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 veterans. I have supported efforts to expand veterans’ education assistance, improve medical care, provide vocational training and job opportunities 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 Act, 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. In August 2017 the President signed P.L. 114-48, Harry Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which is the most comprehensive veterans education package to pass Congress since the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
The Harry Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act improves education benefits for veterans in many ways. It allows eligible veterans, children and surviving spouses to use their GI bill benefits for their entire lives, as opposed to the previous 15-year timeline. It provides significant increases in GI Bill funding for Reservists and Guardsmen, including the extension of education benefits to reservists who are activated to provide disaster assistance or support the preplanned mission of a combatant command. This law also provides 100% GI Bill eligibility to Post 9/11 Purple Heart recipients and allows veterans to pursue skill oriented credentials via an up to $2,000 reimbursement for taking licensing or certification tests.
In addition to improving veterans’ education benefits, I have continued to make it a top priority to improve the Veterans Healthcare Administration. In the spring of 2016 the Northport VA faced criticism for not informing Congress about the closure of its operating rooms due to a ventilation issue. In the wake of this revelation I worked closely with the VA to ensure that Congress and the general public be notified when such closures occur and ensure that a long-term solution to the Northport VA’s ventilation problems be put into action.
While I have been critical of the Northport VA over the temporary 2016 closure of its operating rooms, it still ranks as one of the best medical facilities within the Veterans Health Administration. Additionally, I have always found the staff at the Northport VA to be thoroughly professional in the great work they do. I will continue to work closely with the Northport VA to ensure it has the resources necessary to provide Long Island’s veterans with the best care possible.
An example of the research and work being conducted at the Northport VA is a recent study conducted with a group of 50 Vietnam Veterans that showed there was a high incidence of liver fluke in those tested. Liver fluke is a parasite that resides in the bile duct and can cause bile duct cancer. I have urged the House Veterans Affairs Committee to hold hearing to gain more information on the link between liver fluke infection and service in the Vietnam War. I have also encouraged the VA to conduct a larger liver fluke study to raise awareness for this parasite and to take preemptive action to protect the health of Vietnam Veterans.
An additional action I have taken to improve veterans’ healthcare is introducing H.R. 411, Veteran Suicide Prevention Act. This bill would require the VA to review all veteran suicides that occurred over the past five years. The review would include key facts: the total number of veterans who have died by suicide, the medications that were prescribed to such veterans before their passing, the percentage of such veterans with combat experience or trauma, and VA facilities where they sought treatment. This information would enable VA health professionals to identify any negative trends in VA mental healthcare, like harmful prescription cocktails or facilities in need of more resources. In doing so, this review would enable the VA to improve mental healthcare and develop more effective treatment strategies.
Through their service on the battlefield, veterans develop unique skills and superior leadership capabilities that are extremely valuable in the civilian workforce. However, the transition from the military is difficult and veterans often face long periods of unemployment. That is why I have reintroduced the Jobs for Veterans Act, which creates a $5,000 nonrefundable tax credit for employers who hire a returning veteran for more than 10 weeks/400 hours of work. This tax credit gives employers incentive to hire returning soldiers – a win-win solution that enables veterans to find employment and business owners to capitalize on the skills veterans have to offer.
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.