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Kaitlynne Hetrick | July 14, 2020

#AdvocacyUpdate: June Unemployment Numbers, House and Senate VA Hearings, and more!

On June 17, President Trump and the White House unveiled the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) Task Force roadmap after over a year of research. The plan was meant to be released in March but was delayed, reportedly due to COVID-19. The Roadmap details an ambition plan that focuses on public awareness campaigns and coordinated research that, through significant coordination and collaboration between government agencies, could make a positive impact in reducing nationwide suicide numbers. 

On July 7, PREVENTS held a briefing and released their campaign, REACH, intended to raise awareness for suicide. You can visit their website here to learn more. IAVA is encouraged to see the groundwork being laid for bringing increased national attention to solving the problem of veteran suicide, but the reality is that this is not an adequately comprehensive Roadmap. Read IAVA’s press release on the recent PREVENTS plan HERE

Veteran unemployment fell over two percent in June, from 13.3 % in May to 11.1% in June. Before the pandemic, veteran unemployment held steady at 4.1 percent and skyrocketed as COVID-19 forced many businesses to shut their doors. Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans unemployment held steady at 10.3 percent. You can read more about the new unemployment numbers HERE.

Last week, the House Veterans Affairs Committee subcommittee on Health held a hearing this week on veteran reproductive healthcare and discussed access to contraception, in vitro fertilization, and abortion. Currently,  IVF treatments are available for veterans that have service-connected disabilities causing infertility and VA must reauthorize IVF services every two years. IVF treatments are also not available for single veterans or same-sex couples. Contraceptives are also offered by VA but require a co-pay, a barrier that many civilians with private insurance are not faced with due to the Affordable Care Act mandating many insurance companies to cover birth control at no cost. Read more about the hearing HERE and you can watch the full hearing HERE.

On April 22, 2020, Spc. Vanessa Guillen, then a private first class, went missing from Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, TX. Her family worked tirelessly to gain attention for her disappearance. Spc. Guillen, reportedly, experienced sexual harassment from her superiors but did not report for fear of retaliation. On June 30th, a third-party discovered a body that was officially confirmed to be Spc. Guillen on July 5th. IAVA formally released a statement on her disappearance and called on the Army for more transparency in her case. This case strongly underscores the issues with sexual assault and harassment within the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs and the drastic need for stronger policies and culture change. Read IAVA’s full press release on Spc. Guillen’s case HERE and you can read more about the case HERE. Take Action and urge your Senators to cosponsor the Military Justice Improvement Act (S. 1789), which is designed to address the systemic fear that survivors of military sexual assault have in deciding whether to report the crimes committed against them. 

On July 8, The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing on “bad paper” discharges. According to GAO, three in five veterans who have been discharged for misconduct between 2011 and 2015 were also diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, or other service-related conditions. Combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan took a significant toll on the emotional and mental health of servicemembers and research shows there were dramatic upticks in drunk driving, self-medicating coping, and other misconduct. Former Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary, Chuck Hagel, penned a memo in 2014 to the secretaries of each service branch instructing them to be more lenient to veterans requesting discharge upgrades who show evidence of having PTSD. Learn more about the discharge upgrade process here

On July 9, The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the role the DoD plays in civilian law enforcement. DoD secretary, Mark Esper fielded questions about Russian bounties for American troops and General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs expressed his commitment to retaliate if these reports were proven valid. General Milley also stated his dedication to protecting Americans’ First Amendment rights, eliminating racism is the military, and renaming bases named after confederates who he deemed as “traitors.” Watch the full hearing here

QRF

We know that this time can be stressful and IAVA’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) is here to help! This program provides 24/7 peer support, comprehensive care management, resource connections, and can help with accessing your VA benefits. To get connected to a Veteran Care Manager for immediate help anytime, day or night, please call 855-91RAPID (855-917-2743) or fill out our online form. Our services are remote, free, and confidential and QRF is here for all veterans, regardless of era, discharge status, or location. If you are a veteran or a veteran family member facing challenges or have questions, QRF is here to help you get back on your feet and meet your goals.

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