From state Sen. J.B. Jennings:
About six months ago, I wrote that on Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November, we have parades, picnics, fireworks, concerts and displays of patriotism to honor our veterans who have fought in wars to defend our freedom. I said then and I repeat now, we should honor our veterans every day. At the very least, their problems and their care and concerns should be addressed promptly and solutions found quickly.
Instead, deadly delays in medical appointments, overwhelming backlogs in disability benefit claims and veterans need for legal assistance were exposed at the Department of Veterans Affairs – VA. Even worse, it was discovered that senior VA officials knew about these backlogs and covered them up by falsifying data. An audit released in June revealed that Maryland veterans had the fourth longest wait for care in the nation, waiting an average of 80 days to see a primary care doctor for an initial visit.
I, like most every American, was appalled at the government’s treatment of men and women who went to war for us and came back needing help with medical, job and family needs. Let’s face it, while the nation pauses to remember our veterans two days a year veterans and their families live every single day with the changes in their lives, health and stability that military service has forced them to live with.
Veterans’ unemployment rate is a national shame. More than 20% of veterans, 19 to 24 years of age, cannot find work. That’s 5% higher than the civilian unemployment rate for that same age group.
Without help, these gallant men and women are often overwhelmed with hopelessness lose their way and take their lives. A VA study shows that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
Unfortunately, it appears that it took national exposure of the deplorable treatment of our veterans to galvanize federal and state government into action. In August, a bipartisan bill was approved and signed into law to provide $5 billion to hire more doctors and $10 billion in emergency funds to enable vets who live more than 40 miles from a medical center or face a wait time of more than 30 days to seek care outside the VA system.
Clearly, legal assistance is needed in order for veterans, especially those who have suffered physical or mental trauma, to navigate the overwhelming and daunting system and the VA process to get their disability benefits. University of Baltimore Law School has set up a Veterans Advocacy Clinic for this purpose. There are about 30 veterans’ clinics at law schools nationwide.
A Task Force created by the General Assembly in 2012 recommended creation of veterans’ court. This year, Prince Georges County established the first such court in the state. This type of court focuses on veterans with substance abuse issues or post-traumatic stress disorder and emphasizes rehabilitation over jail time.
I am fully aware that messages sent to constituents on Memorial and Veterans Day usually dwell on patriotism, sacrifice and bravery of the men and women who defend us. Indeed, that is as valid as it is appropriate. However, I find I am unable to write about patriotism, sacrifice and bravery of our military without calling attention to this nation’s unconscionable treatment of the men and women who return home from war. Indeed, there are signs of change. But as far as I’m concerned we have a long way to go in treating our veterans as special citizens who have earned special and honored treatment by government.
As individual citizens, we can also do our part by supporting veterans’ groups and causes. For example, if you request it, Amazon will donate a small percentage of your purchase to your favorite cause, such as The Wounded Warrior Project. And when you see a person wearing a baseball cap with Vietnam, Korea, Iraq or Afghanistan printed on it shake that person’s hand and just say “Thank you.”
I believe President Ronald Reagan said it best at his 1st Inaugural Address:
President Reagan – We Are Americans!
Please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any other issue of concern to you. Your input is important to me. I encourage it and welcome it.
Senator J.B. Jennings