117th Policy Agenda Letter from CEO
2020 was an incredibly challenging year for everyone, not only the veteran community. Shortly after we hosted many of our members in DC last March, our world shifted dramatically. Within a week we were in quarantine and have been working remotely ever since. However, despite the unprecedented challenges, IAVA remained steadfast in our commitment to the post-9/11 generation of veterans, and I am extremely proud of the work that we were able to accomplish in 2020. Working with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle we were able to pass critical reforms that will positively affect many veterans for years to come, including in areas of mental health care, women veterans, and veterans education. One year ago we urged Members of Congress in person to pass the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act and the Deborah Sampson Act, and I am proud that we were able to get both of those bills signed into law. We also worked to help pass timely protections for military-connected students that were facing an incredible amount of uncertainty as their schools went fully remote. Additionally, we helped to pass legislation last year to establish a national suicide prevention hotline, 9-8-8, to ensure that all Americans, including veterans, have easier access in times of crisis to lifesaving mental health and suicide prevention resources.
While 2020 was a landmark year for veterans legislation, as many of you know the work is far from over. In 2021 we remain focused on the oversight of these critical reforms, to ensure they are being enacted as Congress intended. Additionally, we must build on this momentum to continue to address the unmet needs of veterans, especially those veterans suffering from toxic exposures like burn pits. We can not let this issue become the Agent Orange of the post-9/11 generation. We believe that the 117th Congress is when veterans that have been exposed will finally get the health care and benefits that they rightfully deserve.
We also must recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and the effects of this unprecedented event will be long lasting. IAVA is proud to be part of the Veterans Coalition for Vaccination that is helping to combat COVID-19 to raise awareness, expand access, and ensure that all Americans have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. However, we must also address issues caused by this pandemic, such as veteran unemployment. Veterans were not immune to the damage that COVID-19 caused to the American economy and we once again saw the veteran unemployment rate rise, with the youngest generation of veterans the most severely impacted. IAVA will fight to expand resources for veterans that have lost their job due to the pandemic through aggressive retaining programs.
Chief Executive Officer
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America