Taking Action at Home
Our nation’s service men and women put everything on the line in defense of America’s freedom. It’s imperative that we keep political leaders informed of the challenges facing veterans and their families.
Since our founding 100 years ago, DAV has been responsible for the promotion of meaningful, reasonable and responsible public policy for wartime service-disabled veterans, their dependents and survivors. It has been an integral part of who we are and what we do from the start.
Because of you, we can help veterans exposed to toxic substances receive the critical benefits they need, enhance veterans’ access to mental health care, and improve benefits services for women veterans.
Help Veterans Exposed to Toxic Substances
Veterans experiencing breathing and other health issues after being exposed to toxins from burn pits or other hazardous materials during military service can face significant obstacles when filing disability claims. Providing proof of toxic exposures can be difficult if there is insufficient documentation of a veteran’s exposure in their military records. Furthermore, a connection between an exposure and illness must be established by a medical professional who may be unaware of specific toxins that were emitted from burn pits.
In the case of burn pits—more research is needed to establish a presumptive service connection between a toxic exposure and illnesses, but it can take years for results. However, we can help these veterans now by enacting legislation that “concedes” a veteran’s exposure to certain toxins known to be emitted from burn pits. Sick veterans who were exposed to these toxins need benefits and care for their health issues now.
We must urge Congress to enact legislation to concede burn pit exposure and remove the obstacles for veterans having to prove their individual exposure to burn pits and the types of toxins emitted, for claims based on direct service connection. We are also urging Congress to enact legislation to include hypertension and MGUS as presumptive diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure, and to allow ill veterans who served at K2—a U.S. military base with multiple known toxic substances, access to VA health care.
Enhance Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care
A strong foundation for effective suicide prevention is timely access to high-quality mental health care for all veterans. But, inadequate staffing and increased demand for mental health treatment threatens the VA’s ability to provide timely, high-quality mental health care.
All veterans, including those in rural and remote areas, deserve preventative mental health services as a part of their primary care. Without better implementation of mental health services, reducing suicide among veterans will remain a problem.
We urge Congress to require mandatory suicide prevention training for all VA clinical staff and its community care partners to ensure veterans receive proper screening, crisis interventions and mental health treatment. Furthermore, the VA should require that protocols included in the VA’s Safety Planning in Emergency Departments — or SPED program — are mandatory for every veteran in mental health crisis who seeks emergency or urgent care services from VA or a community care network provider.
The VA must consistently update, disseminate and train staff and community partners on established mental health clinical practice guidelines and evidence-based treatments for commonly experienced conditions among veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder (related to combat and/or military sexual trauma), substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury and suicidal ideation.
Improve Benefits Services for Women Veterans
While the Veterans Health Administration has evolved over time to meet the needs of its increasingly diverse patient population, serious gaps remain in access, usage rates and health outcomes among women and other minority veteran populations, including racial, ethnic, sexual orientation and gender identity groups.
The VA must take action to ensure all enrolled veterans have equitable access to health care and services and improve health outcomes across its patient population.
We urge the VA to develop a comprehensive plan to change VA culture and create a safe, harassment free environment that is welcoming to all veterans. DAV calls on the VA to prioritize data collection and analysis to identify health trends, access issues, disparity in health outcomes and differences in patient experience among women and minority veteran population. The VA must review the programs and methods used to deliver services to underrepresented and underserved veteran populations to ensure they are adequately meeting their unique needs, investigate cultural differences that create barriers for veteran subpopulations and develop ways to improve outreach to minority, at-risk and underserved groups.
We also urge Congress to introduce legislation for new VA peer support programs and integrative health treatment options that better reflect the demographics of its medical centers and needs of women veterans, racial and ethnic and sexual minority veteran populations.