Every year, over 15,000 servicemembers transition out of the Armed Forces in San Diego and about half stay here as they begin civilian life. San Diego is also home to one of the nation’s largest populations of homeless veterans. We owe it to them, and to every veteran, to ensure they have an affordable place to live, and access to the care and benefits they earned through their service. I’m working to honor our promise to our heroes. I helped craft and pass the Forever GI Bill, which gave veterans flexibility to access the educational benefits they earned when they need them—including my bill that gives Purple Heart recipients their full education benefits. That’s just one way we can honor our nation’s heroes. We also need to reduce the stigma surrounding veteran mental health and ensure veteran families have the resources they need to support veterans when they return home. We also must explore options like telehealth and expand the network of mental health professionals at the VA. We must keep our promises to the men and women who volunteered to fight for our freedom and security? just as they served us.
Successful Transition to Civilian Life
Our veterans fought for our freedoms and as they transition back into a civilian lifestyle, it is our job to ensure they can obtain meaningful work that capitalizes on their skills and have access to higher education, should they choose to continue their schooling. Comprehensive education assistance and job training programs afford San Diego’s veterans the necessary resources they need to be successful in their post-service lives.
Introduced a bill to give full education benefits to all Purple Heart recipients regardless of how long they served in active-duty. The bill was included in the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act and is now law.
Cosponsored the Manufacturing Jobs for Veterans Act, which would create a five-year pilot program awarding competitive grants to manufacturing employers and labor-management organizations that provide training, apprenticeships, and certification classes to eligible veterans.
Supported the bipartisan Veterans’ Entry to Apprenticeship Act, which would enable veterans to utilize their education benefits while enrolled in apprenticeship programs.
?Encouraged a vote that led to the passage of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which provides in-state tuition at public higher-education facilities to veterans on the GI Bill, regardless of their residency.
Housing for our Heroes
Men and women who courageously risk their lives to protect and defend our nation should be able to do so with full confidence that we will provide them with steadfast support once they finish their service. With San Diego’s homeless veteran population being among the largest in the country, more must be done to ensure that America’s veterans have safe, stable places to return to following their service. Actions I have taken to address veteran homelessness in our communities include:
- Introduced the bipartisan Veteran HOUSE Act, to expand eligibility for HUD-VASH vouchers for veterans who have other-than-honorable discharges. Veterans with OTH discharges currently cannot obtain housing vouchers since they cannot use the supportive services from the VA as required by the HUD-VASH program.
- Offered an amendment that was included in a package of bills to prohibit the Trump Administration from gutting funding for veteran homelessness programs. This legislation is now law.
- Introduced the bipartisan Homes for our Heroes Act, to guarantee that Congress receives reports on who receives HUD-VASH vouchers, studies the use of HUD-VASH vouchers in high-cost housing markets, and discloses how vouchers are allocated to increase transparency in the program.
- Fought for San Diego’s fair share of federal funding to address homelessness and announced the reopening of the comment period to change the Department of Housing and Urban Development formula that determines funding levels.
- Introduced the Shelter Our Servicemembers Act, which provides senior veterans permanent, non-transitional services through local non-profit organizations.
- Helped pass the Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act to expand home foreclosure protections for veterans and their families.
Providing Quality, Accessible Healthcare
Our San Diego veterans often sacrifice their mental and physical health in order to serve and defend our country. We must protect and improve the VA healthcare system, so veterans have unimpeded access to the care they need. Throughout my public service, I have been a fierce advocate for providing veterans with the high-quality medical care they deserve.
- Introduced the bipartisan Daniel Somers Network of Support Act, which creates vital networks of support for servicemembers and their families in order to improve engagement when it comes to addressing mental health concerns in veterans. The bill was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 and passed the House.
- Cosponsored and helped pass the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which became public law and will modernize and streamline the veterans’ appeal process to fix back-log at the VA and achieve faster results for new cases.
- Helped pass the VA Mission Act to expand Veterans Administration Caregiver programs to veterans of all eras, extend VA Choice funding, promote telehealth programs, and establish a commission to review and improve how VA medical care property is managed.
- Cosponsored and helped pass the bipartisan Clay Hunt SAV Act which became public law and directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to annually evaluate the VA’s mental health care and suicide prevention programs, as well as to establish a loan repayment program for psychiatrists serving in the Veterans Health Administration.
- Cosponsored the Veterans Access to Community Care Act, which allows veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility to seek care at closer, non-VA medical facilitates in order to receive more frequent and accessible healthcare.
- Cosponsored the bipartisan Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act, which would improve health care provisions for women veterans at the VA to ensure the privacy, safety, and dignity of female patients is protected and gender-specific healthcare needs are met.
Protecting and Expanding Earned Benefits
For decades, America has honored a promise to our veterans: That we will care for them when they return home. Veterans’ needs are evolving as wars become more complex and longer, medical advances improve, and as we discover benefits programs are not providing adequate support for our heroes and their families. We must continue to improve existing VA programs and work to create practical and collaborative new ones that ensure servicemen and women have access to a full range of supportive benefits upon their return.
- Helped pass the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which became public law and continuously improves the accountability of VA employees and reduces government waste, fraud, and abuse.
- Worked to pass the American Heroes COLA Act, which became law and makes necessary cost of living adjustments for veterans permanent to ensure that government dysfunction doesn’t hinder our veterans from receiving the benefits they have earned.
- An original cosponsor of the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act, which successfully passed the House and recognizes the service of guardsmen and reservists so they may receive veteran status and the associated earned benefits.
- An early cosponsor of the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act, which would allow spouses of fallen servicemembers to receive special benefits in addition to those received under the Survivor Benefit Plan and ending the “widows tax.” The bill was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.
- Helped pass the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act, which directs the VA to provide child care assistance funds to veterans who are receiving various medical services through the VA.
Serving Our Veterans
Our veterans selflessly served our country and defended our freedom. Theirs is a debt we can never fully repay, but we can honor their service by ensuring they have a smooth transition to civilian life, providing safe and stable living conditions after service, and offering access to quality care. Click below to read my full plan to serve veterans here at home and in Congress:
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