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 95,000 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
Rep. Mike Thompson and Santa Rosa-based national nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence held a press conference Tuesday to highlight the recent launch of a pilot program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that offers service dog benefits to veterans with mental health diagnoses.
Thumbs up for a program that will place service dogs with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has covered veterinary bills for dogs assisting veterans who are blind or deaf since 2002. An effort to extend the benefit to veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental illnesses started almost a decade ago, but studies to gauge the therapeutic value of service dogs have been plagued by delays.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson and Santa Rosa-based national non-profit Canine Companions for Independence held a press conference today at Canine Companions' Santa Rosa campus. The event highlighted the recent launch of a pilot program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that offers service dog benefits to veterans with mental health diagnoses, including post-traumatic stress (PTS).
Rep. Mike Thompson awarded fellow Vietnam veteran Jeffrey Spratt of Yountville with the Bronze Star he had earned for his honorable service during the Vietnam War but had never received.
Although Spratt was awarded the Bronze Star, it was never recorded on his DD-214, the form used to verify military service, and was therefore not official. In addition, Spratt was awarded additional medals that were not recorded on his DD-214 and were never received.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson awarded fellow Vietnam veteran Jeffery Spratt of Yountville with the medal he earned for his honorable service to our country.
Though Mr. Spratt was awarded the Bronze Star, it was never recorded on his DD-214, the form used to verify military service, and was therefore not official. In addition, Mr. Spratt was awarded additional medals that were not recorded on his DD-214 and were never received.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, co-chair of the House Military Veterans Caucus, led his bipartisan co-chairs in sending a letter to Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning asking him to grant an exception to the requirement that current and former service members who enlisted in the National Guard between 2006 and 2008 repay unauthorized bonuses.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, Co- Chair of the House Military Veterans Caucus, led his bipartisan Co-Chairs in sending a letter to Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning asking him to grant an exception to the requirement that current and former service members who enlisted in the National Guard between 2006 and 2008 repay unauthorized bonuses.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, Co-Chair of the House Military Veterans Caucus, today issued the following statement after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon will halt efforts to recoup bonuses that had been issued to members of the California National Guard in error. Secretary Carter stated that the suspension will continue until a fair, equitable, and timely process is implemented for those impacted. The Secretary asked that this improved process be implemented by January 1, 2017, and that all pending cases are resolved by July 1, 2017.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, Co- Chair of the House Military Veterans Caucus, led his bipartisan team in sending a letter to Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning asking him to grant an exception to the requirement that current and former service members who enlisted in the National Guard between 2006 and 2008 repay unauthorized bonuses.
Members of Congress in both parties vowed Tuesday to halt Pentagon efforts to force nearly 10,000 former California National Guard soldiers to repay bonuses they received in a deceptive scheme to get them to re-enlist for combat duty a decade ago.
More than $15 million in bonuses were paid fraudulently or mistakenly by state National Guard recruiters under pressure to meet recruitment goals during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Enticed by a promise they could earn $15,000 or more, thousands of California National Guard members accepted.