Before the PACT Act – Five Remarkable Times Republicans Worked Against Veterans

Before the PACT Act – Five Remarkable Times Republicans Worked Against Veterans

President Biden signed the PACT Act today, less than two weeks after Republican Senators pulled the rug out from under it by voting down the bill. Now law, the PACT Act will open up live-saving medical access to hundred of thousands of Veterans exposed to burn pit toxins, the effects of which include cancer to lung disease. While we are still shaking our heads over a no-win decision by Republicans to vote it down (after voting Yes for it less than two weeks prior) we wondered about their record in the last decade on similar Veteran-related bills in Congress. Is there a track record that needs to be reviewed and reassessed? 

Despite veterans benefits and assistance programs being widely popular with the public for centuries, congressional Republicans continue to vote against programs that would provide life-saving assistance to veterans. Here are a some of the more high-profile examples of Republicans voting against bills or cutting funding that would help save the lives of Veterans and their families:

In July of 2022, 11 Senate Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Rand Paul, voted against a bipartisan measure (the PACT Act) that is designed to help veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals while deployed abroad.

In 2015, the GOP-controlled Senate voted down a bill to provide $1 billion over five years to provide jobs for unemployed veterans. The bill was fully funded, and would not have added any additional money to the deficit.

In 2014, Senate Republicans shot down one of the largest pieces of veterans legislation in recent history. The Comprehensive Veterans Health Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 would have repealed the military retiree cost-of-living adjustment reduction, and would have protected veteran pensions and educational payments from future Congressional budget fights. It would have also authorized the construction of more than 20 community-based outpatient clinics to serve veterans in rural and remote areas.

In 2017, Former President Donald Trump and congressional Republican leaders put forth budget proposals that would have done great damage to the economic security of veterans and their families—all to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and corporations.

In 2011, Republican Paul Ryan and the House of Representatives attempted to end VA healthcare benefits for disabled veterans who are Priority 7 & 8. This means veterans with conditions not recognized by the VA, like certain diseases from Agent Orange exposure, would have to pay for healthcare out of pocket if they didn’t have another service-connected disability.

It is widely believed throughout the United States that our brave and dedicated troops are some of our most important assets. When conflict arises, we can trust that they will boldly leap into action to protect and defend our nation, making immeasurable sacrifices in the process. Since the inception of our country, presidents and politicians from all political parties have enacted laws and agencies specifically designed to help support veterans and military members after they return home. 

Once A Soldier understands the sacrifice that service members and their families have made. We believe that all US veterans deserve support, and access to high quality physical and mental health care. There’s always pork added to any bill, and they get passed all the time. If that is being used as to why a Senator or Representative won’t vote  yes on a bill for Veterans, we demand that they put Veterans first and vote Yes. 

About Once A Soldier: Starting in 2017, our mission is to limit the scars of Veteran suicide. We offer prevention services and postvention services. We reach a national audience and our goal is to become the preferred channel for those who want to help Veteran families who need our services. With 17 Veteran suicides a day in 2021, we believe our two niche services will make a difference to each family and to our nation.

What Will Returning Afghanistan Veterans Mean to Families?

What Will Returning Afghanistan Veterans Mean to Families?

More Veteran Suicides And More Families Traumatized

With President Biden finishing off what three previous administrations couldn’t, the end of the war in Afghanistan means many soldiers will coming stateside. While most of them will not be discharged, some will turn into Afghanistan Veterans. It is those returning Afghanistan warriors that we worry about. If they are like a percentage of their predecessors, they will have PTSD. Here’s what we know: PTSD and families don’t mix. 

Despite the good news coming from the Veterans Administration about soldier suicide being on the decline, the numbers are still painful to accept. In 2019, there were 6,261 Veteran suicides. That’s down from the all time high of 2017. See the newly leased Veteran suicide report by clicking on the cover image.

