Our veterans are some of the best and brightest citizens we have. To be willing to put their lives on the line so that the rest of us may exercise our freedom is something I am in awe of. I have a deep sense of gratitude for the women and men that serve in our armed forces. It saddens me that they don’t always get the best care and attention that they have earned. That’s why, if I am elected president, I will work closely with veteran advocacy groups to put forth policies that matter most to our nation's active duty service members and veterans.
Every day, an average of 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide. We must not stop working until every veteran and service member has access to the best mental health care and community support. I will direct my VA Secretary to make suicide prevention a top priority.
As for health care, few veterans get the care they deserve, but when it comes to women, the circumstances are most offensive. It’s time we recognize and drastically improve services for women veterans. Especially in light of the fact that women are taking on bigger roles and responsibilities in our military, both in support and combat roles. In fact, the number of men serving in the military is expected to decrease over the next five years, while the number of women is expected to continue to increase. Other than the Department of Defense itself, the Veteran’s Administration is the largest agency in our government. The women and men of the VA are doing extraordinary work every day to care for our veterans and their families. But we can and should do more.
When our service members come home from service, it is critical that they get the support they deserve. As our brave women and men of the military are transitioning out of service and reintegrating back into society, the right support can make all the difference during their transition and in the ensuing months and years. Many veterans don’t even know about the variety of services that are available to support them, nor do they know how to take advantage of them. Solving this lack of outreach to veterans will involve coordinating efforts between the military, the veteran’s administration, and outside non-profit groups and community centers.
Indeed, organization and management will help. Former presidents and past secretaries of the Department of Defense and the VA have made commitments to help bridge the gap between the DoD and the VA for transitioning veterans, and yet there is still no sustainable system to share something as simple and critical as electronic health records.
When these two departments don’t share the data, what happens is veterans get lost in the transition from active duty back to civilian life. They end up not getting the care they need. For example - only 60 percent of all new veterans are registered for VA health care. National Guard members and reservists struggle in their transition between DoD and the VA. With so many different government agencies not sharing records, these often struggle to obtain their medical and service records, resulting in more delays in applying for VA benefits and services. We have the technology to integrate these silos of information, but past administrations and Congress have not delivered sustainable solutions. The time is now to prioritize these fixes.
Veteran homelessness is another regrettable, painful issue. Addressing this starts with preventing veterans from becoming homeless in the first place. The VA needs a more in-depth understanding of the number of veterans and service members at risk for homelessness. That means understanding who is coming home with PTSD, addiction, and other forms of mental health issues. That means we need more studies and more research into these topics. Many veterans have a hard time keeping housing. Many veterans come home to a broken family. Veterans end up going from place to place, and many can’t find long-term employment. A more manageable system that studies the influences that cause homelessness, and that tracks the needs of veterans, is morally required.
The future of our country and the world depends on our nation’s brave young women and men to continue defending democracy at home and abroad. For those who are willing to raise their hand and swear an oath to protect and defend our way of life, we can and we must do a better job of supporting their success during and after their great service and sacrifices for our freedom.
Lastly, one of the great ways to address this issue is to reduce the number of wars that we fight in the first place. Please see my section on national security for more details on my approach to creating peace in this world, instead of violence.