"We owe our veterans in Vermont and across the United States the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned in service to our country. While we have a long way to go in fulfilling those promises, I am proud, as Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, that we have made real progress in addressing our obligations to our veterans," Sen. Sanders said.
We, as a nation, have a moral obligation to provide the best quality care possible to those who have put their lives on the line to defend us, and Sen. Sanders is determined to ensure VA is meeting this responsibility. In response to the crisis at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Sen. Sanders led the effort to pass legislation to right the wrongs of the existing crisis, while making additional improvements to the VA health care system.
Over the last several years, Sen. Sanders fought to improve primary health care by expanding the number of Community-Based Outreach Clinics (CBOCs) that serve Vermont veterans. In addition to the long-standing clinics in Rutland and Bennington, new facilities opened in Brattleboro and Newport, and the Colchester clinic moved to a more convenient location in downtown Burlington in order to provide more services and increase staffing. There are also two CBOCs in New Hampshire, located in Littleton and Keene. The VA Medical Center at White River Junction continues to make improvements that meet the changing needs of Vermont veterans, including a women’s clinic, an inpatient treatment center for substance abuse, and a number of ongoing renovations to the campus.
At a time when too many veterans have not accessed any services and are sleeping on the streets, in cars, and on couches, VA has engaged with communities across this country to end homelessness among veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, homelessness among veterans has declined 33 percent since 2010. In Vermont, Sen. Sanders praised the construction and improvement of several facilities, including the Canal Street Veterans Housing in Winooski, the Veterans’ Place in Northfield, the Dodge House in Rutland, the Veterans Inc. Transitional Housing in Bradford, and Home At Last in Brattleboro. These nonprofit programs help veterans and their families in their time of need.
In addition to working towards accomplishing VA’s goal of ending veteran homelessness, positive strides have been made to reduce and eliminate the outrageous claims backlog. It is unacceptable for those who have served their country to wait months, or even years, to have their claims accurately processed. This delay puts a tremendous financial strain on veterans and their families, many of whom need – and deserve – help immediately.
VA has been making progress. For each of the last five years, it has successfully processed over one million disability claims. Despite this achievement, incoming claims have greatly increased in recent years and, unfortunately, VA’s ability to process the larger workload has not kept pace. To address this problem, VA is working aggressively towards creating a more efficient paperless system in support of its goal to process all disability claims within 125 days, at a 98 percent accuracy level, by 2015. You can track VA’s progress towards its goal here.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has held multiple hearings on this very subject to review the causes of the backlog and review VA’s transformation efforts. Recently, Sen. Sanders brought S.1982, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, to the Senate floor. This bill would have allowed us to keep faith with those who have put their lives on the line to defend us by making improvements to the claims process, addressing issues effecting both timeliness and accuracy. This bill’s progress has been obstructed, but Sen. Sanders will continue to fight for the success of each and every improvement it would have made in the lives of our nation’s heroes.
Alongside virtually every Veterans’ and Military Service Organization in the country, Sen. Sanders opposed the adoption of the Chained Consumer Price Index for calculating the annual Cost-Of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for veterans’ disability compensation, veterans’ survivors compensation, Social Security compensation and military retirement pay. The Chained CPI formula would reduce future COLAs for disabled veterans by tens of thousands of dollars during their lifetimes. The Chained CPI would also make significant cuts in Social Security. Further, Sen. Sanders’ Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013, for the first time in years, ended a VA practice of rounding down benefits. Sen. Sanders believes that deficit reduction is a serious issue that must be addressed without balancing the budget on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.
Every service member and veteran deserves timely and comprehensive health care and benefits, not bureaucratic red tape that far too many encounter today. In addition, while Sen. Sanders believes it is crucial to have the best services in the world for our veterans, they are of little use if our veterans do not know about them or cannot access them. For this reason, Sen. Sanders and his staff are committed to making sure that returning service members and all Vermont veterans know about and receive the health care, mental health counseling, family assistance, transition assistance and other benefits they need to make sure they can live a healthy and productive life.
Vermont veterans and service members seeking assistance in obtaining their benefits should contact Sen. Sanders' state office here.