What We Wish More Senators Were Doing

Whether you agree with his politics or not, it’s hard to argue that Senator Bernie Sanders (I – VT) is doing a lot of good for the veterans in his state. In addition to recent efforts on Capitol Hill to increase benefits for veterans nationwide, Senator Sanders schedule three different meetings today all over the state of Vermont to communicate to veterans all the benefits that are available to them. There are many new benefits or changes to existing benefits that have occurred over recent years, and Senator Sanders said Thursday, “The main purpose is to make sure that every veteran in the state of Vermont knows the benefits that he or she is entitled to, whether it is disability issues, health care issues, housing. Whatever it may be, I want veterans to know what they’re entitled to.”


The scheduled meetings have caused no small stir in Vermont, with the director of the White River Junction VA Medical Center also attending all three. There will be an informational portion of each meeting as well as a Q&A to answer any remaining questions. It should be a successful and educational experience for all those who are able to attend. More importantly, it shows a vested interest in the well-being of the veterans in Vermont.


While it is true that every politician has areas of emphases; things they tend to focus on and try to make a difference in (we’ve all heard the term ‘political agenda’), it certainly is not an impossibility that more senators could take the time to help the veterans in the state they represent to understand what benefits are available to them. Granted, many states are much bigger geographically than Vermont, so holding three meetings in one day in different parts of the state may be neither possible nor sufficient, but that is hardly the only way to reach out to veterans.


After speaking with many veterans, it becomes apparent that a good portion of them actually feel embarrassed, apologetic, or even guilty about inquiring after benefits because to them it feels like asking, “what more can I get for free?” While this perception is flawed, and veterans have a right and perhaps even a responsibility to themselves and their families to hold the country and state to the contract they made with it, it doesn’t change the fact that many veterans feel this way. This is one reason why it is important for those most familiar with veteran benefits to find ways of getting the information on benefits to those veterans without them having to ask.


Also, in many cases, the veteran just doesn’t know what questions to ask. This is mostly the case when it comes to state-specific benefits. Some states have housing benefits that is not done on a federal level. If a veteran did not know about housing benefits, how would he or she think to ask about them to find out? A senator from their home state should be very familiar with these state-specific benefits and passionate about spreading the word to veterans in the state they represent so that veterans can get the benefits they’ve earned. Unfortunately the great majority of senators seem to have different “areas of focus” than veterans and veterans benefits. This seems odd, and poorly timed, seeing as how waves of new veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and the backlog at the VA is appalling.


Many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are returning with traumatic brain injuries or post traumatic stress disorder and submitting claims in regards to those conditions. The high influx is attributed to better technology helping military personnel survive things that would not have been survived in the past. Many lasting injuries have been claimed as veterans continue to return from Iraq and Afghanistan.


Perhaps with issues relating to veterans benefits and the VA coming up in the mainstream media and local newsgroups all over the country, more senators will take a vested interest in the usage of benefits by veterans in their home state. In the meantime, most state websites have information on benefits available to veterans in their state and how to access them, and a call to the VA can answer many questions about federal benefits options available.

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