The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing Wednesday on how the Department of Veterans Affairs is reaching out to make veterans aware of benefits they are entitled to receive. "In many areas, the VA does an enormously good job, but no matter how good the programs are it doesn’t mean anything if veterans don’t know about them," Chairman Bernie Sanders said.
"We are making progress but more needs to be done. I am especially impressed that 55 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are utilizing VA health care today. That’s a very impressive number," Sanders added. "On the other hand, we must be cognizant that a 2010 survey found fewer than half of the 22 million veterans in the United States are accessing any VA benefits."
Tommy Sowers, VA's assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, testified at the hearing that the VA is improving outreach efforts. VA is deploying mobile vet centers in rural areas, establishing more community based outpatient clinics, providing mental health crisis line services and strengthening partnerships with other federal agencies, state, city and local governments, he said. Veterans' service organizations and military support organizations also play important roles.
Coleman Nee, the head of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services, said cooperation among all levels of government is one reason his state leads the nation in veterans' benefits and services. "In Massachusetts, we have found that there is not a lack of resources for our veterans and their families," Nee said. "The major impediment to accessing benefits is the lack of knowledge of those benefits and resources and the navigation of the various bureaucracies associated with those benefits."
The committee also heard from Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service CEO, Eric Weingartner of the Robin Hood Foundation and Mike Monroe, a vice president of Points of Light. "Their shared commitment to supporting veterans and their families is exactly what the VA should be encouraging," Sanders said.