White House seeks to ease veterans’ access to care (The New York Times)
The Obama administration on Wednesday will call on Congress to enact measures to help military veterans gain easier access to health care, disability and educational benefits, part of a push to spotlight its efforts to improve the way the government treats veterans after a scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. President Obama will urge Congress to improve a program that allows veterans to receive private medical care, speed the appeal process for disability claims and pass legislation aiming to improve the quality of schools that serve veterans. Timed to coincide with Veterans Day, Mr. Obama’s proposals also come as the administration is promoting the first fruits of its efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans. The administration laid out a plan in 2010 to end chronic homelessness among veterans by the end of this year, saying that goal would be reached when there were no veterans sleeping on streets and no more than 12,500 veterans in shelters or transitional housing. In August, Connecticut became the first state to be designated by the administration as having achieved the milestone. The Obama administration is also set to unveil a new tool to allow veterans to compare college and university options, modeled after a college scorecard website it started in September to provide information to prospective students and their parents about annual costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation.
Senate OKs medical marijuana for veterans (U.S. News & World Report)
On the eve of Veterans Day, the Senate passed legislation Tuesday that would for the first time allow Veterans Health Administration doctors to authorize medical marijuana use for patients. The Veterans Health Administration currently does not allow its physicians to discuss marijuana as a treatment option with patients in the nearly two dozen states with medical pot laws, forcing veterans to turn elsewhere for guidance and the paperwork necessary to acquire the drug. State medical marijuana laws vary greatly. Some allow only a small number of conditions to be treated with the drug, while others like California have famously lax guidelines. The Obama administration largely tolerates state medical (and recreational) marijuana programs, despite marijuana possession for any reason outside limited research remaining a federal crime. The Senate legislation won’t change the federal illegality of using marijuana as medicine or open the door to greater legal research through changing its classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act – which deems it without medical value – but it’s nonetheless a big win for reform advocates. “We see this victory as a step toward a peace treaty with the government we volunteered to defend with our lives and as a step toward restoring our First Amendment rights and dignity as citizens,” said T.J. Thompson, a disabled Navy veteran, in a statement circulated by the Drug Policy Alliance.
Poll: Veterans oppose plan to ‘privatize’ VA (Military Times)
Veterans like choice. But they don’t like privatization. That’s the bottom line from a new poll out Tuesday from the Vet Voice Foundation, designed to counter recent proposals that left-leaning advocates say would move Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to an outsourced, privatization model. The poll of 800 veterans, conducted jointly by a Republican-backed firm and a Democratic-backed one, found that almost two-thirds of survey respondents oppose plans to replace VA health care with a voucher system, an idea backed by some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates. “Veterans overwhelmingly feel that health care was a promise made for their service and oppose vouchers that may not cover all costs,” group officials said in their report. “Veterans worry that private insurance companies care too much about profit and would make decisions for the care of veterans based on money.” The results push back poll numbers released by Concerned Veterans for America last month that found nearly 90 percent of veterans surveyed believe officials need to increase health care choices for VA patients, including expanded access to private care physicians. They also point to a larger fight between Republicans and Democrats over VA reform efforts, and how each side is labeling moves to expand health care offerings for veterans in the private sector, but still at government expense. “This poll confirms what nearly every veterans service organization has always said — privatization and voucherization of the VA is a nonstarter for veterans,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, managing director of the Vet Voice Foundation.
Era of high unemployment for Iraq, Afghanistan vets ends (USA Today)
An era of high unemployment for those who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars appears to be over, according to federal statistics showing jobless rates for those veterans are now on par with civilians. The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was lower in October — at 4.6% — than the national average of 5%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That percentage was the lowest for the group since October 2007, when it was at 4.4% two months before the recession began. There were 1.5 million veterans of the two wars in 2007. Today, there are 3.8 million. “They’ve certainly come out of the kind of hangover of the post-recession period, and they now seem to be improving on par with the rest of the workers in the country,” said James Borbely, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics who studies veteran data. “It’s improvement in employment. It’s not the case where they’re dropping out of the labor force.” Monthly jobless rates for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans climbed as high as 15% in 2010 and 2011, according to the data. For those between the ages of 18 and 24, it was even higher. Federal jobs data show periods when as many as one in three veterans in the younger age group was without work. That rate was more than double compared to civilians of the same age. Last month, the jobless rate for veterans in that age group was 10.4%, nearly identical to the 10.1% unemployment figure for civilians in the same bracket.
