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Honoring Our Commitment to Veterans

Issues

Honoring Our Commitment to Veterans

As a nation, we have a moral obligation to provide the best quality care to those who put their lives on the line to defend us. Just as planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war, so is taking care of the men and women who we sent off to fight the wars. It includes caring for the spouses and children who have to rebuild their lives after the loss of a loved one. It includes caring for the hundreds of thousands of veterans with multiple amputations or loss of eyesight, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. It includes veterans who are having difficulty keeping jobs in order to pay their bills, and it includes the terrible tragedy of veterans committing suicide. As president, I will do everything that I can to make sure that every veteran gets the benefits that they are entitled to receive on time and without delay. We will not dismantle or privatize the VA. We will expand and improve the VA.

Bernie Signature

Key Points

  • Eliminate the VA benefits backlog, fully fund and resource the VA, and reverse the disastrous privatization of services for veterans.
  • Fill the nearly 50,000 vacancies at the VA in Bernie’s first year.
  • Provide at least $62 billion in new funding to repair, modernize and rebuild VA infrastructure.
  • Expand the VA’s Caregivers Program as well as mental health services for veterans.
  • Reform harmful VA regulations that restrict access to care and benefits based on character of discharge.

Details

Guarantee Veterans Benefits and Services They Were Promised

Whether they were drafted three-quarters of a century ago, commissioned or enlisted within the last few years, no one with prior military service should have to spend months, years or even decades fighting through red tape and government bureaucracy to prove they’re entitled to the benefits they were promised. As president, Bernie will finally guarantee veterans the benefits and services they were promised.

This is not a new issue for Bernie. He has spent his entire career fighting for veterans.

  • As the former Chair and longtime member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, one of Bernie’s highest priorities in Congress has been ensuring veterans and their families receive the care and benefits they have earned.
  • Amid reports of unacceptable wait times at VA medical facilities during his time as Chairman, Bernie spearheaded the bipartisan effort to strengthen the VA health care system long into the future.
    • His legislation, authored with the late-Senator John McCain, authorized 27 new medical facilities and provided $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses to care for the surging number of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and those veterans from earlier eras in need of more complex care. This historic legislation also provided strong incentives to attract talented medical professionals to the VA.
    • It also expanded VA educational benefits and improved care for survivors of military sexual trauma.

It is absolutely unacceptable that the misguided priorities in Washington mean that the promises we make to our veterans are being broken by Members of Congress and the President each and every day. We have a political process that rewards large defense contractors with wealthy CEOs and high-paid lobbyists, leaving hard working, patriotic veterans and servicemembers to fight for their benefits long after they finished fighting for our country. The broken budget process in Washington provides a fraction of the funding actually needed to provide the services and benefits our nation’s veterans earned and deserve. As President, Bernie will fight for our nation’s veterans to get them the funding, services, and benefits they are owed and deserve.

Health Care

Bernie will fully fund the VA with the staff and infrastructure needed to ensure our country keeps its promise to our veterans. The overwhelming majority of veterans are happy with the care they receive from the VA and it’s our job to make it easier - not harder - for them to get that high-quality care. As a longtime member and former Chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Bernie has heard from veterans in every corner of this country, from our most urban centers to our most rural communities, about the care they receive at the VA. Time and again, those veterans want more care through the VA, not less. They know they can get high-quality care at the VA from dedicated providers who understand and care about the unique needs and experiences of our veterans.

Bernie also understands there will be times when it makes sense for veterans to utilize care in the community. Bernie knows that community care access should not - and cannot - come at the expense of VA care. Not only has VA care been found to be as good or better than private sector care at equal or lower cost, but private sector providers are unprepared and often uninterested in caring for the unique needs of veterans. For these reasons, coupled with robust quality standards and safeguards, we must make sure that VA care is available to veterans wherever and whenever possible.

Throughout his career, including during his time as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Bernie has opposed efforts to privatize the VA. As Senator, Bernie voted against the VA MISSION Act because he knew it was taking the VA in the wrong direction and putting veterans at risk. By sending more and more care into the private sector, veterans’ preferences to keep the VA strong would be ignored in favor of the preferences of wealthy donors like the Mar-a-lago Trio and massive corporations. The privatization occurring under the MISSION Act is leading to a massive budget shortfall in every region of the country. Instead of coming to Congress to request the funding needed to meet our obligation to provide care to veterans, the Trump administration is simply telling hospitals and medical professionals to do more with less, which will inevitably lead to worse care and more private sector care.

