses.
Our longest wars have taken their toll, both on our newest generation of
veterans and on the system built to support them and previous generations of
veterans. According to the most recent census data, there are more than 18 million veterans in the United States, and today’s
veterans population has needs that the VA has never before addressed. This is
reflected both in the growing interest for “anywhere, anytime” health care
service models and in our growing understanding of behavioral health challenges,
the harmful impacts of burn pits, environmental toxins, traumatic brain injury,
and the devastating epidemic of opioid addiction and suicide. The VA must adapt
to meet the ever-evolving needs of the veteran community.
At the same time, the VA continues to struggle with poor organizational
performance, staff shortfalls, leadership gaps, and IT systems failures. The
integration of a new generation of veterans into the VA system has added a
substantial number of veterans eligible for health care and other benefits as
overall demand for services has surged, with the combination creating capacity
challenges across the system. Too often, the VA’s performance in terms of
access, outcomes, cost, and accountability is mixed. There have been both important
successes and intolerable failures or gaps in service. Solving these challenges
will require a substantial investment in talent, leadership time, budget, and
public attention. It’s what we owe our veterans. It is past time to rethink and
reinvent a better VA.
There is nothing partisan about improving support for service members,
veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. As president,
Joe Biden will unite the country and restore the VA as the premier agency for
ensuring our veterans’ overall well-being by:
Veterans World Class Health Care to Meet Their Specific Needs
Progress to Eliminate Veterans Homelessness and Bring Down Suicide Rates
Meaningful Employment and Educational Opportunities
Management and Accountability.
support the VA mission, a Biden Administration will ensure coordination with
the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD), state agencies, and the thousands of non-governmental organizations that
support this vital community. It will work faithfully to restore public trust
in the VA so that no one in the military community or beyond will ever again
question whether the United States of America keeps its promises to those who
serve our country.
Providing Veterans World Class Health Care to Meet Their
The Veterans Health Administration serves upwards of 9 million veterans and is responsible for their
whole health, physical and mental. Studies have found that health outcomes at VA hospitals are often better than their non-VA counterpart, and more
than 90 percent of those who receive their health
services through the VA report that they would recommend it to a fellow
veteran. As president, Joe Biden will work to ensure that the VA provides the
world class health care that our veterans have earned and deserve and sets the
example for private sector care.
In the area of mental health, the VA and DoD have done pioneering work to
address the specific needs of veterans, deploying innovative treatment
solutions such as telehealth and other platforms to address a variety of
conditions. The private sector trails the VA in its ability to provide
behavioral health services to the nation as a whole, much less to understand
the unique needs of veterans.
At the same time, the VA is also struggling with a rapidly deteriorating
infrastructure, and many VA facilities are more than 60 years old. Further,
across the system, the variance in quality of — and access to — care is
unacceptable. As the demand for treatment has increased, the VA must
continually strive to improve services and outcomes for veterans, especially in
the areas of pain, polytrauma recovery, substance-use disorder (SUD),
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and
general behavioral health, in the most effective and cost-efficient way
In addition to protecting and building on the Affordable Care Act with a public option to expand access to quality,
affordable health care and lower costs, and commitments to keep rural hospitals open and expand health care
delivery models for rural areas, a Biden Administration will:
in the Department of Veterans Affairs. During the Obama-Biden Administration,
we improved access to health care offerings for veterans in their communities,
but there is still more work to do. Private sector points of care were designed
to provide care to veterans when it was faster, closer, or offered superior
services for a particular veteran’s needs. We must ensure that health care
purchased in the community actually improves access and convenience and does
not compromise the health of our veterans. President Biden will establish the
right balance of VA care and purchased care, region by region, based on veteran
needs, existing VA capacity, and availability of market alternatives.
thorough assessment of the staffing needs and requirements across the VA to
inform specific hiring initiatives and programs for attracting and retaining
medical professionals. This includes ensuring that professionals are working to
the full scope of their license and creating incentives to support health care
professionals joining the VA workforce.
update Community Care Guidelines, ensuring that if a veteran
is referred to a community care provider that does not meet the same level of
access and quality as the VA, the veteran will be referred back to the VA.
This full-circle referral process will better ensure that veterans are seen in
a timely manner and receive the best possible quality of care.
cultural competency training protocols to ensure that providers in VA
facilities and in community care settings understand and are equipped to
support the needs of LGBTQ veterans in the health care setting.
Congress to improve health services for women veterans. Biden will ensure that
each VA Medical Center has at least one full-time women’s primary care
physician; and, within 200 days of taking office, make available a women
veterans training module for community health care providers. And, Biden will
work with Congress to enact the Deborah Sampson Act and ensure that the safety
and privacy concerns of women veterans are addressed throughout his
to ensure there is safe, reliable child care at all VA Medical Centers.
Work with Congress to eliminate co-pays for preventive
health care for veterans, which can create unnecessary barriers to seeking
basic preventive care.
Expand the list
of presumptive conditions to ensure no veteran who experienced a TBI or had
exposure to burn pits or other environmental toxins goes without access to VA
health care and benefits. We cannot ask our veterans who are suffering to wait
decades, as we did with Agent Orange. President Biden will also increase access
to VA care beyond the 5-year eligibility window for combat veterans, as
conditions related to toxic exposure may take many years to manifest.
research dollars by $300 million to invest in better understanding the impact
of TBI and toxic exposures (including burn pits) on long-term health outcomes,
and continue to drive research focused on the needs of disabled veterans.
disabled veterans that require a prosthesis are able to access the most modern
prosthetics technology available, and that they are able to upgrade their
equipment at no cost as new developments occur.
for direct and purchase-care treatment for disorders related to the misuse of
alcohol and opioids in order to reduce unacceptably long wait-times for
Administration will support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes
and reschedule cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its
positive and negative impacts. This will include allowing the VA to research
the use of medical cannabis to treat veteran-specific health needs.
Ensure the full
integration of veteran caregivers as members of the health care team for
veterans. The VA offers a diverse array of programs and supports for
caregivers, however, we must ensure that the VA remains a caregiver-friendly
environment and respects their role in ensuring the recovery and rehabilitation
of their loved one.
funding for and expand access to telehealth through the VA, particularly in
rural areas not able to access timely care.
hospitals and clinics to serve our veterans better through a nationwide
infrastructure plan that provides a comprehensive refresh of VA health
facilities. Biden will retrofit VA’s existing brick and mortar physical
locations, where patient volume warrants, and repurpose older facilities to
meet new needs such as assisted-living facilities and long-term care
alternatives. Biden will improve both the buildings and equipment, so the VA
continues to lead in providing 21st century care.
modern, clean, and recovery-oriented housing for veterans being treated for
SUDs and those who are homeless by refurbishing buildings condemned or not in
use, such as the massive VA Los Angeles campus.
