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Kaitlynne Hetrick | May 18, 2020

Read: #AdvocacyUpdate – IAVA Engages with VA and VSO Communicators, April Unemployment Numbers, and More

IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler and Executive VP Tom Porter participated in a May 6 call with VA Secretary Wilkie and VA senior leaders to receive updates on the Department’s COVID-19 response. Wilkie said he has submitted a VA reopening plan to OMB to review. Reopening is likely to start with states least impacted.  He mentioned he’d likely look at “Dallas to the Canadian border, west to Idaho, and south to Wyoming and Utah. There was very little impact in those states…What works in New York won’t work in Cheyenne.” VBA chief Dr. Lawrence said he is ready to implement the recently-enacted IAVA-backed student veteran legislation to prevent the loss/reduction of housing allowances and work study pay.  Of particular note, at the end of the call, Secretary Wilkie said he’d be putting up plaques with Lincoln’s words at every national cemetery. Presumably, he meant the VA motto “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” He has been forthright in opposing efforts by IAVA and others to encourage the VA to switch to a gender-neutral motto in order to help VA be more welcoming to female veterans.

On May 7, IAVA’s Kaitlynne Hetrick participated in a monthly call with VA and Veteran Service Organization (VSO) communicators to learn more about each other’s priorities for veterans. The discussion included VA’s COVID-19 efforts and what VA is doing to support their Fourth Mission of supporting the civilian medical community. The call also included a brief on “Accessing Mental Health Care During Coronavirus.” The brief was packed with helpful information on safeguarding mental health during the pandemic, and VA staff highlighted their Make The Connection program. Make The Connection is a one-stop online resource to privately explore mental health topics which includes 800+ unscripted stories of Veterans who faced challenges and took steps that improved their lives.

April’s unemployment numbers came in and veteran unemployment is up to almost 12 percent. The national unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the Great Depression at 14.7 percent. While these numbers are astounding, they do not completely come as a surprise, as many businesses have had to halt operations during the pandemic. Veterans who served in the Vietnam era, or before, saw the largest increase in unemployment at 17 percent, with the Post 9/11 generation following at 13 percent. Read more about the new unemployment numbers here.

Great news for our Maryland student veterans! Maryland is the first state to pass legislation protecting student veterans and closing the 90/10 loophole. The 90/10 law states that no more than 90 percent of a school’s revenue can be generated from federal funds. With the way the law was written, federal GI Bill benefits, military tuition assistance, and spousal tuition assistance are excluded from the 90 percent, creating a loophole that allows predatory schools to profit off of military-connected students. Closing the loophole is high on IAVA’s list of priorities, and we applaud Maryland for taking this phenomenal step for Student Veterans. We urge Congress to follow suit and pass the Protect Veterans’ Education and Taxpayer Spending Act of 2019 (S.2857), effectively closing the loophole for veterans across the U.S. Take Action and let Congress know it is past time to close the loophole!

We know that this time can be stressful and IAVA’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) is here to help! This program provides confidential 24/7 peer-to-peer support, comprehensive care management, and resource connections. To get connected to a Veteran Care Manager for immediate help anytime, day or night, please call 1-855-91RAPID or fill out our online form here. If you are a veteran or a veteran family member facing challenges, or if you have questions, QRF can help by providing 24/7 peer support and providing connections to quality resources so you can get back on your feet and meet your goals.

If you are currently experiencing a crisis please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1.800.273.8255, and press 1. Alternatively, use the Crisis Text Line by texting “RISING” to 741741.

Here are some helpful links if you or someone you know is seeking more information

The VA launched its new public health website HERE.
The DoD coronavirus response page is HERE.
If you are a TRICARE beneficiary, see guidance HERE.
Centers for Disease Control guidance HERE.

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