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 announced a $160,727 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grant to assist homeless women veterans in Santa Rosa. The Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) Special Need Grant is being awarded to Vietnam Veterans of California, Inc. so it can continue providing housing and necessary services to homeless women veterans, including women who have to care for children.
WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05) today announced a $400,352 Federal grant to provide assistance to homeless veterans in Contra Costa County. The grant was awarded through The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program.
WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05) today announced a $525,444 Federal grant to provide assistance to homeless veterans in Santa Rosa. The grant was awarded through The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program.
WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05) today announced a $108,281 Federal grant to provide assistance to homeless veterans in Vallejo. The grant was awarded through The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program.
By John Glidden -
A few had trouble standing during the singing of the national anthem; age forcing some to hold onto a loved one or a cane. They stood, saluting the flag, like so many times before.
Yet, it was a different atmosphere for the Vallejo Vietnam War veterans Saturday who filed into the Veterans Memorial Building on Admiral Callaghan Lane.
By Richard Freedman -
Some will come because they were asked. Some will come because they figure it's about time.
Some can't make it. And others won't come because the memories are far too painful.
Congressman Mike Thompson on Wednesday 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.
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.