Driving Progress to Promote Veterans’ Mental Health and
Suicide is a public health crisis–the 10th leading cause of death in the
United States. As a society, we need to work together to eliminate the stigma
felt by those who are suffering and struggling with their mental health. There
is no shame in asking for help. As president, Joe Biden will increase access to
mental health treatment by enforcing full mental health parity and ensuring all
Americans have access to high-quality mental health care, regardless of their
insurance coverage status. Service members and veterans are at an elevated risk
of dying by suicide. Recent data show that, on average, 20 veterans and service members die by suicide every day,
and among some groups, the rate of suicide is rising alarmingly. Even one death
by suicide is devastating, and we must do more to stem the tide. The Trump
administration has grossly mismanaged this crisis, at one point leaving millions of VA dollars dedicated to suicide prevention efforts
unused, and that’s just not right. This is a serious challenge, and
our goal must be to remove the stigma in military communities to seek help,
ensure that every veteran that reaches out is immediately connected to support
and services, and to ultimately end the suicide crisis among veterans. As
president, Biden will ensure a multi-faceted, substantive, and sustained
commitment that addresses this as the public health emergency that it is.
The same is true when it comes to veterans experiencing homelessness. The
Obama-Biden Administration proved that we can make huge inroads to address this
persistent challenge with sustained attention and cross-coordination among
government departments. But with just over 23,000 veterans without shelter on any given night,
we have much more work to do.
A Biden Administration will:
the first 200 days in office a comprehensive public health and cross-sector
approach to addressing suicide in veterans, service members, and their
aggressively to facilitate immediate access to mental health services for
veterans in crisis, to include standardizing performance expectations around
same day, walk-in and urgent mental health services; hiring more ER psychiatric
staff and peer specialists; expanding crisis line capacity to ensure all calls
are answered and appropriate referrals occur within hours; and implementing
specific programs to encourage veterans to prioritize their mental health by
reaching out to the VA when they need support. Within the first year in office,
President Biden will have a goal of completely eliminating wait times for
veterans who reach out with suicidal ideation so that they are immediately
taken into treatment.
states, community-based organizations, and employers, implement public
education and outreach initiatives to help veterans understand that care is
available and effective. We must work to end the culture of silence around
mental health issues and remove the stigma associated with getting mental
health treatment, particularly among service members who are more used to
helping others than asking for it themselves.
DoD’s Suicide Prevention Office and the VA have the resources and staff they
need to make smart investments with allocated funds–and that money dedicated
to suicide prevention efforts never goes unused.
national center of excellence for reducing veteran suicide, similar to the
National Center on Homelessness among Veterans. Biden will recruit top-level
leadership to build strategic partnerships and solutions that extend beyond the
VA’s health care system.
providers of veterans services funded by the VA to receive training on suicide
risk identification and safety planning, to include lethal means restriction
and appropriate response and reporting about suicide.
that promote the value and dignity of life by supporting programs that increase
economic stability; promote connectedness through structured social support; and
reduce risky behaviors, such as substance use, poor sleep, and improper firearm storage.
at Vet Centers to ensure veterans in communities can access readjustment
counseling services and resources, including financial and long-term planning.
President Biden will specifically expand outreach and resources for veterans as
they experience periods of transition, not just out of the military, but
throughout their life, including into post-career retirement.
that contribute to higher suicide risk. This includes implementing programs to
disseminate high-quality treatments for PTSD, ensuring that veterans have
access to the best treatments available no matter where they receive care, and
instituting policies that seek to eliminate discrimination, end harassment and
hold perpetuators of sexual assault in the military accountable. A Biden
Administration will not tolerate the sexual assault culture that has become all
too common in the military and veteran sector.
Congress to continue to drive down veteran homelessness by permanently
authorizing the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program, which
provides critical funding for wrap-around services for those facing
homelessness. President Biden will also work to ensure that we better
understand the unique needs of women and LGBTQ veterans experiencing homelessness.
policy and review processes for veterans so that less-than-honorable discharges
will not be unjustly awarded for conduct directly linked to the behavioral
health effects of PTSD, TBI, or other trauma experienced while serving.
Creating Civilian Lives of Meaning and Opportunity
The Obama-Biden Administration worked tirelessly to bring down high
unemployment levels among our veterans. Over the course of 8 years, the
Obama-Biden administration cut the veteran unemployment rate by more than half.
That is vitally important progress, but now, we have to think about empowering
our veterans and their future employers with the tools they need to build
pathways to successful, long-term careers. Recent data indicate that veterans
are more likely than their civilian counterparts to take a job at lower skill-level. As president, Biden will
keep his foot on the gas to ensure that service members transitioning back to
civilian lives have the best opportunities to succeed and build fulfilling
A Biden Administration will:
with DoD to ensure that the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is implemented effectively
and that outcomes are regularly reported.
more transitioning service members are able to access job training and
placement services prior to their end of active duty service. By expanding
private sector relationships through programs like the SkillBridge program, Biden will give qualified
transitioning service members the opportunity to start building a meaningful
civilian career as early as possible.
Work with the
Department of Labor to enforce the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance
Act (VEVRAA) hiring benchmark among federal contractors
and subcontractors, and provide preferences and incentives to corporations that
meet the benchmark.
corporate mentorship programs between veteran-owned businesses and existing
contractors to support veteran entrepreneurship.
implementation of the Forever GI Bill so that veterans receive the educational
benefits they have earned on time.
annual reporting to be led by the VA in partnership with the Department of
Education and promote interagency cooperation and data sharing to better
understand academic outcomes for all GI Bill users.
best-practice guidelines for supporting veterans in higher education to assist
higher education institutions to improve graduation rates among GI Bill
recipients and provide financial incentivizes for campuses that follow
guidelines and transparently report their outcomes.
aggressively to close the 90/10 loophole on GI Bill and Tuition Assistance
dollars to keep for-profit bad actors from raiding the benefits service members
and veterans have earned.
undocumented members of our armed services, veterans, and their spouses from
deportation, because if you are willing to risk your life for this country, you
and your family have earned the chance to live safe, healthy, and productive
lives in America.
Work with DoD
and the Department of Homeland Security to provide timely naturalization for
those who have served honorably in our military, with an earned path to
citizenship prior to discharge or retirement.
Improving VA Management and Accountability
The agency charged with meeting the needs of our veterans–not only their
health care needs, but administering their full range of benefits and
overseeing the cemeteries that guard their honor in death–should not be
limited by outdated management tools and practices. Our veterans deserve the
best services available. As president, Biden will enhance the capacity of the
VA to serve our veterans as efficiently as possible by overseeing a
generational upgrade to clinical and management systems, by leveraging
commercial best-practices and modern technologies to meet the unique demands of
public sector mission.
