Whatever the merits of our military actions around the world – and those will continue to be debated, as they should be – we can all agree that we have to protect and provide for our troops, our veterans, and their families. That’s why, as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I always vote for better housing, stronger benefits, increased mental health support and other important forms of assistance. As a Congress and a country, we owe them nothing less.
Some of my Congressional colleagues don’t see it the same way. They talk a good game about supporting our troops, and they reliably vote to send them off to fight, but when it comes time to take care of them and their loved ones back home, suddenly there’s no money and we have more important things to worry about.
Here’s my modest proposal. Instead of spending scarce resources on bigger weapons, let’s arm our service members with the tools and skills they need to build a successful future. Let’s ensure access to the quality education, premier health care and reliable pension plan they’ve earned.
Employment statistics show that young veterans continue to have serious problems finding work in a tight job market. This has to change. Efforts like the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which offers job-search assistance and related services, need to be replicated and expanded. They should offer assistance both on and off military bases for lengths of time that match the needs of returning veterans.
Helping our soldiers and veterans live successful lives after their terms of service takes more than a one-week crash course on resiliency. We should train our veterans to be leaders in growing fields like advanced manufacturing and clean technology. At the same time, we have to make sure they’re protected from the kinds of unforeseen setbacks – personal health, finances, finding a home – that make transitioning back to civilian life so difficult.
That means passing a few important bills. The Wounded Veterans Job Security Act will ensure medical leave doesn’t cost veterans their jobs. The Jobs for Veterans Act establishes Veterans Business Center programs to provide entrepreneurial training and counseling to veterans to get them into new careers. The Homes for Heroes Act guarantees veteran access to Department of Housing and Urban Development housing and homeless assistance programs. These are just a few simple examples of bills this Congress should take up now to improve the lives of our service members.
Health care is a right for every American, whatever my conservative colleagues want to tell you, and it’s only right to make sure veterans have their health needs met. Cutting their medical benefits to pay for a tax cut or make up the cost of the war they fought doesn’t just ignore their sacrifice, it gets our national priorities exactly backwards. We don’t spend money to put people in harm’s way and then make it disappear when they come home. That’s why the Progressive Caucus recently introduced an alternative to the Republican budget proposal – which relies solely on deep domestic cuts – that closes unfair tax loopholes, makes corporations pay their fair share, and protects TRICARE and military pensions for those that have sacrificed for their country. It’s a pro-soldier, pro-veteran, pro-family plan, and I hope you’ll give it a look.