RE-UPPING OUR COMMITMENT TO VETERANS AND MILITARY FAMILIES
Our veterans and military families form the backbone of support for the armed forces and our military. They have pledged their lives and livelihoods to defending our values, our freedoms, and our security, and we owe it to them to make sure we have their backs here at home. But the demands of seventeen years of war mean that too many of our veterans, service members and their families aren’t getting the care and support that they deserve. And taking care of our veterans isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s critical to making sure we can continue to recruit and retain the best and brightest people for our military force. When I am in Congress, I will fight for our veterans, our service members, and their families. I pledge to fight on four fronts:
Protect and expand access to VA healthcare across the district.
When we send men and women into battle to defend our freedoms, we then have a responsibility to take care of their physical and mental health needs when they come home. Politicians in Washington have been all too eager to spend money on foreign wars only to cut funding for veterans when they take off the uniform, resulting in backlogs, corruption, and scandal at the VA. Yet, an incredible 92% of veterans want to continue receiving services from the VA because of the high quality of specialized care they receive from doctors who understand the nature of their unique issues. However, not all veterans live proximate to a VA Hospital or Clinic, so we must protect the ability of veterans to choose where they receive care—that means preserving a real CHOICE by expanding access to VA facilities and allowing vets to access medical care in rural areas. When I am in Congress, I pledge to:
- Require that every increase in military spending on foreign wars is accompanied by the same percentage increase in VA spending.
- Establish real choice in veterans’ healthcare by protecting funding for high-quality VA services while also supporting measures that allow (but don’t require) veterans in rural areas to seek care from a private physician.
- Fight to restore medical care for veterans in the Wiregrass by extending the Dothan medical clinic’s contract for at least six months.
- Explore expanding Lyster Army Clinic into a full-service VA medical center for our veterans in the Wiregrass.
Support military spouse employment and their children’s education.
Allowing military families some stability and predictability in their very mobile lives is vitally important. Too often, families are thrown into chaos as they move school districts and spouses try to find employment, oftentimes on short notice. As a result, military families are twice as likely to homeschool their children, and military spouses are 25% less likely to be employed. The Department of Defense has further announced that they will take these factors into account when the next base closing commission meets, because making sure that our service members aren’t worried about the quality of their children’s education or making ends meet is an important way to recruit and retain the best, most lethal force in the world. Montgomery public schools are among the worst in the country—we must invest in our district’s public education, both because it is the right thing to do, but also because thousands of jobs may depend on it. I will always do everything in my power to protect our bases as pillars of our community. When I am in Congress, I will support:
- Directing federal block grants to support the public school systems that neighbor every military base.
- Legislation that makes it easier for military spouses to gain employment, including covering the cost of military spouses’ licensure exams as they move from state to state.
- Making the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process measurable and predictable, with a hearing once every ten years.
Expand DOD and VA capacity to provide mental health services.
The issue of mental healthcare is one of the most important to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost one third of veterans today return from deployment with post-traumatic stress issues or traumatic brain injuries, not to mention the difficulty of readjusting to civilian life after long periods of deployment. But time after time, we see that neither the DOD nor the VA have the capacity to deal with even the most severe cases. Further, because of the stigma around mental health, many do not seek treatment until it is too late, and so veterans are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans. We must expand our programs and policies to make sure that every veteran has real access to mental health services, from a simple check-in to life-saving intervention. When in Congress, I pledge to:
- Introduce legislation that allows any servicemember who has been deployed and administratively discharged to be automatically eligible for VA care.
- Explore creative ways to expand the ability of both the DOD and the VA to offer mental health services, including engaging more social workers, offering loan forgiveness to mental health professionals, and increasing the number of chaplains available for religious counsel before, during, and after deployments.
Protect veterans and servicemembers from predatory practices.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is widely regarded as one of the greatest successes in recent Veterans’ benefit history. Allowing servicemembers and their families to pursue an in-state education at no cost to them is a well-deserved reward for their demonstrated dedication to our country. But service members and veterans, due to the unique nature of service, find themselves at risk to be taken advantage of by predatory lenders and colleges that only see guaranteed money instead of an individual. Further, patriotic immigrants who volunteer to put their lives on the line for this country should be rewarded, not deported. I believe that it is unacceptable that politicians in Washington are making it easier to discriminate and take advantage of our service members, veterans, and their families. That’s why, when elected to Congress, I pledge to:
- Defend and protect the Military Lending Act, to make sure our service members are offered fair rates when applying for credit.
- Punish for-profit colleges that deceive and defraud veterans and military family members pursuing higher education.
- Remove the new loophole that prevents service members who volunteered for service right after 9/11 from transferring their education benefits to their children.
- Protect every veteran and their family from being deported from (or denied access to) the country they have sworn to defend, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.