As President, Bernie will:

  • Work to fill the nearly 50,000 vacancies at the VA during his first year in office. The VA must hire the doctors, nurses and medical professionals necessary to provide the care that veterans need when they need it.
  • Ensure that all those with prior military service in every state and territory have access to the full complement of health care services they need to stay healthy and well.
    • Coupled with Medicare for All, veterans will be able to rely on a health care system that is working for them, not against them; a system focused on a person’s health, not their ability to pay.
  • Finally guarantee comprehensive dental care as a health care benefit to all former servicemembers.
    • Under Bernie’s plan, every veteran who is eligible for health care through the VA will be eligible for comprehensive dental care. Not only will this make veterans healthier, it can build self-esteem, help them in their employment, and lower overall health care costs since good oral health care is shown to reduce the risk of costly - even deadly - infections, like endocarditis.
  • Greatly expand access to VA mental health and suicide prevention services.
    • We must end the stigma associated with mental health in this country once-and-for-all.
    • Expand these critical services to members of the National Guard and Reserve, regardless of whether they ever served overseas or in combat.
      • Research continues to show that one of the populations most at risk of suicide are those members of the National Guard who have not deployed in support of a federal mission. But, under current law, these guard members aren’t allowed to use the excellent, specialized mental health and suicide prevention resources available through the VA.
    • Expand successful Beyond the Yellow Ribbon programs, like the Vermont Veterans Outreach Program, so National Guard members and their families can benefit from helpful support services like mental health, financial and marriage counseling before, during and after deployments.
  • Guarantee our veterans the long-term care services they need.
    • Expand the Veteran Directed Care Program to ensure that all veterans can choose who provides them with support.
    • Long-term care services provided at VA Community Living Centers and State Veterans Homes offer veterans high-quality care and dignity during the final stages of life. Unfortunately, strict eligibility standards for these services mean only a small fraction of veterans qualify. We will simplify eligibility criteria so critically-important long-term care services can be used by all veterans who use the VA, so they can continue to benefit from high-quality care even when they are no longer able to live at home.
    • Improve and expand the VA’s comprehensive caregiver program.
      • When we provide robust funding for the comprehensive caregiver program we will actually save money in the long run by spending less on more expensive, less compassionate institutional care.
      • Expand eligibility for the VA’s Caregiver Program to include not only those veterans with injuries connected to their military services but also illnesses, like cancer, blindness and dementia. These veterans deserve the right to be able to stay in their homes, cared for by those who love them.
      • Their families also deserve to be compensated for the care they already provide; they deserve education on how to best care for their loved one, transportation to and from medical appointments, and respite care that allows them the time needed to care for themselves.
    • Guarantee home and community based long-term care services.
      • Under Medicare for All, if veterans want to remain at home and receive the supports and services to do so, they will have that choice. These services will be available when people need them, without waitlists, asset and income restrictions, and other barriers.
  • Ensure that all veterans are treated with dignity and respect.
    • All veterans, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation or gender identity must have equal access to health care services - especially when it comes to treating injuries and illnesses connected to their military service. For too long, too many veterans have had to fight for the medical care to treat their service-connected needs
    • End the VA’s blanket exclusion on medically necessary gender-affirmation surgeries.
    • Ensure that women veterans will no longer be forced outside the VA system for basic women’s health services, including fertility treatment, abortion care, or specialized cancer treatment and prevention services.
  • Provide over $62 billion in new funding for VA infrastructure.
    • Today, due to serious underfunding, the VA’s infrastructure is crumbling and in vital need of repair. VA hospitals have gone without needed updates and maintenance, and outpatient clinics and Vet Centers have gone unopened. As President, Bernie will invest at least $62 billion in the infrastructure needed to provide the cutting-edge health care services our veterans have earned and deserve.
  • Support VA employees.
    • One of the best ways to guarantee veterans get good care at the VA is to ensure the VA can attract the best and brightest staff. Republican efforts to undermine the VA always include attacks on the good people who go to work every day to serve our veterans. That is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in a Bernie Sanders Administration.
    • Support VA personnel and attract new staff by providing, strong whistleblower protections, ending anti-union attacks and offering other incentives that reward high-quality work like reasonable staffing ratios and compensation that is competitive with the private sector.
  • Ensure VA providers have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.
  • End the privatization, corruption and corporate greed of the VA by undoing the damage done by corrupt billionaires profiteering off veterans and taxpayers.
    • Stop the irresponsible, immoral outsourcing of our nation’s responsibility that is lining the pockets of millionaire CEOs and investors, recentering VA care on veterans.

