Serving Our Veterans and Troops

Military veterans and active duty troops are special people because they answer a call to serve. I know the great sacrifices that military service demands of us and our families.

As both a veteran and a military spouse, I know what it’s like to be away from home, family, and friends for long periods of time, and, as a military wife and mom, I know how it feels when a loved one is doing the same. During deployments around the world, members of the military form special bonds as we put our lives in each other’s hands in joint defense and service to our country. And those left tending the hearth during those deployments acutely feel the absence.

Because of the special demands placed on military members and their families as well as our veterans, we need an agenda that looks out for troops while they’re abroad, families when their loved ones are deployed, and veterans when they return.

Mitch McConnell has failed Kentucky’s roughly 300,000 veterans and our country’s active duty troops and military families. He blocked “the most comprehensive veterans legislation” introduced in decades, which would have expanded health care, education and job training benefits for veterans and their families. He introduced legislation that would have discontinued tax credits critical to keeping many veterans’ families above the poverty line, and he voted at least four times against pay raises for our troops, while voting for at least six pay raises for himself.

To make matters worse, he doesn’t stand up for our troops when they’re in danger, or for our veterans when they are insulted. When Russia put bounties on our troops in Afghanistan, he was silent. When our commander-in-chief said those who made the ultimate sacrifice were “suckers and losers,” he didn’t say anything because at the end of the day, Mitch lacks political courage.

I’ve had friends give the ultimate sacrifice during our forever wars and I’ve seen too many of my fellow Marines struggle after they return from duty for me not to try to serve again, this time in Congress. Unlike today’s politicians, I will support our nation’s troops and veterans in both word and deed. Here’s how we can start doing that:

Improve the Transition from Active Duty to Veteran Life

One of the hardest times for service members is when they first leave the armed forces. They’ve spent years serving our country, and then when they get out, there’s not always enough support or resources available to help them transition back to civilian life and start a new career path. We need to change that. Here’s how:

  • Provide Opportunity: Whereas Mitch has repeatedly voted against bills that would create jobs for veterans, I’m an avid proponent of initiatives like the Post-9/11 GI Bill (I used it!) and the VA home loan (I used that, too!)—programs that help veterans transition from the military into productive civilian lives and careers. The skills and talents that veterans develop during their service are incredibly valuable. We must celebrate those skills and ensure that veterans are able to smoothly transition and use their talents to the benefit of their families and communities.
  • Address Veteran Homelessness: More than 23,000 veterans are without shelter on any given night. In Kentucky, the average number of homeless veterans per night is around 450. This is a crisis that we must address, but Mitch is fighting bills that would reimburse community associations for helping the children of homeless veterans and provide legal services to our most vulnerable veterans. The Senate must fund the creation of modern, safe, clean recovery-oriented facilities and housing for homeless veterans.

Invest in Veterans’ Health

Our veterans put their bodies and minds at risk to keep the rest of us safe. That means our leaders need to protect their health and health care in every way possible. Here are some ways we can do that better:

  • Prevent the Privatization of the VA and Improve Access to and Quality of Care: Mitch McConnell has voted against funding for veterans health care at least 31 times. Meanwhile, the quality and variance of care across the VA system has become unacceptable, especially considering the increased demand. I will make sure the VA remains the best place for veterans to receive care. America should not outsource its responsibility to those who’ve served and allow private insurance companies to profit from our injured and ill veterans. We must fully fund the VA so that veterans receive the quality health care they deserve—for life.
  • Prevent Veteran Suicide: I will do more to combat suicide, which takes 20 veteran lives every day. Kentucky outpaces the nation in veteran suicide, reporting a rate of 35 veteran suicides per 100,000 veterans. I am acutely aware of how veterans struggle with purpose and meaning in their lives, having struggled with it myself after my first couple combat tours. While Mitch has blocked bills that would help veterans in need, I will work to fully fund the VA and ensure that veterans can have immediate access to mental health services in times of crisis.
  • Legalize Medical Marijuana to Improve Health Care: Many veterans suffering from chronic pain and PTSD report improved health outcomes from medical cannabis. I stand with the American Legion in calling for the removal of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug and permit its use to treat ailments that veterans, and others, face. It may also alleviate dependence on opioids for pain relief, and that alone is a meaningful reason to consider moving in that direction.
  • Protect Women Veterans’ Health: Congress needs to enact the Deborah Sampson Act and ensure that the safety and privacy concerns of women veterans are addressed. We must also pass the HEALTH Act, which would launch a pilot initiative developed to educate female service members about programs for women run by the VA. This legislation was passed by the House by a voice vote but was left to waste in McConnell’s Senate.

Ensure Congress Works for Veterans and Troops

Our service men and women have made great sacrifices for our country. We owe it to our veterans and those who currently serve in uniform to keep our promises to them. The burden that our veterans and military families bear demands the best that we can offer as Americans. I will stand up for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coasties, and Marines. That means Congress needs to work for the Military and our veterans just as much as they work for themselves. Here are some ways we can show our troops we honor their sacrifice:

  • Prevent Predatory Businesses from Hurting Veterans: I will make sure Congress doesn’t change or make unenforceable the law that stops payday lenders from fleecing our enlisted personnel right outside the gates of military bases. I will push back against for-profit “colleges” that target veterans and leave them with high student loans, and I will work to take down scammers that exploit former military personnel.
  • Close Legislative Loopholes: We need to work aggressively to close the 90/10 loophole on GI Bill and Tuition Assistance dollars to keep for-profit bad actors from raiding the benefits service members and veterans have earned.

End Forever Wars

Our current Congress has shirked its oversight responsibility, casually consenting to the costs of war for almost 20 years without feeling the personal loss in battle of friends and comrades, like myself and my husband have. We need to bring our troops home and ensure any future deployments are fully justified. Here’s how:

  • Reassert Congress’s Authority: Mitch McConnell’s Senate has been the weakest in recent history when it comes to foreign policy. That’s unacceptable. Congress needs to start dictating policy on our security again. To start, we need to revise the War Powers Act of 1973 to ensure war powers reside in the Senate, not with the President, like our Founders intended.
  • Reevaluate the AUMF: Our forever wars have gone on because our Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) is open-ended, with no set point where Congress has to reevaluate it and with a fungible justification for taking action. We need a new AUMF, preferably with a fixed end date (five years for example), after which another new AUMF would be required. However, if Congress failed to replace it, the previous authorities could remain in effect temporarily so as not to leave the country defenseless in the event of the always present threat of Washington gridlock.
  • Use Intelligence before Using Force: We should also require the director of national intelligence to certify that any new extremist group has ideology and goals related to al-Qaeda, or broader violent extremism/Salafism, before a president is permitted to strike it. Doing so would prevent a president from using the AUMF for entirely different purposes than its original intent, while allowing flexibility if new terrorist groups splinter off from old ones or simply change their names to avoid being targeted.

Support Active Duty Families

I haven’t just been a member of the military myself. Having been married to another pilot, I know how challenging it is when your loved one is overseas, especially when you have young children. There are significant emotional and practical challenges that come with living on military bases and having a loved one deployed, and so Congress needs to do as much as possible to help active-duty families. Here’s how we can begin doing that better:

  • Fully Fund Child Care: More than 40 percent of service members have children, and the largest cohort of these children is under age five. We need to ensure that installation Child Development Centers (CDCs) are fully funded. In addition, we need to expand the fee assistance program in cases where military families cannot use installation child care providers. This program helps families afford more expensive community based care.
  • Improve the School Transition Process for Military Children: The average military child will move six to nine times between kindergarten and twelfth grade and may attend two or more high schools. We need to raise awareness around the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, to help ease the transition for children between school districts and states. We should also promote efforts to streamline enrollment requirements across states and raise awareness of the unique needs of military childrens.
  • Provide Safe Housing: For far too long, the government has provided substandard housing to military families. Military families deserve safe, clean, affordable housing, and I will work to put in place a tenant bill of rights for military housing so that no military family is taken advantage of.
  • Expand Opportunities for Military Spouses: The frequent moves and unique demands on a military spouse make it challenging for them to have a traditional career. Military spouse unemployment remains six times higher than the civilian population. We need to create and increase access to programs that connect military spouses to employment and education opportunities.

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Cleaning Up the Washington Swamp

PAID FOR BY AMY MCGRATH FOR SENATE

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