Special Press for The Vets

          The Veterans’ Vision publication is produced biennially, but on special occasions produces editions highlighting special events such as the 2016 National Convention Edition, where we passed out over 8,000, one-page publications highlighting the most crucial information veterans need to know.  That edition, particularly, included a copy of our Veterans’ Bill of Rights, a ‘What Veterans Need to Know’ section, a couple of our highlighted endorsements, and a brief section explaining the incompetence in the VA.

We invite you to also read, and indulge in our Campaign 2014 Edition, and to see the exemplary example articles, written by Secretary of State John Kerry, and Senator Jon Tester.

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester is a leading advocate for improving veterans’ access to quality health care and job opportunities. He wrote the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act to make it easier for rural veterans to access the care they earned. Tester was also a leading force behind the VOW to Hire Heroes Act – the only jobs bill to pass Congress in 2011. After traveling to every corner of Montana to hear from veterans in his first year in office, Tester passed a significant increase to the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans. 
The Fight For Veterans’ Mental Health Care Isn’t Over

By:Senator Jon Tester​​

​​Veterans make tremendous sacrifices for our country.  My state of Montana is home to 103,000 veterans, and as a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, I am reminded of the challenges they face every day.  Veterans face significant hurdles in getting access to quality health care.

We owe all men and women who serve our nation in uniform – and their families – access to the quality health care they earned.   All veterans deserve our everlasting respect.  Those with combat-related injuries shouldn’t have to cut through red tape and burdensome government bureaucracy just to see a doctor.

Invisible But Not Ignored:
Many veterans’ injuries are unseen.   More and more veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – the signature wounds from these conflicts.  In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs has treated more than 207,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan for PTSD.  Many more have gone undiagnosed or untreated.

We’ve come a long way in treating the wounds we can see.  Lost arms and legs are being replaced by artificial limbs that allow veterans to live far better lives than those just a decade ago.  And while we cannot take our eye off the ball, it’s the unseen injuries where we have the most work to do.

June 27 was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day.  The annual event was established in 2010 in honor of an Army National Guardsman who took his own life following two tours in Iraq.  The day is dedicated to learning about Post-Traumatic Stress and letting all troops – and their families – know it’s okay to come forward and ask for help.

Exhaustion? Shell Shock?

PTSD isn’t new.  Called “exhaustion,” “soldier’s heart,” and “shell shock” at various points in history, it can occur in anyone who experiences a traumatic event.  In fact, it’s believed that many suffered from post-traumatic stress after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD at higher rates than veterans from any other conflict.  According to a landmark study in 2008, nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans test positive for PTSD.  

While the full extent of PTSD and TBI is still being determined, rising divorce and suicide rates show the need for swift and decisive action to help both veterans and those still serving.  A recent Time Magazine cover story states that more U.S. military personnel have died from suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died in combat.  Since more and more of these men and women are returning home and reintegrating into society.  There is no time to waste.

What’s Being Done:

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am working hard to make sure that VA hospitals, clinics and centers are up to the task of treating these unseen wounds.

Along with my colleagues, I am pressing the VA to dedicate all necessary resources to help veterans with PTSD and other conditions while giving the department the flexibility it needs to reach as many veterans and their families 
as possible.

We’ve invested in mental health care, education and outreach initiatives, and suicide prevention programs.  And the VA now contracts with outside mental health providers to ensure more veterans in rural communities receive the care they need.

Rural Areas Unique Challenges

For many veterans, especially in rural states like Montana, reaching a local VA clinic is a challenge.  That’s why one of my first
tasks in the Senate was to author the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act.  The law makes several sweeping changes to veterans' health care benefits, including grants for service groups that transport veterans to medical appointments and improving mental health services for returning veterans.

We can also improve veterans’ access to care through telehealth technology, Veterans in rural areas and those with limited mobility use telehealth services to receive care in their homes or at local clinics.  I recently pressured the VA to drop co-payments for using telehealth.  Now, more veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues can receive faster help from medical professionals from the comfort of their own homes.

Many veterans require in-person help for PTSD.  The VA recently said that it was hiring nearly 2,000 mental health workers in order to address a shortage of specialists among the growing number of veterans with mental health issues. The department plans to add about 1,600 clinicians, including psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers and counselors.

What Needs To Be Done

These are all important steps, but we must do more.  I recently called for a new “roadmap” to address veterans’ mental health care needs – particularly in rural America. The VA must collaborate more effectively, especially with agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, to improve mental health care for veterans and ensure effective use of new technologies like telehealth.

All the resources that the VA, Health and Human Services, and the military can throw at PTSD and other mental health issues will be more effective if veterans and troops have family and friends looking out for them.  Spouses, neighbors and co-workers can see what even the best doctors cannot.  My message to them: if you see something, say something.  You could save a life. 

Countless American veterans suffer from PTSD.  Despite the increase in available resources, many don’t know where to turn.  Many are worried of being labeled as weak if they seek help, a stigma that should never apply to our brave heroes 
who sacrificed so much for us.  It’s why days like PTSD Awareness Day are critical to letting folks know about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, its warning signs, and how to treat it.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created hundreds of thousands of new veterans. We sent these brave men and women into battle and it’s our responsibility to take care of them.  As a Senator, as a Montanan, and as an American, it’s a responsibility that I will never shy away from. 