A Biden Administration will:
care access, quality, and customer experience by seamlessly augmenting direct care
with purchase care enabled under the Mission Act. Enhance the administrative,
financial, and operational systems that underpin the provision of care in the
network model by improving vital case management systems, quality oversight,
integrative health treatments and supporting administrative, financial and IT
systems. These reforms will help ensure access to high-quality care and a
first-rate customer experience that satisfies all veterans, regardless of where
they receive care.
standards of health record interoperability that ensure a comprehensive health
record is provided by community care organizations back to the VA.
improving human resource and management practices across the VA to strengthen
the customer experience for our veterans and deliver services more efficiently.
This will include a focus on workforce training and cultivating a culture
across the VA that places a premium on quality and service.
options under the Mission Act to pilot alternative payment models and
prioritize care models that improve the quality of care, not just the volume of
services. Veterans should be able to access care in a way that works best
for them, not the way that is most convenient for the system, in particular
when it comes to meeting specific needs such as rehabilitation services, SUD,
and behavioral health.
and errors in claims processing and in scheduling the medical exams necessary
for veterans to complete their disability claims. This has been a constant
source of frustration for veterans. The long delays in the system, and
rates of error — in both Regional Offices and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals —
are too long and too high, and unfairly delay adjudication of veterans
claims. A Biden VA will identify the sources of the problem and undertake
the investments in personnel and training needed to ensure that veterans
receive accurate decisions in a more timely manner.
veterans gain access to their own health data and medical records through
the Blue Button app. Blue Button has been downloaded by more than 2
million veterans and is increasingly being used by Medicare beneficiaries
and the private sector. By making Blue Button easier to use, the VA will
continue to lead the movement of patient-centered models of care.
VA-hosted health record that can serve any and every American who wants one. We
can leverage Blue Button to access health information no matter where it is, to
allow veterans and citizens to manage and use it as they see fit. By putting
our veterans first, we can make the VA the nexus of the best care everywhere.
national health database for non-profit research scientists and the commercial
sector that would accelerate discovery of the best therapies against the
devastating diseases of our time: cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, and
dementia. Biden will direct the VA to support the database using its
infrastructure, making access available to all. Veterans will be able to
choose, on an individual basis, whether or not to contribute their data. This
national repository for longitudinal health data will enable us to use
technological innovations to see patterns that people don’t easily recognize
and make connections we don’t normally make for the U.S. population as a whole.
WASHINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders on Veterans Day released his veterans agenda, called “Honoring Our Commitment to Veterans,” which will guarantee veterans the benefits and services they were promised, protect and expand disability benefits for veterans, guarantee justice for veterans and expand opportunities for veterans. The proposal comes as Americans around the country honor Veterans Day.
This is from the Sanders campaign:
“As a nation, we have a moral obligation to provide the best quality care to those who put their lives on the line to defend us,” Sanders, who served as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2013 to 2015, said. “Just as planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war, so is taking care of the men and women who we sent off to fight the wars. It includes caring for the spouses and children who have to rebuild their lives after the loss of a loved one. It includes caring for the hundreds of thousands of veterans with multiple amputations or loss of eyesight, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. It includes veterans who are having difficulty keeping jobs in order to pay their bills, and it includes the terrible tragedy of veterans committing suicide. As president, I will do everything that I can to make sure that every veteran gets the benefits that they are entitled to receive on time and without delay. Further, we will not dismantle or privatize the VA. We will expand and improve the VA.”
During Sanders’ time as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, a series of reports revealed that the Veterans Health Administration was failing veterans, leaving many to wait too long for care and putting lives in danger. Sanders worked with Sen. John McCain to successfully negotiate and pass a bill that invested billions into the VA system. The landmark legislation authorized twenty-seven new medical facilities and provided $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses to care for the surging number of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and those veterans from earlier eras in need of more complex care.
The Sanders campaign on Monday also released a new video, “Keeping Our Promise,” which highlights Sanders’ work on that landmark legislation.
Sanders’ plan will:
the nearly 50,000 vacancies at the VA during your first year in office. Under a
Bernie Sanders administration, the VA will hire the doctors, nurses and medical
professionals necessary to provide the care that veterans need when they need
Provide at least $62 billion in new funding
to repair, modernize and rebuild the infrastructure at the VA in order to
provide the cutting-edge health care services our veterans have earned and
Ensure that all those with prior military
service in every state and territory have access to the full complement of
health care services they need to stay healthy and well.
Improve and simplify the claims process so
veterans receive the compensation they have earned quickly, accurately, and
without bureaucratic red tape.
Reform harmful VA regulations that restrict
access to care and benefits based on character of discharge.
Ensure veterans can use the full complement
of benefits through the G.I. Bill without hassle or red tape.
Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to support and protect America’s veterans, service members and military families ahead of Veterans Day.
“All three of my
brothers served, so I know the responsibility we have to our service members,
military families, and veterans. As Commander-in-Chief, I will lead our Armed
Forces with awareness of the unique challenges service members and military
families face, and the difficulties veterans encounter as they navigate VA
during their transition to civilian life. I will honor our troops not only by
executing sound military strategy, but also by caring for our veterans after
they take off the uniform. And I will prioritize our most important strategic
asset – our people – as I reform Pentagon spending and address our most
pressing national security crises. The way I see it, this is not complicated.
It’s about a government that keeps its promises to those who served — it’s
about our values. “
This is from the
Charlestown, MA – As President, Senator Elizabeth Warren pledged to:
Raise service members’ pay at or above the Employment Cost
Index and protect earned benefits, ensuring that total compensation remains
competitive with the civilian sector and that it reflects the unique demands of
Prioritize family readiness by addressing spouse employment,
housing, child care and education, and take care of military caregivers
Expand mental health services and work to end military
suicide by setting a goal of cutting veterans’ suicides in half within her
Tackle sexual assault and prosecute sexual harassment as a
stand-alone crime under military law
Enforce equal treatment for all who serve, including women,
immigrants, and LGBTQ+ service members
Ease the transition for veterans by eliminating the benefits
backlog and establishing a “warm hand-off” between DOD and VA
Reject attempts to privatize the VA by investing in a VA
worthy of the veterans it serves — to provide the high-quality,
evidence-based, culturally competent programs that our veterans rely on for
years to come.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
Elizabeth has worked to achieve pay raises for senior enlisted
personnel, fix repeated promotion delays for
our National Guard, and fought to protect military families from fraud and
abuse. Major provisions of her bill with Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to
address unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions on military bases were
included as part of the Senate-passed FY2020 NDAA.
Keeping Our Promises to Our Service Members, Veterans,
and Military Families
This Veterans Day, Americans will gather in towns and cities
across our country to thank our military personnel past and present. With three
brothers who served, this day is especially meaningful to me.
Less than 1% of the U.S. population currently serves in
uniform. And while Americans rightly honor their service on November 11, too
often the day-to-day sacrifices of military families go unseen and unremarked.
Parades and salutes to the troops are important ways that Americans express
their gratitude, but they’re only platitudes if they’re not backed up with
meaningful action and policies that support our military both during and after
service — not just on Veterans Day, but every day.
