Since the conception of our Constitution, serving our veterans has been the one obligation we commit to in exchange for protection by our military. The Trump administration’s budget will increase funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it doesn’t come close to the increase given to the Department of Defense. Their proposal also cuts programs in the VA’s budget, which will harm our service members and their families. In Congress, I will stand up for our veterans, here in CA-25 and across the nation.
Trump’s budget aims to reduce veterans’ disability cost-of-living benefits, makes it difficult for disabled veterans to attain Individual Unemployability status for service-connected disabilities. In order to save $1.2 billion over the next decade, it aims to lower the threshold for some medical evaluations. This effectively eliminates up to 180,000 medical exams a year and reduces disability compensation net-worth calculations. The proposed increases all go to information technology, health care, and modernization, but not in amounts that will actually increase veteran care – not when the military is getting more funding, which results in the addition of more veterans that the system cannot support.
Unemployment & Education
One of the biggest problems for veterans is unemployment. While the current veteran unemployment rate mirrors the national overall unemployment rate, veterans often have more trouble gaining employment due to service-connected disabilities or lack of access to traditional four-year degrees. Employers increasingly value traditional education over military service. I firmly believe that the leadership skills and experience gained during active duty service is not only valuable on the battlefield but should also carry weight in the civilian workforce. The second largest Air Force base in the country is part of our community, and we have many veterans who are technical experts and proven leaders. They are ready to help jumpstart a global hub of green technology research and development right here in our district. We need to provide veterans local opportunities for education and employment so they can succeed in the jobs of the future. My plan is to ensure veterans play a key role in the economic revitalization of California’s 25th district.
The VA does support veterans’ education through the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) program, but it is far from perfect. Many veterans, particularly those with disabilities, are fed through online schools (i.e. “diploma mills”) and come out with an often-impractical degree. These predatory for-profit colleges tend to prey on low-income and immigrant communities, while these veterans depend on veteran benefits such as the G.I. Bill. However, while no more than 90% of these colleges’ revenue can come from federal monies, current legislation allows them to treat military benefits as private sources of financing. Service members, veterans, and their families are not dollar signs in uniform. I will fight to stop the abuse of the 90/10 Rule and am committed to revoking the accreditation of schools that are focused on profits over people.
All of my conversations with local veterans have a common thread — they aren’t being served effectively here. The nearest VA provides care of the highest quality, but getting there is the real problem. For example, there is only ONE full-service VA hospital in Los Angeles County, which also serves our district. That same hospital simultaneously serves veterans from San Bernardino, Kern, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties. The Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System VA hospital in West Los Angeles is already congested with LA County veterans, veterans from other counties notwithstanding.
The Veterans Choice program was created to alleviate the long distances people travel to receive care, but not many providers accept it. Incidentally, the only local hospital in the Santa Clarita Valley, HMNMH, has not grown at the same rate the valley has. It is equally congested and we need action now. As a Representative in Congress, I will work with local officials, businesses, and our local medical and veteran communities to fight for a new VA Hospital in the district—ideally in the Santa Clarita Valley or the Antelope Valley. This would increase veterans’ access to care and bring thousands of new jobs to the district. Concurrently, I will push for the new hospital to be a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), meaning that services can also be provided to the local non-veteran population.
Healthcare is a right, and it is our duty to provide it to all those who wear the uniform without exception. In particular, I will focus on ensuring that the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense guarantee full healthcare services to all transgender veterans and members of our Armed Forces.
An increasing number of healthcare providers, especially those here in California, are prescribing medical marijuana. A non-partisan survey of veteran households found that 90% of veterans are in favor of decriminalization of marijuana. Although legal here, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug federally, meaning it is still illegal for Federal employees. I stand with veterans all across the country in their push to re-categorize cannabis to (at minimum) a Schedule II drug so doctors who work for the federal government can prescribe it to their patients. Currently, federal law prohibits VA doctors from even talking about cannabis therapy with patients. I will work to bring about commonsense legislation that is based on evidence and facts in support of the medical uses and effective treatment associated with marijuana.
Veteran homelessness is a disgrace. In Los Angeles County alone, veteran homelessness has increased by 57% in the last year. Budget cuts, or more specifically, realignment of funds, have stalled the VA’s efforts to curb homelessness in Los Angeles County. The Trump administration’s budget for 2019 has moved funds meant for the construction of a $5 million facility with 1,200 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans. While other pressing issues such as medical care and suicide prevention must be swiftly addressed, ending homelessness among our veterans and their families must also remain high in our list of priorities.
I will fight to ensure those funds are prioritized for their original designation, as well as increasing the effort to build similar units in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.
The United States of America must honor its promise to those who have pledged their loyalty to our nation. Veterans who have served our country, regardless of immigration status, are patriots who put their lives on the line for our families and our communities. We owe them the same allegiance in return. Over the last few decades, many legal residents joined the Armed Forces and served proudly in a variety of combat zones. In return for their service, we have deported them to over 30 different countries. In many cases, a minor infraction was the excuse used to justify their deportation.
We must do the right thing and ensure all noncitizen service men and women remain in this country - the country they call home and have sworn to defend. I will work tirelessly to pass legislation granting full citizenship to all military service members who have served at least two years, and to retroactively grant full citizenship to veterans who served for at least two years as long as they have received an Honorable, General, or Other than Honorable discharge. Furthermore, I will fight to establish legislation that allows eligible deported veterans to re-enter the United States and paves a path toward citizenship.