Overall, civilian suicides are also lower in the past few years, so the Veterans are benefitting from a national trend that is, in turn, either benefitting from greater awareness and acceptability when it comes to asking for help, or it’s just that the reporting is wrong. Prior to this report, other reports have come out saying that the number of Veteran suicides is under-reported due to a variety of factors. Reaching these families is also hard, and now that returning Afghanistan war soldiers are coming home, Congress needs to intensify their support for PTSD treatment and postvention when suicide prevention fails.

Wherever the truth may lie, with Afghanistan Veterans coming home, they will soon face the same challenges all Vets face. Homelessness, the emptiness of civilian life, the housing crisis, the COVID pandemic, extremeism in our political system, and global burning that has temperatures and wild fires raging like never before.

We wish those returning all the best and for those returning to their families, we wish them more than that. We wish that they get connected to the VA. As lacking as it is, being connected to the local one gives you a better chance at not killing youself. And when you don’t do that, we don’t have to take care of your families once you’re gone.

ABOUT ONCE A SOLDIER

Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans.

We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.

VA Burial Benefits S. 4511, Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020

VA Burial Benefits S. 4511, Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020

Veterans Families Get Modest Increases

Recently passed, the Moran Act holds many Veterans benefits increases. S. 4511 was incorporated and enacted when President Trump signed it into law in October, 2020. “Its past time for the other victims of Veteran suicide to get some more substancial aid from the VA.” says Dave Barbush, CEO of Once A Soldier. “Veteran suicide is reinforced as the VA top priority in S. 4511. We would like to have seen some more creative and valuable support for Veterans suicide families.”

PTSD was also given a priority and help for Veterans suffering from it are now fingered out into more of America’s heartland. Places where the VA can’t reach, or don’t want to be reached, are now in view and hopefully this $174 million infusion will help suicide prevention. There is nothing in S. 4511, Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020 for postvention. Congress needs to create a new loan program ala the GI Bill only for Veterans suicide families to borrow up to $5,000 to bury their Veteran with pride and dignity.

soldier rests

Veteran suicide is on the rise ever since we started tracking it in 2016. Prevention fails approximately 22 times a day.

S. 4511, Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020 for Burial Benefits

Veteran suicide is on the rise ever since we started tracking it in 2016. Prevention fails approximately 22 times a day. What the new burial benefits don’t keep pace with is the dollar amount awarded as benefits. They continue to fall way short. If these increases are any indication of how much our legislators think of postvention support for the families of Veterans suicide, then it is going to be a hard road to travel indeed.

 

Burial Benefits. 

 

Several sections of S. 4511 would increase burial and death benefits for

veterans. The changes in those benefits, which are paid from mandatory appropriations,

would increase direct spending by $444 million over the 2021-2030 period.

 

Death Benefit. 

 

Section 202 would increase VA’s standard death benefit beginning in 2023.

 

Under current law, VA pays the surviving family of eligible veterans a monetary benefit to cover funeral and other expenses. The amount of the payment depends on whether theveteran was hospitalized by VA at the time of death, and whether the veteran died from a service-related condition. The standard VA death benefit is $300 for veterans who were not hospitalized by VA at the time of their death and whose death was not the result of service related conditions. The bill would increase that amount to equal the rate for veterans who were hospitalized by VA at the time of death, currently $796. 

Under section 202, that amount would increase with inflation each year. Using information from VA, CBO estimates that about 39,000 veteran families would receive $855 in 2023, an increase of $555. That gap compared to the current benefit would continue to grow, and CBO estimates that by 2030 an additional 46,000 families would receive an additional $700. In total, CBO estimates section 202 would increase direct spending by $212 million over the 2021-2030 period.

 

Outer Burial Receptacles

Section 203 would allow VA to pay the cost of an outer burial receptacle, such as a crypt or grave liner, for casketed burials that occur in state or tribal cemeteries. VA would begin providing that benefit in 2023. An outer burial receptacle is a container that is designed to protect the casket in the grave. Under current law, VA only provides outer burial receptacles for casketed burials in national veterans’ cemeteries. Using information from VA on the number of burials in state and tribal cemeteries and the cost of outer burial receptacles, CBO estimates that VA would provide an average of 12,400 additional outer burial receptacles per year at an average cost of $850, beginning in 2023. In total, CBO estimates providing outer burial receptacles for casketed burials in state and tribal cemeteries would increase direct spending by $88 million over the 2021-2030 period.

 

Burial Urns and Plaques. 

VA provides headstones or grave markers for veterans who are interred in cemeteries. The department does not provide those benefits for veterans who are not interred in cemeteries. Section 207 would require VA to provide an urn or memorial plaque for those veterans upon the request of their families. Veterans who served on or after April 6, 1917, and who otherwise were eligible for burial would be eligible for the new benefit. That change would be effective beginning in 2023.

 

CBO Cost 

Estimate S. 4511, as ordered reported by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

On the basis of information from VA about the number of headstones and markers providedannually, as well as data on burial and cremation trends, CBO estimates that in 2023 about 48,000 eligible families would request an urn or plaque under the bill. Under current law, CBO expects that those families would forgo requesting a headstone or grave marker because they would either retain the remains or scatter them. CBO estimates that 24,000 families would choose an urn and an equal number would choose a plaque. Because the percentage of people choosing cremation is expected to increase, CBO estimates that the number of urns and plaques also would rise—to 28,000 each by 2030.

Under the bill, the families of some veterans who will have died before the bill is enacted could also request urns or plaques. Using information from VA and data on trends in burials and cremations, CBO estimates 86,000 families would request urns, and 203,000 would request plaques over the 2023-2026 period for veterans who die before the date of enactment.

Over the 2021-2030 period, CBO estimates, 294,000 urns would be provided at an average cost of $175 each, and 410,000 plaques would be provided at an average cost of $59 each. In total, those urns and plaques would cost $76 million, CBO estimates.

Implementing section 207 would also affect discretionary spending. 

Transportation to State and Tribal Cemeteries.

Under current law, VA may pay the costs for transporting the remains of deceased veterans to the nearest national cemetery. Section 201 would allow VA to pay for the costs of transporting the remains of deceased veterans to state or tribal cemeteries, up to the amount it would cost to transport those remains to the nearest national cemetery. That change would be effective beginning in 2023.

On the basis of information from VA on the number of remains that receive the transportation benefit fromVA to national cemeteries, and the number of burials in state and tribal cemeteries, CBO  estimates an average of 11,000 additional veteran remains would have transportation costs covered by VA annually beginning in 2023. Using information on the average cost to provide transportation for deceased veterans to national cemeteries, CBO estimates transporting a veteran’s remains to state and tribal cemeteries will cost an averageof $710 beginning in 2023. In total, CBO estimates that the cost of transporting the remains of deceased veterans to state and tribal cemeteries would increase direct spending by $61 million over the 2021-2030 period.

Headstone Inscriptions.

Under current law, VA will inscribe on or replace, upon request, a veteran’s government-provided headstone or gravesite marker that is located in a national cemetery in order to include information about the veteran’s spouse or dependent children following the spouse’s or child’s death. Section 204 would allow VA to replace any headstones or gravesite markers it has provided for veterans, regardless of the type cemetery in which they are located. That new benefit would be available to veterans who die after October 1, 2019.

On the basis of information from VA on the number of headstones provided for veterans buried each year in non-VA cemeteries, as well as other demographic information such as marriage and mortality rates for veterans, CBO estimates that about 3,000 deceased veterans would be eligible for replacement headstones in 2021 as a result of the death of a spouse or dependent child.

Using data from VA, CBO estimates that the families of 25 percent of those veterans—about 750—would request replacement headstones. The number of eligible veterans would increase to about 24,000 by 2030, with about 6,000 families requesting replacement headstones in that year. In total, VA would replace about 31,000 additional headstones over the 2021-2030 period, at an average cost of about $230 per headstone. In total, replacing those headstones would cost $7 million, CBO estimates.

 

ABOUT ONCE A SOLDIER

Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. Together, we will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans.