For me, that starts with care in how we deploy our forces
abroad. Defense policy is veterans policy. For decades, we have been mired in a
series of wars that have sapped our strength and skewed our priorities. As a
member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have seen up close how 18
years of conflict have degraded equipment, eroded our forces’ readiness, and
postponed investment in critical military capabilities.
The burden of these wars has fallen primarily on our
military personnel, who have endured repeated deployments in dangerous places
around the globe year after year, and their families. 7,027 American
service members have lost their lives, almost 60,000 have been
injured, and countless more live every day with the invisible wounds of war.
I know our service members and their families are smart,
tough, and resourceful — they will accomplish any mission we ask of them,
whatever the cost. But it’s not fair to our men and women in uniform to ask
them to solve problems that don’t have a military solution. Nor is it fair to
them when we refuse to make the tough calls to change course when our
strategies aren’t working.
A strong military should act as a deterrent so that most of
the time, we won’t have to use it. We can honor our veterans by ending these
endless wars, reining in our bloated defense budget and reducing the influence of defense
contractors at the Pentagon, and bringing our troops home
responsibly — and then providing our veterans with the benefits they’ve
earned. That’s why today I’m introducing my plan to care for our nation’s
veterans, service members, military families, and survivors.
Protecting Earned Benefits for Those Who Serve
In prior generations, America experienced a tight
relationship between people in uniform and the rest of our nation. For a host
of reasons, however, our all-volunteer military is becoming more and more distant
from the population it serves. In recent years the military has sometimes
struggled to attract and retain sufficient personnel to meet recruitment
targets, in both raw numbers and increasingly technical skill sets. A majority of young
people are ineligible to serve, and low unemployment rates and declining propensity for
military service mean that even fewer apply to serve in today’s military. Many
who enlist do so because they have a family member who
It is clear that the services must do more to compete with
21st century careers and employers to continue to attract and retain the best
for the All Volunteer Force. That means more flexible talent management systems
and improved quality of life for service members and their families — and it
also means preserving best-in-class benefits for our military personnel. But
it’s about more than recruitment and readiness. It’s about honoring the
commitment of those who choose to serve with commitments of our own.
Guaranteeing Pay and Benefits
In past years, Congress and the Pentagon have too often
sought to balance the budget on the backs of our service members through
proposals for lower pay raises, increased out-of-pocket costs, and cuts to
benefits like housing and commissaries. Proposals that undermine total
compensation are a betrayal of our obligation to our service members, and they
undermine our ability to recruit and retain the best possible All Volunteer
To ensure that compensation remains competitive with the
civilian sector and that it reflects the unique demands of military life, as
President I will propose pay raises at or above the Employment Cost Index. I’ll
ensure that benefits such as housing allowances keep pace with market rates in
base communities, and work to ensure that service members are educated and
empowered to make decisions about their retirement and savings choices in light
of new options for blended retirement.
Empowering Military Students
Over the past 70 years, the GI Bill has helped send millions
of veterans to college, easing their transition to civilian life, and
contributing to our economic growth. I am committed to ensuring these benefits
are guaranteed and protected in the future — for our veterans and their family
members. I’ve fought to expand eligibility for educational benefits, including
by working to provide Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for Purple Heart recipients who
were not previously eligible, and expanding the Yellow Ribbon education program
to cover families of
fallen service members.
As benefits have increased — and increased in complexity —
as a result of GI Bill expansions, VA has scrambled at times to keep up,
leaving military students in the lurch. I’ve worked to ensure that delays at VA
don’t negatively impact student veterans, including by helping to pass a
bipartisan measure to protect student veterans’ access to education in
the event of delayed GI Bill disbursements.
Too often, the benefits provided to military and veteran
students have made them targets for predatory lenders and shady for-profit
schools. I’ve fought to protect students from these scams, including by
obtaining refunds for military borrowers cheated by loan servicers like
Navient. I also fought to restore GI benefits to
those cheated by fraudulent for-profit colleges like ITT Tech and Corinthian
But there is more to be done. My plan for affordable higher
education will make two- and four-year public college free, and
cancel student loan debt up to $50,000 for 42 million Americans — helping
thousands of military families burdened with higher education expenses beyond
what is covered by the GI Bill, and ensuring all of our veterans and their
families have the chance to get essential job training and degrees without
taking on a dime of student loan debt. My plan also completely cuts shady
for-profit colleges off from federal aid dollars, which will end their abuse of
veteran students for their GI Bill benefits once and for all.
Preventing Fraud and Abuse
When I set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I
made protecting service members and veterans a priority. We established an
Office of Servicemember Affairs, and I recruited Holly Petraeus to run it.
Together, we met with active-duty service members and families to discuss
financial issues, including the base where two of my brothers completed their
I saw firsthand that today’s military families face
difficult financial challenges as they try to make ends meet, balancing
multiple deployments with raising a family. Some even told me that they felt like
they were fighting two wars at once – one in a distant war zone and another
here at home against creditors. But I’m proud to say that since 2011, the
office we established has heard from over 90,000 service
members from all 50 states and saved them nearly $230 million, providing
some measure of relief for our military families.
I’ve made fighting for military families a similar priority
in the Senate. I fought to prevent predatory lenders from “loan churning,” or
repeatedly refinancing VA-backed mortgages to pocket hefty fees. I
successfully expanded financial protections for
Gold Star spouses, passing a bipartisan bill to allow a survivor to terminate a
residential lease within one year of a service member’s death. And I worked
with my Republican colleagues in Congress to pass my Veterans Care Financial
Protection Act to protect low-income and older veterans in assisted care from
scams targeting their pension benefits.
As President, I’ll work with Congress to give the CFPB new
tools and additional authority to enforce the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
And I’ll appoint individuals at the CFPB and DOJ who will use the full extent
of those authorities to aggressively go after scammers and protect our men and
women in uniform. Criminals and predators will keep coming up with new and
creative ways to target the military community. We must be vigilant — but
military families can feel confident that a Warren Administration will always
have their backs.
Prioritizing Family Readiness
Military families form the backbone of our armed forces.
Just like other middle-class families, they worry about making ends meet:
finding child care, giving their children a good education, retiring with
dignity. But military families — particularly dual military couples — also
face special challenges, like regular moves from assignment to assignment and
the anxiety of a loved one’s deployment. And too often, the unique needs of
military communities are overlooked by Washington.
A Warren Administration will continue and expand current policy of
weighing basing and force structure decisions to account for quality of life
factors in the surrounding communities, including safe living environments,
available child care, quality of public schools, and employment opportunities
and licensing reciprocity for military spouses. There’s also a lot more we can
do to support and uplift our military families.
Increasing Military Spouse Employment
A majority of
military families report two incomes as vital to their family’s well-being. But
employment opportunities for military spouses are hindered by a variety of
factors, including frequent moves and lack of available child care at some
posts. Last year 30% of military
spouses were unemployed, and 56% of working
spouses reported being underemployed. Spouses in fields that require professional
licenses face an additional challenge, as occupational licensing and
credentialing standards vary from state to state.
