As a Vietnam combat veteran and Co-Chair of the Congressional Veterans Caucus, I understand that we have a responsibility to work to support those who have bravely served our country. There are more than 21 million military veterans in our country, including some 50,000 in California’s Fifth Congressional district alone. It is our responsibility to provide these servicemembers and their families with the care and benefits they have earned as they transition from active duty to civilian life.
No one who fought overseas or served honorably in the Armed Forces should have to fight for a paycheck, proper health care, or a roof over their head when they return home.
VA Claims Backlog
Nationwide, it can take almost 300 days for the Veterans Benefits Administration to process new claims, delaying access to care and benefits. At the Oakland Regional Office, which serves our district, it can take more than 500 days to process a claim. More than 80 percent of claims at Oakland are backlogged more than 125 days. This is an outrageous mess long in the making.
I have called on President Obama to personally intervene and address this issue. I have visited the Oakland Regional Office with senior officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and held regular meetings on the status of efforts to reduce the claims backlog. I cosponsored the VA Claims, Operations, and Records Efficiency (CORE) Act (H.R. 1729). This bill would require the Department of Defense to transfer certified, complete electronic service records to the VA. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report identified this issue a major factor in the delay of processing claims. I have also supported provisions requiring regular status updates from the VA on implementation of the Veterans Benefits Management System, an electronic processing system designed to end the backlog by 2015. I will continue working to hold the VA accountable and reduce this unacceptable backlog of claims.
If you or a family member is facing problems with your benefits, we might be able to help. You can contact my district offices here.
Our veterans are some of the most skilled workers in our country. Some are trained medics or mechanics. Some have led platoons. Others have experience with state-of-the-art technologies. All of them are assets to American businesses.
With one-in-five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan looking for employment, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to help get them hired.
Two bills that I have co-authored will go a long way in helping our servicemembers and veterans find civilian employment. The first bill is the Veterans Back to Work Act (H.R. 2133). This legislation would make the veterans’ tax credit permanent and make it easier for businesses who hire veterans to get this credit. This is a great incentive for businesses to hire veterans.
The second bill is the Veterans Employment Transition Act (H.R. 2056). This legislation allows servicemembers and veterans to obtain civilian certifications for skills they acquired in the military. Once they gain these certificates, businesses can put these high-skilled veterans to work. This helps our businesses get great workers and helps our veterans more easily get jobs.
I strongly believe we must strengthen health care services for all of our veterans – from the catastrophically disabled to those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), depression, and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). And, we must continue to provide support for family members and those who care for our wounded soldiers.
Since 2007, I have voted in favor of adding over $23 billion for veterans’ health care and services. This funding has helped improve health care treatment and access for hundreds of thousands of our nation’s veterans.
I also supported efforts to provide an additional $30 million in funding to increase the number of Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) for the more than 3.2 million rural veterans who have limited access to VA hospitals. This funding is already being put to work for veterans in our district. The new COBC located in Lake County is a prime example.
This Congress, I worked to pass legislation in the House that would help make sure our veterans with PTS and TBI have access to the best available care, even if that care is not offered by a VA clinic. Sometimes the most cutting edge treatments are available at places like the Pathway Home in Yountville. When this is the case, our veterans should have the option to get the best care, no matter where it’s provided.
Between 1962-1974, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted chemical and biological testing on U.S. service members and civilians under Project SHAD and Project 112. After I became aware of the tests in 1999, I met with the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to insist that an investigation be conducted.
When work on the investigation was proceeding at a slower than appropriate pace, I introduced legislation that required the DOD to make public all tests, provide veterans with the health care they needed because of those tests, and initiate a General Accounting Office investigation. Ultimately, much of this language was included in the 2003 Defense Authorization Act. Because of this provision, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) conducted a clinical study to determine the long-term health effects of these exposures.
At my urging, a second clinical study by the IOM is now currently underway to resolve issues identified in the first study. Once complete, it is my position that all veterans who were unknowingly part of the Project SHAD chemical tests will receive the medical treatment and disability compensation they are due.