Disability Benefits

No one who was injured through their military service should be denied benefits because of complicated bureaucracy, period. We have seen too many veterans struggle to get the benefits to which they are rightly entitled. Worse still, veterans who have fought for and won these benefits have them taken away when their health improves. Bernie believes that veterans must be compensated for the disabilities connected to their service without being penalized for working hard to make improvements in their health.

Bernie believes that we must listen to the medical experts when it comes to compensating veterans for injuries and illnesses connected to their military service.

As President, Bernie will:

  • Improve and simplify the claims process so veterans receive the compensation they have earned quickly, accurately, and without bureaucratic red tape.
  • Eliminate the VA benefits backlog. A Bernie Sanders Administration will no longer tolerate over 70,000 veterans having to wait over 125 days for a determination on their benefits and up to 7 years to wait for a decision by a Veterans Law Judge.
  • End the disgraceful practice of President Trump and VA Secretary Wilkie, who have willfully chosen to ignore the medical community.
    • On his first day in office, Bernie will validate the findings of the Institute of Medicine (now known as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) to make sure veterans exposed to Agent Orange are compensated for bladder cancer and other illnesses. It is absolutely unacceptable that our current President is actively working against our ill and injured veterans, not for them.
    • Ensure no future president can do what Trump has done, by changing the law to make the recommendations of medical experts automatic, not reliant on presidential action.
  • Expand the list of injuries and illnesses presumed to be connected with military service.
    • Include the most commonly associated illnesses and injuries found in veterans from each era, including hearing loss and musculoskeletal injuries, like back and knee injuries.
    • Finally include those veterans whose locations and occupations during their service in the military was Classified, righting the wrong that far too many of these veterans have gone without the care they’ve been entitled to simply because the Department of Defense is unwilling to tell the Department of Veterans Affairs needed information.
  • Fight for servicemembers exposed to toxic substances.
    • Ensure that veterans exposed to toxic substances from asbestos and ionized radiation in World War II to Agent Orange in Vietnam to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan are compensated for the myriad of diseases associated with these dangerous chemicals. It is absolutely unacceptable that we have exposed our brave military members to these dangerous chemicals and even worse that we then fail to compensate and care for the illnesses they cause.

Caring for Veteran Families

Bernie understands that if we are truly committed to our servicemembers and veterans, we must also commit ourselves to their families, who play a critical - but often ignored - role. Bernie will make it easier for family members to access the benefits to which they are entitled. This is especially true for Gold Star Families, Widows and Widowers.

Today, only a small number of veterans have been able to participate in VA’s Program of Comprehensive Support for Family Caregivers, which helps family members access the full complement of resources they need to care for veterans with service-connected injuries in their home.

But it’s completely unacceptable that Donald Trump and Republicans in Washington have failed to provide the funding needed to actually enroll these qualified veterans in the program. Today, too many veteran families are forced to make the terrible choice between sending their loved one to a nursing home or caring for them in their home at their own expense. Bernie will invest in our military families because he knows that it is not only the morally right thing to do but that such investment also makes our nation stronger.

As President, Bernie will:

  • Fairly compensate military survivors by finally ending the unfair practice that prevents military widows and widowers for receiving their Dependency and Indemnity Compensation and the Survivor Benefit Plan - even though they are entitled to both.
  • Improve and expand VA’s comprehensive caregiver program.
    • Providing robust funding for the comprehensive caregiver program will actually save money in the long run by spending less on more expensive, less compassionate institutional care.
    • Expand eligibility for the VA’s Caregiver Program to include not only those veterans with injuries connected to their military services but also illnesses, like cancer, blindness and dementia. These veterans deserve the right to be able to stay in their homes, cared for by those who love them.
      • Their families also deserve to be compensated for the care they already provide; they deserve education on how to best care for their loved one, transportation to and from medical appointments, and respite care that allows them the time needed to care for themselves.

Guarantee Justice for Veterans

Bernie understands that today, many of those who served our country in uniform are prohibited from accessing critical services because of the terms of their discharge from the military. Too often, these servicemembers made relatively small infractions that have stripped them of the very benefits they need most. Bernie will change VA regulations so they match Congressional intent, meaning that the only veterans barred from accessing VA care and benefits are those with dishonorable discharges.

Bernie will also make the process for a change in the character of discharge more fair across branches of the military. Bernie believes that all those with prior military service should be guaranteed the same fair process for petitioning to change the character of their discharge determination. We must not allow branches of the military to use “bad paper” discharges as a way to shrink their force. Bernie will stand with the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Campaign for a Presidential Pardon to get justice for thousands of veterans.