Reduced spousal employment isn’t just bad for military
families — it results in up to $1 billion annually
in lost income and associated costs. We need to make spousal employment a
The Obama Administration made real progress in encouraging
states to offer licensing and credentialing reciprocity for the military
community — now we need to finish those efforts to remove barriers to military
We can start by making permanent the program to reimburse military spouses for
professional relicensing. I’ll also work with states to provide military
families with a one-stop shop where they can review licensing requirements
before a move.
I’ll also work with Congress to expand and better
communicate about special hiring preferences for on-base jobs for military
spouses and at American Job Centers. These preferences not only benefit
spouses, they help build communities on military installations.
We’ll expand educational opportunities like MyCAA for
military spouses, and provide targeted training for high-demand, high-growth
sectors and to help military spouses find careers that can move with
Military spouses bring unique strengths to the workforce —
it’s time we leverage those strengths to benefit not only our military families
but our economy.
Ensuring High Quality Childcare and Education
As a young working mother, child care almost sank me —
until my Aunt Bee stepped in to help. But finding affordable and high-quality
child care has gotten even harder since my children were growing up, and not
everyone is lucky enough to have an Aunt Bee of their own.
That’s why I have a plan to provide universal child
care for every single one of our babies from birth to school
age. It will be free for millions of American families, and affordable for
everyone. The federal government will partner with local providers to create a
network of child care options that would be available to every family. These
options would be held to high federal standards, and we’ll pay child care and
preschool workers the wages they deserve. And rather than diverting funding from
military daycare programs for a needless wall, I’ll invest again in growing DOD
child care centers and modernizing schools on base.
We’ll move forward with efforts to
introduce more flexibility into the personnel system for families who want to
limit moves for assignments, while ensuring that option does not hamper the
service member’s ability to get promoted and advance their military career.
We’ll invest the resources necessary to ensure families (and their household
goods) are no longer subjected to chaos and mistakes that
can impact the experience of transitioning to a new assignment. And we’ll seek
to limit family moves during the academic year — when they must occur, we’ll
provide dedicated support to families as they navigate transferring educational
Every military family is unique, and some have unique needs.
I’ll work to improve oversight and standardize DOD’s
Exceptional Family Member Program to care for dependents with special needs. We
need to do more to empower military families to make informed decisions,
taking their individual circumstances into account during relocation and
providing dedicated case management to help military families identify
appropriate programs and interventions regardless of their location. Supporting
these families isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for military
Wounded Warriors and their Families
About 30% of
veterans between the ages of 21 and 64 have a disability. As president, I will
keep fighting for the rights of people with disabilities and to ensure their
full inclusion through policy reforms and enforcement priorities. This includes
prioritizing the unique challenges that face veterans with disabilities.
As part of my plan to empower American workers,
I have committed to substantially increasing funding for the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission to uphold the rights
of veterans with disabilities at work. I will also ensure that the Department
of Labor is enforcing the law to protect disabled
veterans againist work discrimination. I support the Raise the Wage Act to
guarantee workers with disabilities a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and I will
push to pass the Transformation to Competitive
Employment Act, which would provide grants and assistance to support
a transition towards competitive, integrated employment for people with
It is often family members who care for injured service
members and veterans — in some cases, putting aside careers and other
opportunities to provide assistance to our wounded warriors. According to a
2014 report, there were approximately 5.5 million military
caregivers in the United States — but the physical and emotional strain on
this population is understudied and overlooked.
Medicare for All will expand access to long-term home and
community-based care, offering critical support and relieving the financial
burden on veterans and their families. A Warren Administration will also
empower our nation’s military caregivers by fully implementing the recommendations of
the federal advisory panel on caregiving. We’ll create an office within VA
focused on the needs of caregivers, ensuring that their voices are heard in the
policymaking process and that VA is fully communicating available resources.
We’ll ensure that caregivers are formally designated in a patient’s medical
record, so that they can be consistently included in medical planning about the
course of care. We’ll collect better data on the caregiver population and their
needs, including the impact on military children. And we’ll make sure we’re
also caring for the caregivers, themselves, including respite care.
To recognize caregiving for the valuable work it is, my plan to expand Social Security creates
a new credit for caregiving for people who qualify for Social Security
benefits. This credit raises Social Security benefits for people who take time
out of the workforce to care for a family member at least 80 hours a month,
including designated “primary family caregivers” of eligible veterans in the
Caregiver Support Program. For every month of caregiving that meets these
requirements, the caregiver will be credited for Social Security purposes with
a month of income equal to the monthly average of that year’s median annual
Lastly, I support eliminating the so-called “Widow’s Tax” and efforts
to ensure that all families of veterans who died or became totally disabled
from a service-connected condition receive the Dependency and Indemnity
Compensation (DIC) benefits that they are entitled to.
Providing Safe and Affordable Housing
In the mid-1990s, the Department of Defense agreed to
privatize the majority of the 300,000 houses it owned and operated on base,
many of which were in need of renovation after
decades of neglect. It was a good deal for the private developers, but this
system has turned out to be a lousy bargain for military families. With their
focus on short-term payoffs, private developers failed to
invest in and maintain the properties with which they were entrusted. That’s
why earlier this year, I released my plan to improve military housing by
ensuring that every base has a housing office staffed with advocates for the
service member and establishing a “bill of rights” that all military tenants
will receive when they move in.
And for those families who choose to live off base, and for
veterans, my plan to increase affordable housing makes
a historic federal investment to increase affordable housing supply, lowering
rents around the country by 10%. And while cost is a major challenge to finding
safe and affordable housing, too many service members and veterans face
additional obstacles, including landlords who don’t understand the
housing benefits they receive for their service and those who turn away service
members and veterans because of discriminatory stereotypes. My affordable
housing plan extends protection against discrimination under the Fair Housing
Act to include veteran status, which would include those using HUD-VASH
vouchers. I have also pushed hard for more resources for programs to end
veterans’ homelessness, including the successful Tribal HUD-VASH program to
assist Native American veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness
find homes in Indian country.
Putting Service Members and Veterans First
Nearly two decades of combat has put significant stress on
the force, and this will continue to manifest itself long after combat
operations are over. Our first priority must be the care and safety of those
who serve or have served in uniform.
Eliminating Military Sexual Assault
For decades, the military has affirmed a “zero tolerance
policy” — and yet reports of sexual assault in the military have spiked. In
2018 alone, the Department of Defense estimated that more than 20,000 service
members experienced assault or unwanted sexual contact. These statistics are a
shameful breach of trust with those who serve. Annual promises from senior
military leaders to address the issue increasingly ring hollow — we owe it to
our service members to make real change.