Concurrent Receipt and the Survivor Benefit Program
I am a cosponsor of H.R. 303, legislation to eliminate the offsets veterans and/or their spouses incur under concurrent receipt and the survivor benefit program. This bill would repeal the current offset of Survivor Benefit Plans by Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Although progress was made in the concurrent receipt program in 2003, much work still needs to be done to ensure no disabled veteran sees a reduction in his or her pay. I support and have co-sponsored legislation that would phase in a fix to the SBP program over the next 5 years.
Veterans History Project
The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center was created by the U.S. Congress in 2000 to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may fully understand the realities of war. To date, the Veterans History Project has collected more than 70,000 oral histories from veterans in every state and congressional district, including my own.
I have launched Veterans History Project Steering Committees in Fifth Congressional District counties to help preserve the stories of local veterans. Already, students and community members from across our district have recorded dozens of stories for submission to the Library of Congress. Please visit http://www.loc.gov/vets/ to learn how you can get involved in this important project.
More on Veterans
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) today hosted a meeting with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey and Julianna Boor, the new Director of the VA’s Oakland Regional Office. Thompson and his Northern California colleagues discussed the claims backlog at the Oakland Regional Office, and the recent controversies at other VA offices around the country. Since 2012, Thompson has hosted four separate oversight meetings with Hickey on Capitol Hill, and toured the Oakland Regional Office with her.
Wilfred Alexander, a Vallejo resident and Vietnam War veteran, said the Agent Orange herbicide he handled at war led to prostate cancer later in life, but he had to wait months for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to process his treatment claim. Another veteran said he has to drive an hour and a half for a dentist, doctor or hospital appointment.
With military anthems and rifle volleys, those who served and those who died were honored Monday during Memorial Day services in Santa Rosa.
An estimated 1,000 people came to Santa Rosa Memorial Park to remember those who were killed in military service. But the audience also cheered for the veterans who stood as the Redwood Chordsmen sang the theme songs for each branch of the military.
WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) today released the following statement in honor of Memorial Day which will be observed on Monday, May 26th:
“Memorial Day is a day of remembrance. It is a day for families to remember the loved ones they lost. It is a day for servicemembers to remember their friends who fell next to them in battle. It is a day for our nation to remember the high cost of freedom – that those we honor were someone’s child, someone’s partner, someone’s parent.
WASHINGTON D.C. – A bipartisan amendment co-authored by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) that provides the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with additional resources to address the claims backlog unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives this past week.
Thompson’s amendment redirects an additional $10 million to pay for programs like the Veterans Claims Intake Program, the centralized mail initiative, and staff overtime.
“No one who has served our country in uniform should have to wait, in some cases more than a year, for the benefits they’ve earned because the VA (Veterans Affairs) is backlogged,” U.S. Representative Mike Thompson said in a recent news release.
In response to that backlog, Thompson, a Napa Democrat and Benicia’s representative in the House, has co-written a bipartisan amendment that would earmark $10 million more to programs to help military veterans.
WASHINGTON D.C. – A bipartisan amendment co-authored by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) that provides the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with additional resources to address the claims backlog unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Thompson’s amendment redirects an additional $10 million to pay for programs like the Veterans Claims Intake Program, the centralized mail initiative, and staff overtime.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA-5), Don Young (R-AK-AL), Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) and Bill Enyart (D-IL-12) today announced the formation of the bipartisan Veterans Congressional Fellowship Caucus. The mission of the Caucus is to increase the number of veterans working on Capitol Hill. To do this, veterans Thompson (U.S. Army 1967-1973) and Young (U.S. Army 1955-1957) will launch a new caucus fellowship program which will accept its first participants this summer.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of Congress often urge federal agencies and the private sector to hire military veterans, but a survey suggests they rarely follow that advice with their personal staff.
The survey says veterans made up less than 3 percent of the staff in the congressional offices that responded. The survey was conducted by HillVets, an organization of veterans serving in government.