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Officials Tout Progress on Veterans Issues

By Jim Garamone DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2015 — The Department of Veterans Affairs backlog is down, veterans can now get in-state tuition no matter where they live, and veteran homelessness has significantly decreased, according to White House officials.

Speaking on a press teleconference yesterday, the officials said more needs to be done, but there has been progress in veterans issues.  

Kristie Canegallo, the White House deputy chief of staff for implementation, said there is progress in each of President Barack Obama’s five pillars for veterans: health care, benefits, eliminating homelessness, expanding opportunities and resources.

Post-Crisis Transformation

“Last year, as everyone knows our veterans experienced an emerging health care crisis with too many waiting too long to receive health care,” Canegallo said. The VA has increased staffing, increased hours and working with partners in communities around the nation to deliver care to vets.

The next move is to streamline the “myriad of care in the community programs,” she said. “Right now, VA has seven different programs when it sends veterans into the community for care. These programs have different authorities, different services covered and on and on.”

She called on Congress to take up the VA proposal to streamline and “rationalize these programs.”

On benefits, she noted that VA has transformed the way it provides benefits to vets. These include electronically processing claims and reworking processes to be more efficient. “Today, the disability claims backlog -- once at crisis levels -- is at roughly 76,000 disability claims,” she said. “This is a nearly 90 percent reduction from its peak in March 2013 and a historic low.”

Again, more needs to be done and she called on Congress to help fix the appeals process, which can keep veterans in limbo for years, Canegallo said.

Veterans, too, have benefitted from the rebound of the American economy. “The veteran unemployment rate has now dropped to 3.7 percent – a seven-year low,” Canegallo said. “The rate was 9.9 percent at the beginning of 2011, and the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 4.6 percent today – a decrease from 12.1 in 2011.”

Ed Benefits Up, Homelessness Down

Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, spoke about progress in combatting homelessness and in providing education benefits. Since the inception of the post-9-11 GI Bill in 2009, VA “has provided over $57.9 billion … in education benefits to over 1.5 million individuals and their educational institutions,” she said.

Munoz announced that all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico “are providing recently transitioning veterans and their dependents with in-state tuition rates at institutions of higher learning.”

The government is also cracking down on schools that engage in deceptive and misleading advertising, she said.

The VA is also launching a new GI Bill comparison tool. It provides veteran-specific information about schools including graduation and retention rates “and it provides veterans with the information they need to determine which school programs produce the best outcome,” she said.

Munoz also spoke about the president’s plan to end veteran homelessness. Many believe this to be a noble goal that will always elude solution, she said. But beginning in 2010, the federal government working with the states, local cities, philanthropic groups and more has made tremendous progress in reducing veteran homelessness. Housing and Urban Development statistics show that veteran homelessness is down 36 percent since 2010 “and unsheltered homelessness is down by almost 50 percent,” she said. “This means tens of thousands of fewer veterans are on the street without a place to stay.”