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Honor the Service and Sacrifice of Veterans and Their Families

Only about 20 percent of IAVA members who responded to our 2014 Membership Survey felt that the American public understands the sacrifice of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.  This number is far too low and this perception must change. Service member and veterans need to feel supported by the American public, and it’s up to the American public to deliver on this.

As of June 30, 2015, 6,828 service members have given their lives for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nation must first honor these men and women by supporting their families who are left behind. Furthermore, the time has come for our nation to honor the sacrifice of our fallen post-9/11 troops with a memorial on the National Mall. A monument gives families and veterans a place to gather and mourn, and it gives the nation an enduring reminder of the heroism of our military and the sacrifices made.

Veterans of previous wars were the first to support our return home with open arms and an enthusiastic “welcome home,” which many of them never got. These men and women forged a trail for our generation and ensured the nation honors the service and sacrifice of today’s veterans and provides them the benefits and support they deserve. And yet, they continue to fight for their own recognition, benefits and honor for their missing peers. The nation must not only honor and support our current generation of veterans, but pay the long overdue tribute to those who have come before us.

6.1: Support the Families of the Fallen
6.2 Properly Honor the Fallen at Arlington
6.3: Create a Post-9/11 National Monument in Washington
6.4: Honor Those Who Came Before Us

6.1: Support the Families of the Fallen

One of our country’s most solemn duties is to support the families of the troops who gave their lives in its service. These families are forever a piece of the military community; yet too often they are forgotten, restricted from military bases and left out of many military and veteran initiatives. They have already lost loved ones, and must not be denied their community, too.

Surviving families deserve highly trained support when informed of their loss. Yet families continue to tell stories of insensitive or uninformed casualty officers who are unable to provide the support they need. The Department of Defense (DoD) must ensure that its casualty assistance officers are highly trained to help surviving family members navigate the system of care available to them.

Finally, our government should not be nickel and diming surviving families by cutting their earned annuities through the Survivor Benefit Program/Dependency Indemnity Compensation offset, which reduces benefits to family members from the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Surviving families must be given every honor and every resource, including financial.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Provide surviving family members with identification cards to ensure them continued access to military installations.

II. Improve training requirements for casualty assistance officers; ensure personnel are fully aware of survivor benefits.

III. Immediately eliminate the Survivor Benefit Program/Dependency Indemnity Compensation offset, which reduces benefits from DoD and VA.

IV. Establish a Gold Star Family Assistance Office within the Department of Defense.

V. Create a family advocate, modeled after the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) position, within the Army Criminal Investigation Command.

VI. Establish a database to register survivors.

VII. Investigate issues with the upkeep and storage of DD-93 forms, Record of Emergency Data that identify emergency contacts.

VIII. Include an option on DD-93 forms to opt out of showing parents or next of kin graphic autopsy photos.

IX. Ensure implementation of the VA advisory committee’s recommendation on establishing a case-management system for benefits coordination and registry for survivors.

X. Expand funding for non-profits that support families of the fallen like TAPS and Gold Star Families.

6.2 Properly Honor the Fallen at Arlington

As a nation, we honor the sacrifice of our fallen service members at the graves where we lay them to rest at Arlington and veterans’ cemeteries around the world. In doing so, we make it clear that their ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Four million veterans from every era and every conflict have been buried within the 19,000 acres of hallowed grounds of the National Cemetery Administration (NCA).  We honor their sacrifice and comfort their families by ensuring veteran cemeteries are adequately equipped to honor the service and history of our men and women in uniform.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Modernize operations at Arlington National Cemetery to ensure that no veteran is misplaced or dishonored.

II. Mandate that all remains and interment records at Arlington National Cemetery are properly tracked in an electronic database.

III. Ensure the handling and disposal of the remains of the fallen are held to the highest standards of respect and honor through the establishment and continual monitoring of adherence to protocols to this effect.

IV. Mandate that Arlington National Cemetery provide families with headstone information a week before burial to better insure proper burial and identification of those laid to rest.

6.3: Create a Post-9/11 Veterans National Monument in Washington

We must honor the service of today’s veterans alongside their fellow warriors who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. A new generation of veterans shouldn’t wait years to see a memorial in their honor, as those who served in Vietnam and World War II were forced to do. IAVA members overwhelming support the creation of a memorial and are standing by to galvanize all Americans in support.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Reserve a space in Washington, D.C. for a memorial that honors the sacrifices of post-9/11 veterans. Planning for the memorial should include both new veterans and Gold Star families.

II. Allocate government funding to build the memorial. America’s veterans should not be reduced to begging the general public for donations to a memorial that will serve not just the veterans community, but all Americans for generations to come.

6.4 Honor Those Who Came Before Us

The vast majority of post-9/11 veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to a warm welcome home and a thanks for their service. Unfortunately, many of the over 20 million veterans who preceded us were not given the same respect and gratitude for their service. Many, especially our brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam, returned to animosity and disrespect. As older veterans reach their senior years, it is past time to right this wrong. We must honor all those who came before us by educating the country of their service and sacrifice and account for all uniformed service members who are still missing. Veterans of all eras have served this great nation with honor and deserve to be recognized accordingly.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Invest in the development and construction of an education center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

II. Ensure the newly formed Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is properly resourced and fully integrates the former offices responsible for this work to provide the fullest possible accounting for all missing personnel to their families and the nation.

III. Extend caregiver services and support to qualifying disabled veterans of all conflicts.

IV. Establish a VA Medical Center that serves as a national center of research for the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions of descendants of individuals exposed to toxic substances while serving in the military.