Currently, skilled military prosecutors make an
evidence-based recommendation on whether or not a case should proceed to trial,
but then military commanders get to decide whether or not they want to listen.
That’s why I supported Senator Gillibrand’s effort to
remove cases of sexual assault from the chain of command and place trained
prosecutors in charge instead. It’s simple – if evidence of a crime warrants a
trial, then the case should go to trial. We need to reform the military justice
system so that the lawyers and judges trying cases have the necessary
experience and expertise, and so that every victim of a sexually-based crime
benefits from a competent, empowered advocate from the very first day they
We need to change the culture. Sexual harassment and sexual
assault are correlated— and 24% of
military women and 6% of military men said they had been sexually harassed in
the past year. In the
Senate, I worked to make so-called “revenge pornography”
prosecutable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We should also
prosecute sexual harassment as a stand-alone crime under military law. We
should push to expose and prevent sexual harassment in the civilian workforce as
well, recognizing that our entire culture has work to do.
And we need to invest in survivors, helping them to get the
care they need so that they can recover, and so they can continue to serve.
Often, survivors worry that reporting a sexual assault may also bring to light
other misconduct, such as underage drinking or fraternization. Sometimes,
military commanders will distribute punishment for these offenses by survivors
while the sexual assault itself goes unaddressed. Even worse, more than 20% of
those who reported an assault also reported experiencing retaliation. If we
want to increase reporting and hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable,
we need to exercise much wider discretion in the way we approach collateral
misconduct as part of instances of sexual assault. Until reporting an assault
is not perceived as a possible end to someone’s career, we will never fully
address this scourge.
Ending Veteran and Military Suicide
Our service members are resilient, but even the strongest
warriors need care. In 2017, 6,139 U.S. veterans
died by suicide, an average of nearly 17 each day, and 1.5 times the rate for
non-veteran adults. But only half of veterans
of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who may need mental health services —
including many with diagnoses that increase the risk of suicide, like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, substance use disorders,
or depression —
actually access them.
Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that could
have been prevented. As President, I will set a goal of cutting veteran
suicides in half within my first term — and pursue a suite of concrete
policies to make sure we get there.
To get there, we need to invest more in research into the
causes of suicide, with a specific focus on contributing factors that are
specific to the military experience and a concerted effort to collect the data
that will save lives. We should conduct research targeting subgroups of
veterans who may be at higher risk of suicide, and evaluate the efficacy of
suicide prevention pilot programs and invest in those that make a meaningful
Veterans account for one in five firearm
suicides. My plan to prevent gun violence includes
a waiting period before purchase and a federal extreme risk protection law,
both of which have been shown to reduce suicides by gun.
We also need to provide consistent, accessible, high-quality mental
health care for all of our service members and veterans. Under Medicare for All
every person will have this essential care covered. But we must also address
the shortfall of mental health providers at DOD and VA, and in the areas where
In the last Congress, I led the fight to prevent budget cuts
to the Mental Health Block Grant and secured an additional $160 million for the
program, and I urged appropriators to designate $1 billion to mental health
programs through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. I have
also proposed significant
expansions of Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps,
which would help increase the supply of primary care and mental health
providers in underserved areas. We need to make it easier for service members
and veterans to see a mental health professional, including by significantly increasing
the number of mental health specialists at DOD and VA, streamlining appointment
processes, and enhancing access to telehealth options for those who cannot come
to a VA facility.
We should also focus on preventive care — early and often
throughout a military career, including by incorporating annual mental health
exams for service members in the same way they receive annual physical exams.
We should clearly communicate benefits and eligibility, raising awareness about
available care. And we must continue to remove the stigma around warfighters
seeking help, and do more to support military families who lose someone to
Treating the Opioid and Addiction Crisis
In 2017, over 70,000 people died
from a drug overdose — the highest year on record, with the majority due to opioids.
And the opioid crisis that has devastated so many American families has not
spared our military community. Stressors including deployment, combat exposure,
injury, and post-deployment reintegration have been shown to increase the risk
of substance abuse. Our military population has a higher risk of
substance use disorders, with 11% of veterans
from Afghanistan and Iraq treated by the VA being diagnosed with a substance use
My CARE Act to end the
opioid crisis — introduced in partnership with my late friend Congressman
Elijah Cummings of Baltimore — is a comprehensive plan to provide the
resources needed to begin treating this epidemic like the public health crisis
that it is. It would provide $100 billion in federal funding to states and
communities over the next ten years, because that’s what’s needed to make sure
every single person gets the treatment they need.
Under my plan, VA facilities will be able to participate in
planning councils to address the opioid crisis in order to ensure that veterans
are prioritized in our response and organizations serving veterans have a voice
in how the funding is spent. We will expand the number of inpatient beds
available to veterans for treatment and recovery. We’ll fund community-based
organizations, including eligible veteran-serving nonprofits, working to help
prevent and treat addicted veterans. And we’ll provide vocational training for
people struggling with addiction, helping them to get back into the civilian
workforce after their military careers.
Addressing the “Invisible Wounds” of War
17% of post-9/11
military veterans experience some form of traumatic brain injury during their
military service. TBI is associated with higher rates of PTSD, depression, and
substance abuse. While our knowledge of these conditions has improved
dramatically, it is still incomplete. Moreover, too many veterans don’t receive
the treatment they so badly need. While TBI is often associated with blunt
physical injuries to the head, research has shown that the blast wave produced
by even minor explosions, such as firing heavy weapons,
can result in TBI — even if the individual does not exhibit outward physical
signs of head injury.
In the Senate, I worked with my Republican colleagues to
establish a longitudinal study at
DOD to track the impact of blast exposure and brain health over time, and to
push DOD to track service member blast exposure.
We’ll use this data to improve our understanding of blast exposure injuries,
improve protective equipment, and develop innovative new treatments. We’ll also
use it to inform the safety guidance provided to our troops, including by
limiting non-combat exposure during training exercises.
Many states have established veterans’ courts or other
diversion programs to provide treatment rather than incarceration for veterans
with behavioral issues as a result of trauma, and I support the expansion of
these programs. I also support legalizing marijuana. I’ve co-sponsored
legislation to study the use of medical cannabis to treat veterans as an
alternative to opioids, because we need to pursue all evidence-based
opportunities for treatment and response.
The prevalence of certain rare cancers has been increasing steadily among
military personnel and veterans who have served overseas. It took years for
Vietnam veterans to receive treatment for exposure to Agent Orange — and some,
including Blue Water Navy veterans,
are still fighting for healthcare and benefits. Some veterans of more recent
wars attribute their illness to exposure to toxic burn pits used
by the military to dispose of waste, and at least one veterans group has projected that
deaths from cancer and other illnesses could outpace suicide deaths in the
military population by 2020.
As President, I will ensure that DOD tracks and records
potential toxic exposure by integrating it into the post-deployment checklist.
