August 15, 2014

Worcester Telegram & Gazette Op-Ed: Fighting for local veterans

Our men and women in uniform serve our country with honor and courage, putting themselves in harm's way to protect us. All three of my brothers served in the military, and my oldest brother was career military - he flew 288 combat missions in Vietnam. I understand how much service members and their families contribute to our country, and how important it is that we honor their service.

We owe our service members the very best, and that means ensuring they always have access to high-quality services and good benefits.

Two weeks ago, Congress passed the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, which I was glad to vote for in the Senate. The legislation will improve the delivery of care and strengthen accountability at the Veterans Administration.

I think of it as a down-payment on our debt to our veterans.

This veterans bill is particularly good news for veterans in Worcester County, because it includes $4,855,000 to support the Worcester Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System.

This funding, which I worked to include in the bill - along with my colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, will help make sure veterans in Worcester have access to the critical health care services they need and deserve.

Being there for our veterans means ensuring access to good health care and good jobs, and it also means making sure they aren't targeted and cheated.

When I was working to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), one of my top priorities was setting up the Office of Servicemember Affairs to look out for service members, veterans, and their families who are too often the targets of predatory lenders and financial scams.

Last fall, Holly Petraeus, the Director of the CFPB's Office of Servicemember Affairs, joined me in Massachusetts to meet with military families in Lowell and Charlestown to talk about financial issues affecting veterans, and how they could access resources offered by the CFPB.

As senator, I am focusing on how we can pass additional legislation to ensure Washington works to support our service men and women across the commonwealth.

Last month, I co-sponsored the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Rights Protection Act (S. 1999), a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jack Reed (D-RI) that would help protect service members' rights regarding their contracts for financial products such as credit cards, mortgages and student loans.

Another way Congress can address financial scams targeting veterans is by passing the Veterans Care Financial Protection Act, the bipartisan bill I introduced with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). This legislation directs the VA to work with other federal agencies and states to crack down on those who target veterans receiving the VA's Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefit, which helps pay for assisted living or in-home personal care for veterans who qualify for a VA pension. Scam artists target these most senior and vulnerable veterans to divert the federal funds intended to support them.

For thousands of our oldest veterans who need help with basic daily activities, the Aid and Attendance program is a critical lifeline. Unfortunately, scams are turning the program into something that can actually undermine the financial security of our older veterans and waste federal funds. Our bill would be a huge step forward in putting an end to these financial scams and would help ensure that we honor our veterans' service to the nation.

In order for Washington to do its part to help Massachusetts veterans, it must also be a good partner for community organizations that play such a key role providing services to former military members here at home.

When I visited Veterans Inc. in Worcester, I heard from local vets and advocates about their efforts to assist homeless veterans and help get them back on their feet. This work is powerfully important, and that's why I was very happy in July that the organization received more than $300,000 in federal grants through the U.S. Department of Labor's Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. This funding will help Veterans Inc. continue to provide services for veterans across New England.

Our armed service men and women are tough, smart, and courageous. They make incredible sacrifices to keep our families safe, and we owe them all a true debt of gratitude for their service. I'm going to keep fighting in the Senate for our veterans here in Worcester and across Massachusetts to ensure we are doing our part to support those who have put their lives on the line day in and day out for all of us.

Elizabeth Warren is a Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

Read the op-ed on the Worcester Telegram & Gazette's website here.


By:  Senator Elizabeth Warren
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette