How the 2020 Democrats Plan to Help Veterans

How the 2020 Democrats Plan to Help Veterans

The large field of Democrats running for president may have differing views on the best way to provide health care to the masses or exactly how to reform the immigration system. But when it comes to helping America’s veterans they largely agree: The Department of Veterans Affairs needs some serious help, and those who have served need much better access to benefits, health care, housing, education and jobs.

On Veterans Day, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont released extensive plans outlining how they would help them. They follow a similarly detailed proposal unveiled last week by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and they join a lengthy list of policy plans released by candidates throughout the summer and fall.

Here’s a closer look at the measures Democrats are calling for, and how their proposals contrast with what President Trump has already done.

Almost every candidate agrees that the V.A. needs to be able to function better than it currently does and has pledged to give the agency the resources it needs to work efficiently. Mr. Buttigieg, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren are among those who have called for the agency to fill its more than 49,000 staffing vacancies. Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, among others, have said they would invest in modernizing V.A. hospitals, clinics and other infrastructure. And in a commonly heard refrain, several Democrats have promised to eliminate the perennial “benefits backlog” that forces tens of thousands of veterans to wait for a determination on the benefits they can receive.

Mr. Buttigieg, a former Navy intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, proposes making the V.A. apolitical “by appointing leaders with relevant expertise and ensuring continuity in leadership across administrations.” And in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, he said he’d seek to name a woman to head the agency for the first time. “I think leadership plays a huge role, so, absolutely I’d seek to name a woman to lead V.A.,” he said.

Several candidates have promised that under their administrations, veterans would get access to affordable and comprehensive health care. Under that umbrella, candidates like Mr. Sanders have specifically promised to guarantee dental care, expand the V.A.’s comprehensive caregiver program and other measures.

Multiple candidates also have called attention to veteran suicide and pledged to invest in research, mental health services and housing to help address the issue. Ms. Warren has said she would aim to reduce the number of veteran suicides by 50 percent within her first term. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey suggested appointing a White House official solely focused on working across agencies to cut the suicide rate.

Senator Kamala Harris of California, meanwhile, is among those who have called for expanding access to health care and housing assistance for veterans with “other-than-honorable” discharges, which they may have received because they experienced trauma or other reasons beyond their control.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and other candidates have also outlined ways to support veterans once they re-enter civilian life. For instance, Ms. Klobuchar has proposed extending G.I. Bill education benefits to members of the National Guard and Reserve and implementing a grant program that would invest in veteran education centers.

Several candidates have also said they would expand and improve incentives for companies to hire veterans, and that they would direct government agencies to invest in more veteran-owned businesses and entrepreneurship.

The entrepreneur Andrew Yang has argued for what he calls a “reverse boot camp” which would seek to help veterans adjust to life after the military by training them in skills like cooking, financial literacy and how to interview for a job.

Candidates also promised to rescind Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender servicemembers, stand up for victims of sexual assault in the military and protect veterans and family members of servicemembers from deportation.

Ms. Warren has called the ban on transgender servicemembers “shameful.” And Mr. Buttigieg said his administration would reach out to people who were discharged because of their gender identity and give them a chance to re-enlist.

Ms. Klobuchar said in her proposal that more than 20,000 servicemembers were sexually assaulted in 2018. She and other Democrats have proposed various ways to strengthen the prosecution of perpetrators and expand access to counseling for victims.

In her plan, Ms. Warren noted that protections from deportation for veterans have been eroding under the Trump administration, and pledged to restart a program that makes it easier for noncitizens who serve to become naturalized.

Mr. Trump, who kicked off the 100th annual New York City Veterans Day Parade in Manhattan on Monday, has also sought to court veterans, a group he views as a key piece of his political base. He has garnered support among some veterans for railing against “endless wars,” much like the 2020 Democratic candidate Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard who has served two combat tours in the Middle East.

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