It has been a landmark year for America’s contentious relationship with its military veterans amid difficult revelations about how the country will care for its veterans in the years ahead. Record numbers of current and former troops are taking their own lives. The economy, too, has been particularly brutal on their prospects for work after the uniform. Their healthcare system, meanwhile, was revealed to be simultaneously corrupted and dangerously overburdened.
“I believe we have not hit the bottom yet,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., on what lies ahead for the embattled department.
Miller and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced a breakthrough $17 billion deal on Monday to reform the VA. The pair held up their Sanders-Miller bill as an example of rare bipartisan progress in Congess. But even if the president signs it into law, “it’s only triage, the beginning of a much longer process,” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for IAVA.
“Expect 6-8 years for a fix to take shape,” Tarantino said. “For us it’s a policy problem. For those outside the beltway, it’s a personal problem.”
“We’ve gone from [department of motor vehicles]-style headaches to a loss of faith in the system,” said Leo Shane, congressional reporter for Military Times, moderating the opening session of Wednesday’s conference “The New Battleground: Veterans” produced by Defense One and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA.
“If we were losing 22 people a day on the battlefield,” said IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff, “we would be doing everything to tackle it.”
“This is not about me,” said Navy and Marine Corps veteran Montel Williams in his keynote address Wednesday. “But if you walk out of here today hating me, [make] sure you understand the commitment that we as a nation owe everyone of these young men—7,000 gave their lives…over 57,000 injured physically, and an untold number of them injured in ways that we won’t see.
“The debt they paid they will think about till the day they die. So how dare we not say to them, ‘Since this is what happened to you because you tried to protect and serve me, to allow us to be in this room, we will commit to taking care of you for the rest of your life.’”
Watch video of the day’s panels below.
- Phillip Carter, senior fellow, counsel and director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program, Center for a New American Security
- Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs
- Tom Tarantino, Chief Policy Officer, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
- Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, House VA Committee member
- Moderated by Leo Shane, Congressional Reporter, Military Times
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., former adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, Iraq veteran, delivers remarks on combatting suicide.
- Mike Haynie, Executive Director, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University
- Barbara Humpton, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Siemens Government Technologies
- Zach Iscol, Founder and CEO, HirePurpose
- Fred Wellman, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, ScoutComms
- Moderated by: Molly O’Toole, Politics Reporter, Defense One
- Joseph Kernan, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy, Ret., Chairman, NS2 Serves, Vice President of Business Development, SAP National Security Services
- Mark Testoni, President, NS2 Serves, President and Chief Executive, SAP National Security Services
- Moderated by: Constance Sayers Witherspoon, President, Government Executive Media Group
Keynote speech by Montel Williams
- Dr. William Nash, psychiatrist, Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs
- Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
- Lauren Augustine, Legislative Associate, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
- Moderated by: David Wood, Senior Military Correspondent, The Huffington Post
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii
- Alex Horton, Writer, former digital engagement official, Department of Veterans Affairs
- Mike Monroe, Division Administrator, Team Rubicon
- Former Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., host of MSNBC’s “Taking the Hill”
Moderated by: Stephanie Gaskell, Deputy Editor, Defense One