‘Build Back Better’ to support our veterans

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

As we pause today, on the national Veterans Day holiday, to honor all American veterans who have served this nation during times of war as well as peacetime, it is worth reflecting on how well we’re treating our veterans once they leave the military and re-enter civilian life. 

According to most data points, our society has a long way to go when it comes to helping our veterans thrive in their post-military life.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, veterans are far more likely than non-veterans to experience homelessness

“Like the general homeless population, veterans are at a significantly increased risk of homelessness if they have low socioeconomic status, a mental health disorder and/or a history of substance abuse,” the Alliance notes in a 2015 publication on veteran homelessness. “Yet, because of veterans’ military service, this population is at higher risk of experiencing traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which have been found to be among the most substantial risk factors for homelessness.” 

Veterans of color are at most risk of experiencing homelessness, according to federal housing data, with veterans who identify as Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Native American Indians and/or Black having the highest rates of homelessness among all veterans. 

Our veterans also face a sustantially higher risk of dying by suicide than civilians — and the suicide risk is even higher for our female veterans. According to 2017 data released by the federal Veterans Affairs (VA), the risk of suicide for female veterans is nearly double that of non-veteran females in the U.S. 

And according to a study published in a May 2017 peer-reviewed pediatric health journal, pregnant veterans also are at a greater risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth and post-birth complications thanks to their higher rates of PTSD. 

Former President Donald Trump’s extreme budget cuts hurt veterans and the social safety nets they rely on after leaving the military. For instance, Trump’s budget cut $900 billion from Medicaid and $500 billion from Medicare, two programs that are critical for the more than 11 million veterans who have health care needs beyond the VA and must rely on coverage through Medicaid and/or Medicare. Trump’s budget also called for $24 billion in cuts to Social Security benefits — benefits that disabled workers, including veterans, depend on to pay for their basic needs. Trump also cut hundreds of billions from social safety programs like SNAP and TANF that vulnerable veterans rely on to feed themselves and their families. This included Trump’s $1.7 billion in cuts to the national school lunch and breakfast programs that feed children from low-income families during the school day — including children from hundreds of thousands of veteran-led families. 

In 2019, three veterans groups — The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America — published a statement calling Trump’s budget insufficient for veterans’ medical, community care, caregiving, infrastructure and medical research needs. 

“Veterans will be forced to wait longer for care, whether they seek care at VA or in the community, leaving unfulfilled the promises made to veterans in the VA Mission Act,” the groups stated after Trump released his 2020 budget plans in 2019. 

Hope is on the horizon, though. It’s name is “Build Back Better.” 

In September, Congressman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan would go a long way toward fixing the VA’s crumbling infrastructure. 

“For too long, chronic underfunding has forced VA to try to deliver 21st century healthcare in buildings designed to serve veterans who fought in World Wars I and II — that’s unacceptable,” Takano said. “By passing President Biden’s Build Back agenda during today’s markup, we are following through on the promises we’ve made to our veterans by investing in the aging infrastructure designed to provide them high quality care and benefits.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, added: “Our veterans deserve more than just words of gratitude for their years of sacrifice while serving this country in uniform. They deserve the quality care and benefits they have earned. That’s why I’m proud of the major investments that my Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate are securing in the Build Back Better agenda. This funding will ensure that the VA has the infrastructure it needs to keep America’s promise to our current and next generation of veterans and their families for years to come.”

Washington’s U.S. Senator Patty Murray has pointed out that the Build Back Better plan will “support over 100,000 maternal health workers, help over 1 million patients get maternal health care over the next decade … and bring health providers to underserved communities (to) help expecting parents get the care they need.”

The plan, which also would invest in community college education and bring the United States in line with nearly every other country in the world that offers paid parental leave (Britain offers 39 weeks of paid parental leave. Sweden offers 68 weeks. Estonia offers at least 82 weeks. Japan offers at least one year. And in the U.S.? It’s zero.) would also invest $2 billion in mental health and suicide prevention and $63 billion for public housing.

Add to this the fact that the proposed Build Back Better plan would be fully paid for by the nation’s wealthiest citizens — those earning $400,000 or more each year — and is supported by 60 percent of Americans, as well as a group of 17 Nobel-prize winning economists and it is unfathomable that this plan has zero support from Republican politicians.

On this Veterans Day, it is worth asking ourselves if we’re willing to truly support our veterans — including all of those who are struggling to find affordable housing, feed their families, have healthy pregnancies and have access to quality mental health care. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we must also support the type of bold investments like those proposed in Biden’s Build Back Better plan.