2009-06-19 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Time to Reach Out to Our Veterans
By Senator Kristen Gillibrand

Memorial Day gave us an opportunity to not only honor the memory of America's fallen soldiers, but also to renew our commitment to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the service of our nation in the Armed Forces. When our service members return home, they should be greeted by a Veteran's Administration (VA) ready to reach out and provide the healthcare and other benefits they have earned. Instead, many veterans enter the VA system without guidance, and are forced to wade into an often confusing bureaucracy, where they are left on their own to figure out to which benefits they are entitled.

New York City is home to more than 237,000 men and women who have answered our nation's call. For the more than 35,000 veterans in Manhattan, 28,000 in the Bronx, 42,000 in Brooklyn, 54,000 in Queens, and 21,000 on Staten Island who are not receiving their VA healthcare benefits, they have found that the system currently in place is a far cry from the promise we made as a nation to honor and care for the people who have sacrificed on our behalf. When I ran for Congress, I was strong and outspoken in my opposition to the War in Iraq. While I did not agree with President Bush's policies, I worked hard in Congress to provide our new veterans with the health care and other benefits they deserve.

Now, I am renewing those efforts in the U.S. Senate. Before Memorial Day, I introduced legislation called "Providing Real Outreach for Veterans (PROVETS) Act," to require the Veterans Administration to seek out and provide our returning heroes with information on the benefits to which they are entitled. It will eliminate red-tape and bureaucratic bottlenecks, and require timely responses from the VA to all veterans who want to know what they are eligible for. Navigating the complex benefits system offered by the VA can be difficult for anyone, especially for a wounded veteran transitioning to civilian life. This is why we need legislation like PRO-VETS that would ensure a seamless transfer of information between the VA and Department of Defense (DOD) to efficiently and effectively transfer every veteran's medical information to the VA.

When their information reaches the VA, my legislation would insure that all veterans receive an assessment of the benefits they are eligible for within seven days, require the VA to explain how to apply for them, and update this list each year in case they become eligible for any new benefits in the future. It would also direct the VA to let veterans know what benefits they are not eligible for, so they are not left waiting.

It is my hope that my PRO-VETS bill, once passed and signed into law, will help veterans take advantage of the benefits that do exist and have already been earned. For me, this bill is my small way of saying thanks to our brave veterans for their service to our country. I encourage you all to join me in honoring our veterans and service personnel, not just today, but every day. They and their families have earned our enduring thanks, support, and commitment.

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