We need to ensure that adequate funding is allocated to research diseases that
may be connected to certain kinds of exposure. And we must treat those affected
without delay — we cannot allow today’s veterans to wait for earned health
Equal Treatment For All Who Serve
The diversity of our force is one of its unique strengths —
it allows us to incorporate different perspectives and experiences and to look
at problems in new ways. The data are clear: inclusive, diverse militaries
simply perform better. When we
discriminate or treat classes of service members as less worthy than their
peers, we fail to honor that diversity and we do enormous harm to our ability
to recruit a strong future force. Minority communities in the military —
particularly LGBTQ+, women, Black and Latinx service
members — are significantly under-represented in the leadership ranks. Here’s
what I’ll do to protect and honor everyone who volunteers to serve.
LGBTQ+ Service Members
The only thing that should matter when it comes to allowing
military personnel to serve is whether or not they can handle the job. Our
national security community is weaker when LGBTQ+ Americans are excluded. I
have opposed the Trump Administration’s shameful ban on transgender service
members from the start —
and I’ll reverse it on the first day of my presidency. In addition, advances
in care and treatment have
made it possible for individuals living with HIV to serve and deploy, and the
Pentagon’s policies should be updated to reflect these advances in medical
I’ve also supported efforts to review and correct the
military records of service members discharged solely due to their sexual
orientation, both before and during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era. As
Commander-in-Chief, I’ll prioritize this effort, ensuring that we reflect their
honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned.
I’ll include the LGBTQ+ population in the VA’s Center for
Minority Veterans, ensuring that they receive targeted outreach and equal care
and are treated with dignity and respect. A Warren VA will ensure that every
LGBTQ+ person can get the equitable, gender-affirming, and culturally-competent
health care they need. That means providing all medically necessary care related
to the health of transgender people, including transition-related surgery,
and allowing providers discretion to deem gender-affirming procedures as
medically necessary based on an individualized assessment. This care will also
be available under Medicare for All.
Professional medical associations recognize the need for transition-related
surgery. VA’s blanket exclusion policy of medically necessary treatment is not
grounded in medicine; it should be repealed.
Empowering Women Service Members
Women make up 17.5% of the total
force. But they can face unique professional and personal challenges over the
course of a military career, including higher rates of sexual harassment and assault, higher rates
of divorce, challenges
starting a family, and fewer opportunities for career advancement.
I supported then-Defense Secretary Carter’s decision
to open combat positions to women across
the services, because the only thing that should matter is an individual’s
ability to meet the standards. I’m proud of the women who have risen to that challenge.
Now we must do more to recruit women into service, and then ensure that they
are given equal opportunities to compete for command and promotions. We’ll
invest in research on appropriate gear and injury prevention for women — over one
hundred years after being allowed to enlist, women still perform their duties
wearing equipment that doesn’t fit them, and therefore doesn’t adequately
protect them. And both DOD and VA should enhance the quality of and access to
care for women service members, including for preventive and reproductive care
and mental health.
A 21st century VA must also adapt to the modern fabric of
our veteran population, ensuring that gender-specific care is the norm. There
are about 2 million women veterans today,
and women represent the fastest growing veteran subgroup — that’s why I
successfully fought to ensure VA
has sufficient resources and expertise in its peer counseling program for women
veterans. I’ll also ensure that VA provides full reproductive health care for
all veterans, in addition to the full reproductive health coverage they will
have under Medicare for All. This includes IVF, which is currently only available to
married veterans with service-connected infertility who don’t need donor sperm
or eggs — discriminating against
unmarried veterans, those who delayed pregnancy during their service, and
same-sex couples. It also includes contraception, for which VA continues to charge veterans
despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act made it available without cost to
their civilian counterparts. This also includes abortions. I’ve called to
repeal the Hyde Amendment, which
blocks federal funds from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of
rape, incest, or the life of the woman. VA’s restrictions go even further,
prohibiting coverage for all abortions and all abortion counseling with no
exemptions, an extreme policy I will eliminate.
Too often, women veterans experience sexually explicit
comments and other forms of harassment that
make them feel unsafe and unwelcome and cause them to delay seeking care at
their local VA or miss appointments altogether. This is shameful and it has to
stop. I’ll ensure that a Warren VA has a comprehensive policy to eliminate
sexual harassment and assault and hold perpetrators — VA personnel or anyone
else — accountable, so that women veterans do not have to feel unsafe at their
VA medical center when they seek the care they’ve earned.
Immigrant Service Members
Immigrants to our country have a proud history of honorable
military service and often become citizens. But the Trump Administration has
done everything it can to make these patriotic individuals who volunteer to
serve and defend the United States of America feel unwelcome in our ranks.
In recent years, ICE has deported noncitizen veterans in
violation of its own policies, which require additional review before
proceeding with a removal case against a veteran. The Trump Administration has
taken steps to withdraw deportation protections from military family members,
including family of service members deployed in combat overseas. And under
DOD’s current policies, immigrant troops are being denied citizenship at
a rate higher than their civilian counterparts, and applications for
naturalization as a result of military service dropped 72% between 2017
This is a disgrace. It also undermines military readiness.
It’s not reasonable to expect service members to be able to concentrate on
their jobs when their families are being deported, which is why I’ve used my
position as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to urge the Trump
Administration to maintain critical programs like Parole in Place and Deferred
Action for undocumented family members of service members. Further, many
noncitizen veterans come to the attention of immigration enforcement as a
result of PTSD or other trauma associated with their military service; others
fear seeking treatment for that reason. Everyone who serves our country
deserves equal treatment and benefits, regardless of their citizenship status.
A Warren Administration will make it clear that we will
protect veterans and family members of serving military personnel from
deportation, and we will review the cases of those who have been deported for
possible return to the United States. Consistent with our national security
interests, I’ll restart the
Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which
recruits non-citizens with specialized skills or language abilities, paired
with appropriate security and counterintelligence protections. I’ll also make
it easier for noncitizens who serve honorably in our military to naturalize and
become citizens. And we will heed the call of veterans to honor our commitment
to translators and
others who supported them in combat by re-launching the Direct Access Program
for these vulnerable refugees.
Easing the Transition for Veterans
Nearly 200,000 personnel
separate from military service every year. The initial transition away from
military service can be a challenging period, as veterans work to start school
or find a job, and readjust to family after time overseas. Many new veterans
struggle to find a sense of purpose or connection in new civilian careers and
communities. While DOD has improved its transition counseling in recent years,
we can do more to prepare service members to return to civilian life.
Ensuring a “Warm Hand-Off”
The key to an effective transition is a seamless connection
between DOD and the VA — but too often, veterans fall through the cracks. I’ll
direct DOD to require that service members pre-enroll and complete processing
at the VA before they leave active service. I’ll set a goal of completing
interoperable electronic records between DOD and VA by the end of my first
term. And I’ll direct VA to expand the vets.gov online
portal for veterans and provide veterans access to a VA-provided email, so that
the government can continue to communicate with them about their eligibility
even if they move physical addresses over time.
