Honoring Our Veterans
We have an obligation to honor the promises we’ve made to our service members and their families. Veterans deserve the highest quality care when they return home. Instead of giving tax breaks and handouts to big corporations, we must prioritize the well-being of those who have given everything to this country.
When drafting legislation, Congress needs to do a better job of holding public hearings and listening to testimony from veterans and veterans’ organizations. Veterans are community leaders and heroes, and their voice needs to be heard. As Congressman, I will stand alongside our veterans and fight to make sure they get the support they need. My platform focuses on four key issues:
- Providing effective mental health care
- Combating veteran homelessness
- Modernizing the VA
- Addressing sexual assault in the military
1. Providing Effective Mental Health Care
We need to strengthen our health care system to address the specific mental health needs that our veterans have. Brave men and women put everything aside to protect our country; Congress must hold itself to the same standard and fix our mental health care system. Too many of our service members struggle with traumatic, and often invisible, mental health issues. Those who serve in the military are fifteen times more likely to develop PTSD than civilians and five times more likely to have depression. Moreover, on average, 20 veterans die by suicide every day. These deaths are tragic and underscore that we have to take action now. I support:
- Expanding access to mental health services. We need to increase awareness and expand access to pre-existing services focused on early intervention. Over half of veterans who need mental health care don’t even know that they are eligible for the services that the VA provides. This lack of treatment has real consequences: the suicide rate for veterans who don’t receive VA care is significantly higher than for those who do. That’s why I support legislation like the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, which Representative Tsongas co-sponsored. This bill is a step in the right direction when it comes to addressing mental healthcare for veterans, and I believe we need to continue to remove barriers that prevent veterans from getting the help they need. And if you know of a veteran who might be at immediate risk of suicide, please visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ or call 1-800-273-8255.
- Providing comprehensive care. To better serve veterans struggling with mental illness, we need to think beyond medical provider hours and ensure veterans actually receive comprehensive care. That means expanding access to services that are critical to recovery, like addiction treatment, counseling, and holistic health practices. I strongly support efforts to research and implement personalized treatments for military members in need.
- Investing in new technologies. New technologies, such as telemedicine and telepsychology, have the potential to expand the capability of mental health services in rural areas that have physician shortages. By investing in these cutting-edge technologies, we can make sure that mental health services can be accessed quickly and efficiently. I support the bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act, which will give veterans– including those in rural and underserved areas– access to the services they need.
2. Combating Veteran Homelessness
Veteran homelessness is an abject national failure. On any given night, there are 40,000 veterans out on the street and another 1.4 million veterans at risk of homelessness. We need to work to provide safe and secure housing to every single person who’s served our country. This requires a comprehensive community approach. I support:
- Strengthening local rehabilitation programs. Local rehabilitation centers, like the Crescent House Transitional Residence Program in Lowell, are on the frontlines in the fight to end chronic veteran homelessness and poverty. I will work tirelessly in Congress to strengthen these programs and make sure they have the federal funding from the VA that they need.
- Bolstering existing VA programs. We need to focus on reintegrating previously homeless veterans and providing targeted financial assistance for low-income housing. That’s why I strongly support legislation, like the Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2017, that helps strengthen existing VA programs focused on ending veteran homelessness.
3. Modernizing the VA
The VA’s employees work incredibly hard to provide crucial healthcare services to more than 9 million veterans. However, the VA has struggled with staff shortages and bureaucratic inefficiencies, and these problems have been exacerbated by the VA’s leadership scandals and turnover under President Trump. We need to make investments to make sure veterans get the care they deserve. I support:
- Reducing the backlog of claims. Under the Obama administration, the VA successfully reduced waiting times and cut down the backlog of disability claims. However, staff shortages threaten to wipe out this progress and could cause wait times for claims appeals to skyrocket. We need to continue to invest in adequate staffing and new technology to make the VA claims system more efficient and effective.
- Increasing transparency between VA leadership and patients. To improve standards of performance, we need to hold VA medical centers accountable to strong transparency requirements. In Congress, I would fight for legislation like the VA Transparency Act, which requires directors to publish quarterly reports on key performance metrics such as waiting times and infection rates at their medical facilities. We also must ensure that the VA has adequately-funded resources for tracking and publishing these performance metrics.
4. Addressing Sexual Assault in the Military
We need to listen to survivors and have a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment, especially in our armed forces. This is a systemic problem: right now, 25% of servicewomen experience assault by someone in their military chain of command. Moreover, according to a Pentagon report, close to 60% of servicemembers who have tried to report assault have faced retaliation. This is unacceptable. Representative Tsongas has been a tireless advocate for victims of military sexual assault, and in Congress, I would look to build on her efforts. I support:
- Ensuring fairness in sexual assault investigations. The current military justice system is badly in need of reform. Right now, commanders lead the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. However, victims often are not comfortable going to their commanding officer to report assault. I strongly support Senator Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, which would give independent military prosecutors control over the decision-making process, ensuring that trials are fair and just.
- Protecting those who have reported sexual assaults. We need to make sure that all of our service members feel safe and protect sexual assault victims from retaliation. That’s why I support legislation, such as the Military Retaliation Prevention Act, to protect the brave service members who have stepped forward to report sexual assault.