Caring for Our Veterans
I enlisted in the United States Navy shortly after my junior year of high school. This was 1972, during the Vietnam War. After basic training, I was assigned to the USS Marvin Shields, a Destroyer stationed at the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego, that patrolled off the coast of Vietnam shortly after that war ended. After three proud years of service, I was honorably discharged, and joined a long list of Veterans in my family.
I have four Uncles who served in WW II, one of whom was a Purple Heart recipient. My Dad wasn’t old enough for WW II, so a few years later he served in Europe as part of the reconstruction force. I have 21 first cousins. Four served in Vietnam and two went on to make the military a career. One was a graduate of the Naval Academy, and also served in Iraq before retiring as a Captain. Another served 24 years in the Army, retired as a Lt. Colonel, then spent another 8 years as a civilian employee for the Army. He was working at the Pentagon on 9/11. The most recent addition to our ranks is my Sister-in-Law, another Iraq war Veteran, who served 32 years, and recently retired as a Brigadier General.
Like far too many Veterans, I struggled when I got out of the service. I didn’t have a job or a place to live, but a friend was kind enough to let me live in his garage while I looked for work. Then, the best job I could find was working as a busboy. One day I’m steering a destroyer through San Diego Bay and the next I’m bussing tables. This led to nine years of thankless, minimum-wage jobs.
When I enrolled at San Diego State, I was 29 years old. By that time, my GI Bill benefits had all but expired, so I had to work full-time through college. When someone leaves the service, the GI Bill benefits that they earn should never expire. In Congress, I will immediately introduce a bill that eliminates the sunset provision on our military Veterans’ GI Bill education benefits.
Unfortunately, I experienced firsthand how enlisted members typically leave the service without any preparation for civilian life. I intend to introduce legislation that will require our Armed Services to provide four months of full-time vocational, technical or educational training to enlisted members of the military, prior to their release from active duty. This will allow our enlisted men and women to pick a trade, draft a resume, and look for work prior to leaving the service. Alternatively, they can use this time to prepare for, and apply to college. This will significantly reduce the number of Veterans who are homeless and/or struggling with substance abuse, depression, and all the other ill effects that can result from these maladies.
In addition, we must:
- Eliminate the “Widow’s Tax” that unjustly deprives surviving widows and widowers of their survivor benefits. No other federal surviving spouse is required to forfeit his or her federal annuity because military service caused his or her spouse's death.
- Allow Veterans disabled in service, to receive both military retirement pay, and disability compensation.
- Allow Veterans to use education benefits for vocational apprenticeship programs.
- Make cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) permanent for Veteran benefits.
- Allow Veterans to pay the lower, “in-state” tuition rates, regardless of how long they’ve lived in a specific region.
- Increase NIH research funding to study mental health challenges among Veterans.
Far too many of our nation’s Veterans are struggling today. Over 40,000 are homeless every night. On average, 22 commit suicide every day. They deserve BETTER, and I won’t stop until they get the services and support they’ve earned.