Eliminating the Benefits Backlog
While the VA has made progress in addressing its backlog of
benefits cases waiting for adjudication, today there are over 70,000 veterans
who have been waiting more than 125 days for a status determination. Moreover,
VA itself acknowledges it takes between 12-18 months to
review a new appeal, and 5-7 years to get a decision from a Veterans Law Judge.
As President, I’ll fully eliminate the initial claims and appeals backlog. And
in the interim, we’ll provide a presumption of eligibility for certain interim
benefits to all those waiting for a final status determination.
Our understanding of traumatic brain injury and other
complex injuries has improved dramatically in recent years, but VA’s disability
compensation process has not kept pace with those developments. I’ll task the
National Academy of Public Administration to review and overhaul the disability
ratings system to better accommodate “invisible” wounds like TBI. I’ll direct
them to take into account recommendations for best practices,
including training additional staff to evaluate cases and taking into account
symptoms that are closely-associated with undiagnosed TBI.
A key concern among veterans is that the benefits
adjudication process is byzantine and lacks transparency. I’ll make sure that
veterans automatically get full access to the results of their examinations and
put in place rigorous processes to ensure claims are granted consistently
nationwide. And to help veterans navigate the system and obtain the benefits
they deserve, I’ll also establish a grant program to fund additional
caseworkers at Veterans Service Organizations and other community-based
Clearing “Bad Paper” Discharges
As the research into PTSD and traumatic brain injuries has
improved, we’ve come to learn that these often invisible injuries lie behind
many less-than-honorable discharges. Nearly 6% of post-9/11
discharges have been other-than-honorable — and one study estimated that 62% of service
members separated for misconduct had been diagnosed within the 2 years prior to
separation with PTSD, TBI, or related conditions. These so-called “bad paper”
discharges can have a lasting negative impact, preventing the most vulnerable
veterans from accessing benefits, obtaining employment, and other earned and
I’ll create a DOD appeals board for veterans seeking to upgrade
their discharges to give those denied by the services another opportunity for
review and to ensure consistency across the services. I’ll direct that board to
expand “liberal consideration”
and consider a broader array of potentially mitigating evidence. I’ll direct
the VA to provide certain interim benefits to individuals with
other-than-honorable discharges until their appeals are adjudicated. And I’ll
direct DOD to establish guidance for commanders to ensure that individuals
first receive care for underlying conditions that may be contributing to
behavioral problems, rather than merely processed for administrative discharge.
Providing Good Jobs
Service members gain valuable skills in the military, but
often don’t know how to translate their skills into civilian life or receive
appropriate “credit” for military service in a civilian context. And while
public-private partnerships and other efforts have broken down the stigma
around hiring veterans, we can do more to set veterans up for long-term
It starts by making it easier for civilian employers to
identify military skill sets that most closely match their needs, and helping
veterans to describe their military experiences in language that resonates with
civilian employers. In the Senate, I’ve prioritized improving the employment
transition for retiring service members, for example by passing a bipartisan bill
that made it easier for service members to use their experience operating large
military vehicles to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
As President, I’ll direct DOD to expand resume and career
coaching opportunities for military personnel considering transition. To
encourage veteran entrepreneurship, I’m proposing a new program to allow
veterans to cash out their GI education benefits for a small business loan. And
we’ll invest in collaborative programs — like labor’s Helmets to Hardhats program
— to connect transitioning service members with federally-recognized
apprenticeship opportunities and good, union jobs.
Ending Veterans’ Homelessness
While the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has
dropped over the last decade, nearly 38,000 were still
homeless in January 2018. Veterans constituted nearly 9% of the total
adult homeless population. Even one homeless veteran is one too many. I’ll
restore SNAP benefits that the Trump administration seeks to cut that
support 1.4 million low-income
veterans, including those who are unemployed or with disabilities. SNAP is a
particularly critical support for young veterans and those recently who have
recently transitioned from active service. We’ll fully fund rapid re-housing
and permanent supportive housing through Supportive Services for Veteran
Families (SSVF) and HUD-VASH. And we’ll create a new competitive grant program
for communities to provide wrap-around services for veterans and their
families. We know that access to housing can be a barrier to many veterans –
and can enhance the scale of other challenges they face. By strengthening
and expanding programs like HUD-VASH, we can end veteran homelessness and allow
our veterans to focus on finding meaningful employment, receiving healthcare
for service-connected conditions, and building resilient lives.
Creating a 21st Century VA Health Care System
The Veterans Health Administration is America’s largest health care
system, providing care at over 1,200 health care facilities nationwide and
serving 9 million enrolled veterans each year.
In recent years, attacks on VA have intensified as
Republicans have pressed to privatize large chunks of VA service. My
Administration will be clear-eyed about leadership challenges at VA. We will
hold accountable leaders who fail to put veterans first or misuse resources,
and we will empower whistleblowers who report wrongdoing to address their
concerns and protect them from retaliation. But the truth is that care provided
by VA outperforms care at non-VA hospitals, as multiplestudies have shown.
And in a recent survey, 91% of veterans who
use VA care said they would recommend it to their fellow veterans. VA has
pioneered innovations in medical care and service delivery. It provides
world-class care for uniquely service-connected injuries, including treatment
for polytrauma, amputations, and spinal cord injuries.
While community care is appropriate where specialists are
unavailable or geographically inaccessible, let me be clear: a Warren
Administration will invest in the VA, not further dismantle it. We will not cut
the high-quality, evidence-based, culturally competent programs that our
veterans rely on. And under Medicare for All, veterans will all have
high-quality health coverage that gives them the option to seek care from
non-VA doctors and hospitals for no additional cost. If there isn’t a VA close
to where they live, Medicare for All will ensure that veterans still get the
care they need when they need it.
In the immediate-term, here’s what we can do to revitalize
our VA for the 21st century–
Work with Congress to implement more flexible hiring
authorities, with a goal of filling the nearly 49,000 staffing
vacancies, the vast majority of which are in the health administration.
Expand the number of physician recruiters and provide
additional financial incentives for physicians in hard-to-recruit specialties
and rural VA centers or those near tribal lands.
Reinvigorate VA’s training partnership program — nearly 70%
of U.S. doctors receive some training at a VA facility, but VA is hindered from
converting those into full-time positions because of the cumbersome hiring
Fully implement the VA MISSION Act — on-time, and in collaboration
with veteran’s groups, ensuring community providers are held to the same high
standards of care as VA providers and that the direct care system is not
weakened by siphoning away money into the private sector.
We’ll invest in modernizing aging infrastructure and
state-of-the-art medical equipment.
We’ll work to fill gaps in care, benefits, or other services
in underserved regions, including on tribal lands; and further integrating
federally-qualified health centers, DOD facilities, and the Indian Health
System as appropriate.
Read more about Warren’s plan for service members, veterans and military families here: