One of the best aspects of running for Congress is all of the people that I have met. I'm a people person! Some have wonderful stories to share, others heart wrenching; most are appreciative to have the opportunity to personally meet with a candidate. I’ve heard the incumbent and other candidates talk about Veterans, but the fact is, the urgent needs of Veterans have been ignored. It is commendable that a number of Veterans are running for office now, but have not heard specific issues addressed.
When I ask Veterans what their number one concern is - it is about health care. Seems their greatest needs are the same as ours. The VA’s medical care is antiquated, slow, inefficient, nor using best practices. We can do better for those who have served our country.
I sat down with a Veteran over the weekend and he educated me about some of the issues. He explained that all Veterans do not have the same rights or benefits after service. Under federal law, a Veteran is any person who served honorably on active duty in the armed forces of the United States.
One of his concerns was that as a combat Veteran, he could not access the BX at the local military base. At one point in time, he was unemployed and as he stated, “it would have been nice to use the BX to shop for goods at the discounted and tax-free price because his finances were limited.” A retired Veteran, whether they served overseas or not, is permitted to use all the benefits of a military post, which includes shopping at the BX. Items for purchase at the BX are discounted and there’s no sales tax. Apparently, a combat Veteran does not have the same rights as a retired military person who has never been in combat. Apparently “combat” is the not same thing as “deployed.”
Apparently “combat” is the not same thing as “deployed.” I asked him to explain the nuances with the term “deployment”. It seems people on active duty are deployed… they can be here in the US, they can be in Europe or anywhere in the world. Combat is a different term. Being in the “area of theater” is also a determination of whether or not someone was physically in the war zone. This was a Gulf War Veteran who was in combat in the area of theater, while his cousin was also deployed in Germany. Both are considered deployed. It seems strange that a combat Veteran, who served in the area of theater, does not have the same rights as someone who has never been in combat. They carry a VA identification care for healthcare only.
I did not realize there are classifications for Veterans that impact some of their benefits:
- Service-connected disabled Veterans
- Combat Veterans
- Veterans (in the service, never in the area of theater – which means they cannot join a VFW).
- Commissioned officers
Eligibility for Veterans benefits depends on the character of the discharge: honorable or general under honorable conditions. What are the benefits? Healthcare (free or low cost), disability compensation, pension programs, education programs. Other benefits include:
- Housing and home loan guarantees
- Small businesses loans (through SBA)
- Burials and memorials
Disability determination is not clearly defined either. There are cases where Veterans can receive medical care due to service-connected disability but denied financial disability benefits.
There is a Veterans Owned Business (VOB) classification and a Disabled Veterans Owned Business (DVOB). The VOB cannot bid on contracts for the state of NJ the same as a DVOB. The VOB does not have the same classification as a minority-owned business.
Does all of this sound confusing? It does to me. In fact, much of this class or caste structure makes no sense.
My goal, when elected, is to streamline this process and make it equal for all Veterans. I want to ensure that combat Veterans have the same rights. I want to ensure that those who are service-connected disabled have a streamlined process of receiving medical and financial assistance without aggravation. Our VA healthcare needs an overhaul with a focus on mental health. I would like to see improved employment assistance, including education and training, for Veterans. It is the least we can do for those who have pledged to defend and protect our Constitution. Thank you for your service to our country.