MILITARY AND VETERANS
President Lincoln declared in his second inaugural address that our country shall care for those “who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The United States forms a lasting compact with our service members and their families from the moment they enter the military. In our Congressional district, which includes the Southern Tier, Western New York, and the Finger Lakes, there are over 50,000 veterans who deserve that full range of support earned through their service to our nation.
Too often, our veterans are left with only empty declarations of support. Partisan politics in Congress has resulted in funding cuts and reduced benefits. Additionally, while a number of programs exist to support veterans, it is often too hard to access these programs - especially in rural communities like ours. This means that after serving our country, veterans are often forced between finding a job and moving home. That is not fair to our veterans and not fair to our rural communities who could benefit from the skills and dedication of those who have served.
I learned in the military that when you say you’re going to do something, it’s results that matter. It’s time we use that approach when it comes to taking care of our veterans. Simply having programs for veterans is not enough—we need to make sure the people who need these programs know about them and can access them. These programs should be integrated in a whole-of-person care model instead of being “stove piped” separately. To keep faith with our veterans by providing the support they need and deserve, I propose we focus on improving access and support for rural veterans in five key areas: economic opportunities; education; healthcare; mental health and well-being; and family programs.
- Expand Economic Opportunities in Rural Areas: Expedite professional licensing procedures and increase access to capital for veterans so they can come back home to start businesses and build successful civilian careers in rural areas.
- Align Education Opportunities with Military Experience: Recognize that returning veterans have a range of different life experiences that 18-year olds starting college straight from high school do not. Develop best practices and programs that maximize education success for veterans seeking to use the post-9/11 GI Bill. Protect veterans from predatory for-profit colleges by closing loopholes that allow exploitation of veterans and their families.
- Improve Access and Quality of Healthcare: Expand collaborations and health information exchanges between VA and non-VA healthcare providers and enhance coverage of telemedicine options when appropriate. Revise 40-mile rule that handcuffs Veterans Choice program users and immediately fix the related billing problems.
- Revise our approach to Mental Health and Well-being : Improve and streamline access to treatment by increasing the number of covered behavioral health providers and proactively addressing issues of stigma especially in small, rural communities. Streamline paperwork and other delays in care to ensure rapid access to support for those most in need.
- Support Military Families: Protect family members’ access to key services, like TRICARE and the GI Bill. Provide immediate families and caregivers, especially those in rural communities, with information and training to better identify and respond to potential problems like opioid addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.