Veterans and Military Personnel
Our country can never repay the debt we owe our nation’s veterans and current active duty military personnel. These are the Americans who answered the call to duty and put their lives on the line to preserve our nation’s freedoms. I have had the distinct honor of making a number of visits to our troops overseas to thank them for their service.
Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have fought to ensure that our military has the very best equipment, weaponry and training. I have also consistently voted to increase benefits to our veterans and to expand education benefits, provide vocational training and make housing more affordable to returning veterans.
Specifically, I have sponsored the Returning Soldiers' Bill of Rights, supported the Long Island State Veterans Home, voted for veterans housing benefits, voted to keep TRICARE costs low and voted for a tax deduction on TRICARE benefits. I was also instrumental in keeping the Manhattan VA open and in blocking private development at the St. Albans VA Community Living Center campus. Based on my support of veterans’ initiatives, I was awarded an ‘A’ on the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America report card.
I have also worked to help veterans facing mental health issues. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the major causes of PTSD among these men and women. That is why I established a pilot program to enhance Department of Defense efforts on mental health in the National Guard and Reserves through community partnerships. I also supported the passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Ac, which became law in February 2015. This law requires a third party to annually evaluate both Department of Defense and VA mental health and suicide prevention programs. This law also addresses the lack of mental health professionals by providing an education loan repayment pilot program and authorizes the VA to collaborate with nonprofit mental health organizations to prevent suicide among veterans.
I have worked to expand veterans benefits by supporting the Post 9/11 GI bill, which was enacted in 2008, and brought the GI Bill of Rights into the 21st Century and expanded educational benefits for military veterans. But there is more work to be done that is why I strongly supported the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which became law in August 2014 and expanded education opportunities for veterans by allowing them to attend a state-run higher-education institution of their choice at an in-state tuition rate.
A top priority of mine has also been to fix our broken VA healthcare system. In addition to expanding education benefits for veterans the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act alleviates the burden on the VA healthcare system and reduces wait times by requiring that medical care be furnished to veterans through specified non-Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities if they cannot get an appointment at a VA facility within the VA’s wait time goal. This law also increases the VA healthcare system’s efficiency by requiring the Inspector General of the VA to determine annually, the five health care occupations for which there are the largest staffing shortages throughout the VA. Finally this law improves healthcare for wounded veterans by extending the pilot program that assesses the effectiveness of assistance provided to eligible veterans with traumatic brain injury.
In order to build upon the accomplishments of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, I supported the Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015, which became law in July 2015. This law prevents the closure of VA hospitals and ensures that veterans receive care in a swift and efficient manner by allowing the VA to access $3.35 billion from the Veterans Choice Fund to address their $2.5 billion budget shortfall. This shortfall was due to a sharp increase in the demand for healthcare, including expensive treatments for hepatitis C where a single pill could cost a $1000. This law also allows veterans receiving care from the VA for a service connected disability to continue to contribute to a Health Savings Account.
In today's tough economy, our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling more than ever to find jobs. The Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 also created new employment opportunities for veterans by exempting those enrolled in health care provided by the VA or TRICARE from being counted as part of the 50 full-time employee threshold for purposes of Obamacare’s employer mandate. This allows business owners to hire veterans without the concern of being burdened by a substantial increase in their personnel costs.
In addition to joblessness, returning veterans also face housing issues. I will continue to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure veterans get access to affordable housing and the support network they need.
I want you to know that any veteran who has any questions whatsoever – ranging from healthcare to finding military records to receiving medals – should contact my office. For additional information on services available to veterans and military personnel please feel free to view the helpful links below. For employment services available to guardsmen and reservists visit: www.h2h.jobs. For services and benefits available to veterans visit: www.ebenefits.va.gov.