"Our nation’s veterans and active duty military have sacrificed for all of us. They deserve the very best opportunities and benefits we can provide." - Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator
New York is home to over 890 thousand men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Gillibrand is working hard to improve the lives of the millions of Americans currently serving in our military and our veterans. Gillibrand has championed an agenda to improve access to benefits for our veterans and ensure that when active duty servicemembers return home, there are more job opportunities available to them, and the educational and training tools needed for success in the private sector are easily accessible.
Ensuring Educational Opportunities For Our Veterans
Having fought for passage of the new Post 9/11 GI bill during her time in the House of Representatives, Senator Gillibrand continues the fight in the Senate by supporting legislation to improve and protect the education of America’s veterans. Now, she is working to ensure that veterans have the support they need during their education and have access to the tools necessary to for success in academic and training programs. Additionally, too many of America’s veterans are unable to find a job when they get home. Senator Gillibrand has been a strong advocate for legislation to improve employment opportunities for returning veterans.
Since the VOW to Hire Heroes Act was passed, Senator Gillibrand is working to further strengthen the Transition Assistance Program by enabling veterans to retake the program at a later date and make the program available at additional locations away from Department of Defense facilities.
Senator Gillibrand also announced bipartisan legislation last year to address the skills gap employers face and enhance job training to help workers develop the skills they need for good-paying, high-demand jobs. The Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act of 2015 would create a $5,000 tax credit for employers that use apprenticeship programs to train workers in high-demand professions such as health care, manufacturing and technology. The bill also would allow veterans in apprenticeships to get credit for previous military training and experience, as well as incentivize mentoring of apprentices by senior employees.
Protecting Vietnam Veterans Exposed To Agent Orange
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide presumptive coverage to Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. However, in 2002, the VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion prevents thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore. Senator Gillibrand reintroduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, legislation to ensure that thousands of Navy veterans, known as “Blue Water” veterans, are able to receive the disability and health care benefits they earned after exposure to Agent Orange while fighting in the Vietnam War.
Senator Gillibrand has been pushing for the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act alongside a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be covered by the VA if they served within “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would make it easier for the VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected health conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans. In April 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims struck down VA rules that denied compensation for veterans who were docked at certain harbors in Vietnam, and ordered the VA to review its policy. A bicameral concurrent resolution was introduced in support of Senator Gillibrand’s bill, also calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend presumptive coverage to all veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving in water during the Vietnam War.
Ensuring Access To Benefits and Care
The transition from Active Duty member to retired veteran can be confusing and complicated. As thousands of men and women return from service overseas, it is vital that the process be easy and that servicemembers have access to all of the benefits they have earned. Unfortunately, for too many veterans, receiving the VA benefits they deserve is a frustrating and exhausting process, requiring them to onerously document their eligibility and prove that they have earned the benefits they’re entitled to. Senator Gillibrand is actively working to connect veterans with resources and services in their area, by offering a page on her website with a comprehensive index of veterans’ services across New York State. The online tool aims to support those that serve and have served us bravely by locally equipping them with federal resources across a wide range of topics including federal job listings, career counseling, education benefits and scholarships, small business grants, housing assistance, health services, resources for women veterans, wounded warriors, and family and caregiver assistance. To assist New York military servicemen and women, veterans, and their families, Senator Gillibrand’s site maps resources and contacts in each of New York’s 62 Counties. Click here to visit the Veteran’s Resources page. Senator Gillibrand is also passionate about America’s veterans having access to timely and appropriate healthcare. She was a strong supporter of both the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, a bill aimed at improving the mental health and substance abuse related treatments offered at the VA, and the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act, a piece of legislation that directs the VA to identify mental health and suicide prevention programs that are both effective and have the highest satisfaction for female veterans.