Ladies and Gentleman:
I am here today to talk about how we can better veteran’s benefits. Not to argue politics, the fine panel in front of me was elected by the people to do so. Today the media and many of the issues of the day are surrounded in pettiness. We owe a debt to the men and women who gave some and especially those that gave all. To start to pay that debt, it’s time we take the arguments to a place of relevance. I am proud to say that Veterans is one of those places, as well as Social security, Medicare and the right to bear arms. We are seeing veterans and active duty under tremendous strain. This can be evidenced at the growing unemployment and homelessness among our vets. Not to long ago in Afghanistan, staff sergeant Bales acted unmercifully in a way that can only be described as a travesty. My family’s prayers are with all the Afghanistan people and the family of Mr. Bales. Incidences like these should not be fuel for how to punish, rather it should be an eye opening moment that congress should be pressed to do more to lessen this burden of our troops and vets. There are more veterans than just active duty who are acting out in these ways. I know of a close friend who is on death row for murder and another that is facing capital murder. These are not the only ones, as many more veterans are succumbing to the pressure. As a nation we must do more to help veterans who are facing these traumas.
Veterans who are on the Gibill have had their “break pay” taken from them. (this is where in between waiting for semesters they lose their lifeline of money). The first thing that vets have been telling me when I say what you would fix is this. To triple the trauma of these heroes’ the economy is in the gutter. Veteran unemployment is two to three times the level of normal unemployment. This loss of income is putting unneeded strain on the family life of vets. Taking what should be a safe haven called home and turning it into a breeding environment of failure. Vetcenter’s do a great job, on raising awareness, how to manage this strain within the home. There is only so much that can be done with counseling. At this point it is on congress to do the right thing and restore what was taken, after all this is what we pay into.
Upon returning from Iraq in 2003, I was given 90 days to get out of the military or resign a contract. The shame I felt from my time overseas I knew four more years was not an option for me. My DD214 did not have my OIF/OEF on it. This was because the person in charge did not see a need for it, I tried to get them to change it and they said “they would have to extend my contract to do it”. Another cause for concern is they asked if I was having difficulty sleeping or adjusting back. My answer was “yes”, once again they said they would have to put me on a medical hold. I had so much shame that I did not want to stick around the Marine Corps and have my head messed with. So I changed my mind immediately, told them I was fine and the DD214 did not matter and left. This is a perfect example on why are combat vets should be screened on their way out by an independent agency. This could also be a perfect fit for the mission of the Vetcenter’s across America. The Vetcenters could be a crucial factor in having success on the transition. They could identify problems and conduct follow up at a local Vetcenter, once the veteran reaches his final destination in home. This would help the veteran identify where he/she could go in time of need and highlight what the government does well. An increase in resources in this department is a must. To filter through the weekly reports and logistically process every veteran properly resources will be the key.
My experience with the local vetcenter is that they are masters with doing a whole lot, with very little. They accomplish this mission with great relationships with programs such as Rivers of Recovery (ROR), Boots and Saddles and many more. I myself have been a part of ROR and spent the day with boots and saddles. ROR has an outstanding mission that can have a life altering experience. Dan Cook the founder is a different kind of human being, his compassion towards vet’s is hard to match. My first day on the river he had just been given a new fly rod, that was designed for fishing with one arm. He spent the whole day using only his teeth and one arm, the other was behind his back. I asked “Dan why the one arm” his response is a typical Dan response, “not all combat vets have two”. The cost of this experience is pretty close to nothing, the veteran only needs to provide a ride to the airport. This is another thing that the vetcenter can take ownership of with the proper resources. Many returning and older vets have many disabilities that do not give them the ability to drive. Transportation to events would open the door for all vets to discover that they are not alone and people care. The vetcenter and ROR have forged a great relationship and without the center I do not know if ROR would be a great part of my life today.
Today’s environment of fiscal mess is unprecedented. I do not have the answers as to how to accomplish the increase. I can say that is easier to get on welfare than it is to get veterans benefits. To me this seems backwards but obviously I am biased in my opinion. I can only say that I am grateful for everything I have. The veterans that are returning now are in grave trouble. The same system is in place with two possibly three times the veterans waiting in line. I thank you for the time today and look forward to any future talks.
Phillip Leon White