Senate passes VA spending bill, just in time for Veterans Day (The Hill)
The Senate on Tuesday passed a fiscal year 2016 funding bill for veterans’ benefits and military construction, making it the first spending bill to clear the upper chamber this year. Senators voted 93-0 on the legislation after lawmakers reached an agreement to wrap up work on the proposal before Veterans Day. “Today the Senate put our veterans first,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is up for reelection in 2016 and took a leading role on the legislation. “With $1.1 billion in funding for veterans’ care above the President’s request and special protections for whistleblowers like doctors and nurses who speak up to protect our vets, I am proud we found a bipartisan path forward.” The Senate spending bill provides $79.7 billion in discretionary funding for military construction and veterans programs, approximately $7.9 billion above the previous fiscal year spending levels. Passage of the legislation comes after the bill overcame a procedural hurdle late last week, effectively ending a logjam on spending votes in the Senate.
Clinton: U.S. is ‘failing to keep faith with our veterans’ (The Washington Post)
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the United States has failed its military veterans with broken promises and uneven services but that Republican proposals to privatize veterans’ services would be a sellout. Releasing a wide-ranging set of proposals to improve veterans’ services, on the eve of Veterans Day, Clinton praised the Obama administration’s efforts to address serious shortfalls and long delays in health-care services but said they do not go far enough. “Today we are failing to keep faith with our veterans,” Clinton said in New Hampshire, pledging “zero tolerance for the kinds of abuses and delays we have seen.” Her program would go beyond efforts instituted by President Obama to address backlogs at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, a problem that threatened lives and embarrassed the White House. Her promise of commitment to veterans’ concerns followed strong Republican criticism of Clinton’s remark last month that numerous studies show most veterans are satisfied with their care. … Clinton’s plan continues the current model of blending some private-sector health-care services with the stand-alone VA system, to address gaps and shortcomings in certain regions or for certain services. But complete privatization “is a betrayal, plain and simple, and I am not going to let it happen,” Clinton said Tuesday. Her administration would “strategically purchase” private-sector care and would “present and advocate for legislation that allows the VA to pursue provider agreements to do this in the most effective and efficient manner,” according to the campaign’s plan.
Uber, Lyft to offer free rides to vets for job interviews (Military Times)
Ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft will donate tens of thousands of free trips to veterans for transportation to work, job interviews and other critical needs, officials announced Tuesday. The move is part of a broader effort by the White House’s Joining Forces initiative to help end homelessness among veterans, and encourage corporate partners to fill the unmet needs of America’s military families. Initiative officials made the announcement on behalf of the two companies on the eve of Veterans Day. The ride-sharing services offer on-demand transportation services in metropolitan areas across the country, allowing people to use their phones to request and pay for cab service. “We have heard time and time again that transportation to and from work and job interviews is often a significant hurdle for homeless veterans trying to find work,” Air Force Col. Nicole Malachowski, Joining Forces executive director, wrote in a statement hailing the announcement. “If a veteran is working a night shift or employed in a remote area of a city, public transportation is not always a viable option, and there is limited funding available for alternative transportation.” Company officials said the rides will be made available in coming months, through veterans organizations working with the Labor Department’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program. In addition, Uber officials announced plans to allow customers to donate $5 toward additional rides for veterans on Veterans Day, through the company’s apps.
