Washington, D.C. — In last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the men, women, and families who have carried the burdens of a decade of war, and today the Center for American Progress released “President Obama’s Commitment to Veterans Must Remain a Second-Term Priority” by former U.S. Congressman and CAP Senior Patrick Murphy and Senior Fellow Lawrence J. Korb. This analysis highlights critical programs intended to support service members as they transition to civilian life, focusing on unemployment, suicide, and homelessness, in need of continued support.
As most federal agencies grapple with austerity measures, the president’s budget request this year includes $140 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs—a 40 percent increase in funding since the president took office. Yet as the United States ends its combat mission in Afghanistan and reduces the size of its ground forces to near prewar levels, the federal government will face a growing population of new veterans. In the president’s second term, the Obama administration, along with its partners in Congress and in the private sector, must continue the progress we’ve made in supporting our men and women in uniform as they come home from war.
Some recommendations outlined in this column include:
- As the Department of Defense confronts its own epidemic of suicides—the military lost more troops to suicide than to combat in 2012—the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs should look for opportunities to cooperate to flag and support at-risk service members, ensuring that they receive the support they need before, during, and after their transition from military to civilian life.
- Last month the Department of Veterans Affairs launched its first study monitoring how veterans are performing at their universities of choice. In its second term, the Obama administration should expand its efforts to track how veterans are using their G.I. benefits, with the aim of ensuring that the program shows results.
- For many highly qualified veterans, credentialing and licensing regulations pose barriers to transferring their skills to the civilian workforce. In its second term, the administration should continue its work to provide simple, logical avenues to civilian credentialing in the other sectors identified by the task force, including health care, information technology, transportation, and logistics.
- The most recent analysis from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that there were roughly 62,600 homeless veterans in January 2012, a 7.2 percent decline from 2011, and a 17.2 percent decline since 2009—against a decline of 1 percent among the entire population. Over the next four years, the Obama administration and Congress should ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs receives the funding necessary to continue these impressive gains in combating veteran homelessness.
Sequestration remains a threat to our ability to fulfill these promises. While the Budget Control Act properly exempted most of the Department of Veterans Affairs from cuts, sequestration would still make it difficult to meet the needs of a rapidly growing veteran population by hitting the department’s administrative activities as well as veterans programs run through other departments, such as the Department of Labor. Congressional leaders, particularly those who voted to take us to war, must understand that the costs of our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue for decades after the conclusion of hostilities. It is essential that, having supported the wars, Congress continue to support the troops.
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