Our country honors our veterans regularly, particularly on Veterans Day. Many of my family members, friends, and neighbors have served our country in numerous wars and conflicts for generations.
For far too long, U.S. foreign policy has been heavily rooted in going to war and turning our backs on the troops when they come home. Our veterans deserve the best. Here are some significant improvements we can make.
Modernize and Expand Services at the VA
We need to ensure that every veteran in Illinois’ Third District receives top tier medical care. This means working to streamline the medical claims process and continuing to ensure that the electronic medical records conversion happens on time and on budget. Outside of Chicago, Veterans in Illinois’ Third District have access to only two outpatient clinics. In tandem with improving the quality of VA care, I am also a proponent of expanding satellite locations and increasing services at existing facilities.
Furthermore, implementing Medicare for All will allow our veterans to see any doctor they wish. Quality of care and convenience should be priorities, not whether a certain provider is in or out of the VA’s network.
Invest in Mental Health Services for All Service Members and Veterans
Many veterans return from duty experiencing mental health issues. The VA offers mental health services to veterans, however, these services are constrained by doctors in the VA’s network.
With limited access to public transportation and travel becoming increasingly difficult for older populations, we need mental health services available in every community–not just at VA locations. I will support measures to increase the VA budget to accommodate more outpatient mental health professionals. Additionally, by implementing Medicare for All, all Americans will be able to see a mental health professional with the only concerns being convenience and preference for providers. Learn more about how I plan on making life more affordable for all Americans here.
Easing the Transition to Civilian Life
I hear far too often from veterans that adjusting to civilian life is harder than they expected–job searches often too disheartening, higher education and vocational training too expensive, and housing options remaining unaffordable. I will fight to ensure that our veterans’ transition to civilian life is as smooth as possible first and foremost by ensuring that veterans are actually receiving the federal hiring preference they earned from their military service and confirming that federal jobs that are exempt from military preference truly require non-veterans to fill the positions.
Moreover, nonprofits like Operation Second Chance, Hire Heroes USA, Mission Critical, and others that advocate for transitioning veterans are already doing great work on creating a smooth transition. We should convene nonprofit leaders with all levels of government to ensure we are treating our veterans well in every policy we create.
Read more about how we plan on addressing unemployment and underemployment in our plan here.
I will work to ensure that the military’s senior leaders are held accountable for both service member safety and budgetary spending. Currently, the high turnover rate and lack of basic procurement skills are putting our service members at risk, while the Pentagon wastes untold amounts of taxpayer dollars on unnecessarily complex weapon systems. First and foremost, we need to focus on the preparedness, security, and health of our active duty service members. Reducing Department of Defense waste will allow us to better care for active duty and retired service members, as well as place a renewed emphasis on diplomatic and peace building programs.
Health and Safety of Our Troops
As a member of Congress, I would co-sponsor existing legislation calling for mandatory incinerator use, fund top-tier university research on burn pit exposure, include burn pit exposure as a VA disability, and hold senior military leaders accountable, including the recall and demotion of retired generals that allowed their troops to be exposed to the Afghanistan War version of “Agent Orange”.
End Deportations for Undocumented Servicemembers
The U.S. government is deporting undocumented servicemembers. This is unconscionable. Undocumented members of the military should have a clear path towards citizenship and should never be deported.
I will fight to protect the rights of undocumented members of the military and to ensure a clear pathway to citizenship for all Americans. They serve our country with honor, and it’s our duty to treat them with respect.
Read more about our plan to transform immigration policy here.
Equality in the Military
First, addressing sexual harassment in the military is a major step towards equality in the military. Part of the problem is that, oftentimes, the offender out-ranks the victim. The military’s strict chain of command rules often result in retaliation against the victim for breaking the chain of command, and this results in many victims not reporting offenses at all.
I support the creation of a governmental agency that service members could report non-military related crimes to without breaking the chain of command. Senator Gillibrand has a bill on this ( S.1789), and I would co-sponsor this measure if elected to Congress.
Second, we must end the ban on trans servicemembers and allow the VA to cover transition-related surgeries. The only requirements to serve should be a standard of physical fitness and desire to serve. Like other jobs, health care should be offered fully to all people employed by an organization.
Finally, we should open more combat roles to women who want to serve, without lowering standards. I support revising Department of Defense standards so women and men are eligible to serve in the same positions regardless of their gender, but instead based on their merit and rank. This restriction is outdated and can no longer be justified considering the tactics of modern warfare.