Last night, everyone had a blast at The Huffington Post Ball. But today, all eyes are focused on our nation's Capitol. I'm pleased to report that IAVA members are well-represented at the historic Inauguration of President Obama.
But after all the ceremonies, the parades and the parties end, the real work begins. We all know that our country is facing tremendous challenges. While times are tough for the country as a whole, the economic crisis is hitting our newest generation of heroes even harder. Foreclosure rates in military towns are increasing at four times the national average. The unemployment rate of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have left the active-duty military was over 8 percent in 2007, about 2 percent higher than their civilian peers. And already 2,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are homeless.
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are facing a host of other issues as well, from alarming rates of mental health injuries to inadequate VA healthcare. This is why IAVA is calling on the Obama administration to take bold action on each of the following items within the first 100 days in office:
•Prioritize veterans in the economic stimulus package. Caring for our veterans isn't just the right thing to do - it is a sound economic investment. We need tax credits for patriotic employers that hire new veterans and reservists, support for veterans struggling with student loans, and an investment in shovel-ready projects like repairing veterans' hospitals and cemeteries.
•Ensure that veterans don't have to fight for hospital and clinic funding. Because of delays and backlogs in Congress, the veterans' budget is often passed late, forcing VA facilities to ration care. Imagine trying to plan your family's budget if you didn't know the amount of your next paycheck. That is what the VA has to do every year. Advance-funding the VA budget will ensure that veterans get the care they need in a timely fashion.
•Implement GI Bill transferability. The historic Post-9/11 GI Bill, passed last year, included a provision to allow servicemembers to transfer their GI Bill education funding to a spouse or dependent. But the military has been dragging its feet on getting the regulations in place, so servicemembers are still waiting for that benefit. President Obama must give the bureaucracy a kick in the pants, and make this benefit a reality.
•Aggressively address troops' mental health injuries. The military has a dangerous shortage of mental health professionals right now. The Obama Administration should act immediately to implement new recruitment and retention bonuses and special pays to encourage psychiatrists and psychologists to join and stay in the military and VA.
President Obama and the First Lady have frequently pledged support for our military families and veterans out on the campaign trail. But as President Obama takes the oath of office, we want to make sure that he does not forget these promises. Please join IAVA in signing an open letter to President Obama, asking him to ensure that veterans' issues are made a top priority. We look forward to serving as a resource to the new Administration. But we'll also be working to ensure that the promises made to those who have served our country are promises kept.