Bernie will also end the outrageous and inhumane practice of deporting undocumented veterans and their family members. Bernie will go further, returning deported veterans to the United States and reuniting families who have been unjustly separated. He will use executive authority to allow the families of veterans and servicemembers to reside in the United States without fear of deportation. This includes swiftly reuniting some families of veterans who have been waiting years or even decades for their visas to be processed.

As President, Bernie will:

  • Change harmful VA regulations that restrict access to care and benefits based on character of discharge.
  • Ensure any servicemember discharged from the military for marijuana use or possession can apply for a discharge upgrade, so they can become eligible for the full complement of services and benefits provided by the VA.
  • Immediately terminate deportations of non-citizen members of our armed forces, veterans and their families.
    • Return deported servicemembers and veterans to the United States.
    • Restore the use of parole in place for undocumented family members of servicemembers and veterans to allow them to stay in the United States free from fear of deporation, access work opportunities, and remove barriers to adjustment of status.
    • Use advance parole to ensure family members of Filipino World War II veterans can reunite with their families in the United States while their visas are pending, and work with Congress to ensure these visas are expedited and exempt from per-country caps.

Expand Opportunities for Veterans

Bernie will ensure all veterans can pursue higher education if they choose without taking out crippling student debt or being preyed on by exploitative for-profit colleges. From commercial truck drivers to various health care fields, there is no reason not to allow our servicemembers to transfer their much-needed skills into the private sector without hassle and red tape.

Bernie also believes that affordable housing is a human right, not a luxury reserved for the wealthy. In America today, more than 18 million families are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing and the most recent data show that there are over 40,000 homeless veterans. Bernie will support critical housing programs through the VA focused on ending veterans homelessness, while also making it easier for veterans to stay in their homes so they never become homeless in the first place.

As Senator from Vermont, Bernie saw first-hand the impact of difficult overseas deployments of members of our National Guard. He saw that these brave individuals often struggled to access the services they needed when returning home. He understood this needed to change and secured funding for the creation of the Vermont Veterans Outreach Program. Bernie will expand on this effort to all those who served in uniform and provide the full complement of resources needed to successfully transition from the military into civilian life.

As President, Bernie will:

  • Improve and simplify education benefits.
    • Pass College for All to make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free.
    • Ensure veterans can use the full complement of benefits through the G.I. Bill without hassle or red tape.
    • Lift the expiration dates on benefits under the Montgomery and Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to match the benefits under the Forever G.I. Bill.
    • Ensure that all veterans, regardless of where they live, are guaranteed in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.
    • Hold for-profit colleges who try to take advantage of our veterans accountable.
    • End the anti-veteran practices of the Trump administration that are making it harder for veterans and servicemembers to transfer their education benefit and guarantee veterans’ rights to transfer their G.I. benefit to a child or spouse.
  • Ensure access to better jobs and job training.
    • Make it easier to transfer the skills servicemembers learned during their military service into the civilian workforce.
    • Expand and improve incentives for companies to hire veterans.
    • Increase funding for the Office of Veterans Business Development in the Small Business Administration.
  • Guarantee housing for veterans.
    • Guarantee a federal commitment to Housing First, while also respecting the preferences of certain veterans to live in housing that meets their unique needs.
    • Expand the VA Supportive Housing, Grant and Per Diem, and Supportive Services for Veteran Families to serve more veterans, and improve these critical programs to ensure that all eligible veterans can benefit from this critical program, including veterans with young families and unique needs, like those fleeing intimate partner violence or suffering from MST, PTSD or substance use disorder.
    • Make it easier for veterans to use VA-backed home loans and will make sure these loans don’t wind up in the hands of unscrupulous mortgage servicers.
    • Stop the criminalization of homelessness and spend nearly $32 billion over five years to end homelessness.
      • This includes doubling McKinney-Vento homelessness assistance grants to build permanent supportive housing, and $500 million to provide outreach to homeless people to help connect them to available services. In the first year of this plan, 25,000 Housing Trust Fund units will be prioritized for housing the homeless.
  • Expand the Veterans Outreach Program.
    • This innovative program, started in Vermont through legislation initiated by Senator Sanders, hired veterans to provide support to servicemembers and their families before, during and following deployment on everything from health care and benefits to marriage and financial counseling. This effort has been hugely successful in ensuring that veterans, servicemembers and their families can access the resources they have earned to help them live a healthy and productive life.