As the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Sanders is a leader in the effort to improve the care and benefits our veterans receive.
In Vermont, in the last several years, Sen. Sanders fought to improve primary healthcare by expanding the number of Community-Based Outreach Clinics (CBOCs) in the state from three to five. In addition to the long-standing clinics in Colchester, Rutland and Bennington, new facilities opened in Brattleboro and Newport. Recent improvements to the VA Medical Center at White River Junction included a new health facility for women veterans and an inpatient treatment center for substance abuse.
According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, homelessness among veterans has declined 17.2 percent since 2009. 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.
Sen. Sanders remains mindful of the concern that many have about the length of time it takes to process VA disability claims. He strongly believes no veteran in this country should have to wait years to have a claim processed. The first hearing Sen. Sanders held as chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee addressed this serious issue. At that hearing, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told the Committee that he was working to transform the benefits system, which is bogged down with paper, into a modern, digital, paperless system. Sec. Shinseki set a goal of ensuring that, by 2015, claims will be completed in 125 days with 98% accuracy. Sen. Sanders is working with the Secretary to make that ambitious goal a reality.
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. 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.