Patriotism in Actions, Not Just Words

Caring For Veterans is a Civic Duty
By Secretary of State John Kerry (Written when serving as a Senator)

Summertime often brings out displays of a special kind of patriotism in so many Americans, from the parades with marching bands and solemn salute of Memorial Day to the red glare of July Fourth fireworks. For many it is a season to celebrate America’s freedom.But every snap of a flag blowing in the wind, every crack of a firecracker should also be a reminder that the freedom we are celebrating isn’t free. It is won and protected by the sacrifice of American warriors, from Concord to Calais to Khe Sanh to Kabul, twenty four hours a day seven days a week for the past 237 years.The men and women in our armed forces have given their all for as long as there's been a United States of America.  Even when they have been asked to do the impossible, they have come through with flying colors—colors dyed in red, white, and blue.  

No matter the generation and no matter the war, America’s soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are always tough, always determined, and always proud to do their duty.They are sustained by the bonds they share within their unit, and by the love and strength they draw from home - from their families, their spouses, their children, their parents.

Letting Down Our Vets?

​But how well have we served them?  How well have we kept our promise to care for those who, as Lincoln said, have “borne the battle” for us?  Too often our soldiers have returned home from war to another fight—for the care and services to which they not only were entitled, but which they had earned. I came home from a war and saw that too many politicians in Washington didn’t keep their promises to our veterans.

​ I vowed that if I ever held a position of authority, I wouldn’t let it happen again, ever.  That’s why every day in the United States Senate, I work to stand with my fellow veterans, 24/7 for 27 years now.  It's why we fought vigorously for full funding of VA health care, including seven vet centers in Massachusetts.  It's why we passed a new law that makes it easier for the parents of fallen service members to be buried with their child in a national cemetery, why we made service insurance available to reservists and National Guard members called to active duty, and why we fought and won for our veterans some new protections against mortgage abuses and foreclosures.

It's why John McCain and I took on the task of investigating the fate of missing American soldiers in Vietnam and brought resolution of this difficult issue to their families and the governments of both countries resolution.  And it's why, beginning more than 15 years ago, we worked to secure medical compensation for veterans exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange.And that’s why we have fought for the Services, Education and Rehabilitation for Veterans Act to create a grant program to develop and set up veteran’s treatment courts through the Veterans Administration and the Justice Department.

​ When it comes to veterans it’s actions, not words, that really count.VA Budget Increasing 40%?As a nation, we are now taking better care of our veterans. One measure of our progress is the growth of the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs under President Obama: it totaled $99.8 billion in 2009, but is on track to total $140.3 billion next year, an increase of 40 percent.Another measure is that over the last four years, the Department has tripled the amount of contracts awarded to veteran-owned small businesses, to almost $3.6 billion.And under the leadership of former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, the VA has committed an unprecedented $800 million to eliminate homelessness among veterans by 2015.

 More than 60,000 vets are currently homeless, a shame in the home of the brave.Today, one of our great challenges is a new generation of veterans coming home to an economy that is growing again, but not fast enough to provide jobs for all who have served. For Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans, the jobless rate fell below 10 percent this summer for the first time in more than a year, but it’s still well above the national average. That's wrong and it needs to change.Three million veterans have returned from military service over the past 10 years, and another one million are expected to return to civilian life over the next five years.  Can we rise to the challenge, the way our warriors did in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Can we make sure our economy is ready for them?Of course, we can. It is our obligation. It is our duty. It is our privilege. And it is the best welcome home we could give our soldiers.  That’s why one of our top priorities in the Senate is making sure there are jobs for our returning veterans.

​10,000 New Veteran Hires!                         

I’m particularly heartened by the Vow to Hire Heroes Act, which I co-sponsored and President Obama signed into law, to provide tax credits of up to $9,600 to businesses that hire unemployed or disabled veterans. The Act also expands educational and vocational training benefits for unemployed veterans.I’m also encouraged by the way the Department of Veterans Affairs and First Lady Michelle Obama have partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to encourage the hiring of veterans. Just recently, the “Hiring Our Heroes” initiative reached an important milestone – 10,000 new hires of veterans or military spouses.  The goal is 500,000 heroes hired by the end of 2014.States are getting into the act, too.  And once again, leading the way is Massachusetts, where more than 385,000 veterans reside, including 37,000 who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Massachusetts, unsurpassed in its service to veterans and their families, now has a new law, the VALOR Act, providing veterans a host of new benefits, including business assistance.Non-profits are also stepping up to ease the transition of veterans from the military to the civilian workforce.  General Motors and the GM Foundation, for example, have contributed $250,000 to pay for job fairs across the country to help veterans find work.I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact veterans can have on our economy.  Leadership, teamwork, commitment and trust – these are the hallmark qualities of our military heroes. And these are skills every American business – big or small – can use today.Like every generation of warriors, today’s young veterans make great hires.  Their resumes include maturity, crisis management skills and loyalty and should be at the top of the stack.We all cherish the flags, fireworks and parades of summer. They are among the ways we mark the celebration of our country and the displays of our collective patriotism. But patriotism above all else means keeping faith with those who’ve worn the uniform of the United States of America.  It is one thing to quote Lincoln’s immortal words.  It is another thing to live by them – to always stand with the men and women who have kept this great nation safe and free. They answered the call.  We must do so as well.

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