VA foster care program offers a new kind of veterans home (The Kansas City Star)
Morning coffee at the kitchen table. Roque (Rocky) Riojas, 93, sits at one end, Bronze Star cap on his head, World War II shrapnel in his leg, and he’s telling how his son always comes to visit. At the other end of the table, Theodosia Mobley, 84, who fought in Korea, scoffs: “He doesn’t always come to visit.” These two are about what you’d expect in a new foster family. A little picking, a little sniping. But it’s early. They are part of a new Veterans Affairs program that places military veterans in homes of people willing to open a door. Pretty much like the foster kid system. Most of these vets are old and alone. They have health problems and nowhere else to go other than a nursing facility, and they don’t want to go there. That’s how Riojas, who grew up in midtown Kansas City, and Mobley, an Arkansas farm boy, two Americans who fought for their country and ended up alone after four score, came to share this breakfast table. The ranch house on a narrow residential street in southeast Kansas City is their home now, maybe their last. It’s where they watched the World Series together. “I’m not going to tell you everything is peaches and cream,” said homeowner and caregiver Julius Anderson. “They both have some dementia, and they don’t always see eye to eye. “But we’re doing OK.” A polite man who has worked most of his life in residential senior care, Anderson, 48, refers to his new boarders as “Mr. Roque” and “Mr. Theodosia.” Come Thanksgiving, the plan is for Anderson and his lady friend to take the two vets to his family’s holiday gathering in Louisiana. “I’ve told my brothers and sisters all about them and they’re looking forward to meeting them,” Anderson said. “They are family now, so this trip is important.” That’s how it’s supposed to work, said Lisa Foodim, manager of home-based primary care for the Kansas City VA. “Having a spare room is the easy part,” Foodim said. “You have to open your home and your family.”
On the eve of Veterans Day, GOP candidates talk future wars (Military Times)
On the eve of Veterans Day, the Republican presidential candidates spent their fourth national debate focused not on the impact of past wars but instead on potential future military conflicts. The top eight hopefuls sparred over defense and foreign policy during the advertised “economic” debate, with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s isolationist beliefs the target of several assaults. All blasted President Barack Obama for what they called weak security strategy and leadership, but bickered over each others’ specific approaches. The event shifted from economic policy to military discussion after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tied the two together, promising to plus-up defense spending because “we can’t have an economy if we’re not safe.” That prompted his Senate colleague Paul to ask whether adding unchecked military spending is a conservative philosophy. “It’s not conservative if you keep adding programs you can’t pay for,” he said. “You can be strong without being involved in every civil war in the world.” Several candidates called that as naive and unpresidential. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz mocked Paul by saying “If you think that defending the nation is expensive, then try not paying for it.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tied Paul’s views to Obama’s foreign policy, saying half-hearted engagement has lead to the latest turmoil in the Middle East. “We’re not going to be the world’s policeman,” Bush said, “but we sure as heck better be the world’s leader.” Bush also attacked business mogul Donald Trump for implying that U.S. military forces might be able to work with Russian fighters to eliminate Islamic State factions in Syria, even while confronting the former superpower over its incursions into Ukraine. Trump called the approach a potential path to eradicate the top terrorist threat to America’s homeland. Bush called that “playing board games” with foreign policy.
Virginia to announce milestone in ending vet homelessness (The Washington Post)
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Wednesday will announce Virginia is the first state to meet the federal definition of effectively ending the problem of homelessness among military veterans. He will be joined by Julián Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for a Veterans Day event in Richmond. McAuliffe, who has made job creation the centerpiece of his administration, often talks about the need to employ and educate veterans in Virginia, which is home to the world’s largest naval base and depends on federal Department of Defense contracts. The federal homelessness designation means Virginia has no homeless veterans with the exception of those who have been offered housing, but don’t want it. The state must find a home for a veteran within 90 days and have more homes available than the number of veterans who have been identified as having no place to live. In January 2014, the state had 620 homeless veterans, according to an annual point-in-time count.
Why Veterans Day means so much to Roger Staubach (ESPN.com)
Roger Staubach was at the airport not too long ago when he started talking with a military member who was in uniform. “A woman came up to him and gave him a couple hundred bucks and said, ‘Hey, take your friends to lunch,'” Staubach said. “They were in their fatigues, so she knew they were military guys. He didn’t want to take the money but she wouldn’t let him give back. He said, ‘The meaning of something like that is that people care about us. It’s unbelievable how important that is to us that this country cares about us.’ ” As a veteran of the Vietnam War, Veterans Day holds a special place in the heart of the Dallas Cowboys’ Hall of Fame quarterback. “I’m proud to be veteran,” Staubach said. “I graduated from the Naval Academy but I didn’t retire in service. Those are my heroes. They spent more time in service than me. I’m glad to be a part of the fraternity there in service for four years and it means a lot to me to honor veterans and also have people say, ‘Roger, thanks for your service.’ The veterans deserve this.”