We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.

VSOs, Pelosi, Takano Demand VA Secretary Wilkie’s Resignation

VSOs, Pelosi, Takano Demand VA Secretary Wilkie’s Resignation

All the Major Veterans Groups, Including Once A Soldier, Demand Better For All Veterans

How dare you treat one of our own that way? That’s the message, and with Representative Mark Takano (D. California) leading the charge, all of the Big Six veterans organizatins; The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS and Vietnam Veterans of America, want him gone. Takano is the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The entire report, published by the Office of the Inspector General, can be found here.

“From his own actions, it’s clear that instead of handling the sexual assualt with dignity and honor, VA Secretary Wilike initiated a smear campaign against the female veteran,” said David Barbush, CEO of Once A Soldier. “Of course, we are thinking of the Veteran’s family involved in all of this.”

The veteran who made the complaint was, and continues to serve as, a staff member on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC). She works on issues affecting women veterans for the committee, including efforts to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and assaults in VA medical centers.

Disgraced Trump Appointee VA Secretary Robert Wilkie

“When the most senior leadership of VA are derelict in their duty, refuse to take immediate action to correct glaring deficiencies, and are themselves complicit in attempts to discredit and cast doubt on the facts, they betray the public trust and as a result disqualify themselves from all future public service,” Rep. Mark Takano. Wilkie’s lack of character and ethics, a trademark of all Trump VA Secretaries, was recognized by other politicians in addition to Takano.

“The accountability, professionalism and respect that our veterans have earned, and quite frankly deserve, is completely lost in this current VA leadership team,” said B.J. Lawrence, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Secretary Wilkie must resign now.”

“It is unfair to expect accountability from the nearly 400,000 VA employees and not demand the same from its top executive,” wrote American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford. “Wilkie failed to meet the standard that the veteran who came forward with the complaint deserved. By the promises set forth by his own department, the American Legion believes Secretary Wilkie should resign.”

Along with Wilkie, Takano called for the resignation of acting Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers, acting Chief of Staff Brooks Tucker, Principal Deputy General Counsel William Hudson Jr., Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs James Hutton, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Curt Cashour. All of them were named in the report.

The OIG’s investigation was hindered by the refusal of several senior VA officials to cooperate with requests for follow-up interviews to clarify and resolve conflicts that arose when additional information was gathered after their initial interviews. The individuals refusing to cooperate included Secretary Wilkie, Chief of Staff Performing the Delegable Duties of the Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers, Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs James Hutton, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Curtis Cashour.

Sources for this post include the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Military Times.

 

ABOUT ONCE A SOLDIER

Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans.

We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.

988 Is The New 911 For Veteran Suicide Intervention Help

988 Is The New 911 For Veteran Suicide Intervention Help

Nationwide Hotline For Veterans and Civilians

On October 18, 2020, when President Trump signed into law Senate bill 798 from U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)—Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee— a new suicide prevention national hotline of 988 also kicked off.

Called both a landmark and a groundbreaking law that goes by the long name of The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, expect many new and different Veterans PTSD and Veteran suicide prevention services around the country. What makes the new law groundbreaking is that the VA is for the first time, accepting that Veteran charities and others can help, and that there are provisions to hold the VA accountable for it’s own. Credit to the VA leadership for stepping up and for the Congress that helped forge this bi-partisan bill.

John “Scott” Hannon along with Ruby

Admittedly, the 988 number is not the headline here. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six major ways:

· Bolstering VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.

· Improving rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services.

· Implementing a pilot program to provide veterans access to complementary and integrative health programs through animal therapy, agritherapy, sports and recreation therapy, art therapy and post-traumatic growth.

· Establishing a grant program that requires VA to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans. This collaboration will result in earlier identification of veterans who are at risk of suicide and will provide the ability to intervene with preventative services.

· Studying the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other conditions.

· Holding the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the Department manages its suicide prevention resources.

ABOUT ONCE A SOLDIER

Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans.

We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.