President Barack Obama’s “incremental” approach to fixing the benefits program for veterans isn’t going to last and is not what veterans want, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida told Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.
Miller, who is chairman of House Veteran Affairs Committee, said they have been focusing on the transitioning of veterans from active duty into veteran status over the past couple years but have met some challenges.
“Some of the things that we have been focusing on over the last couple of years...has been improving the Transition Assistance Program, which is where the veteran transitions out from active duty service into veteran status,” he said.
Watch the exclusive interview here.
“And, unfortunately, in years past, there hasn’t been a focus on what benefits are available as they transition out. The post-9/11 G.I. Bill: what can they get from their Department of Veterans Affairs? So you have had a lot of veterans over the years that haven’t been able to know what their benefits are.”
He continued: “What President Obama wants to try to do is to put small incremental fixes, if you will, that aren’t going to last. And that’s not what we want. We want veterans to be able to get jobs that are going to be careers for them, not something where money’s going to run out in a year, after the election, if you will, which is exactly what this Job Corps bill was. At $50,000 to create a job, where we have done bills within the Congress in a bipartisan fashion that are about $16,000 a job, and those veterans can make careers out of those jobs. So those are the things that we really need to focus on: long-term employment with good quality, high-paying jobs where a veteran can make a career.
Miller said the key is finding the right jobs to match veterans’ skills and qualities as workers.
“The structure is there from an employment standpoint,” he said. “The most important thing to focus on is what does that veteran want to do. A lot of times what the government’s good at is saying, ‘Well, you did XYZ in the military, so that’s where we need to plug you in.’ Well, guess what? There aren’t a whole lot of jobs for 50-caliber gunners from a Humvee. But they’ve got a great decision making quality about themselves. They know what it’s like to be a dedicated employee.”
Miller said, when it comes to dealing with the alarming rate of suicide among veterans, there is a shortage of mental health resources and the issue has become politicized by the Obama administration.
“Our committee has had numerous oversights, hearings,” he said. “We have passed bills. We have done some things to bring a focus to really what is a mental health crisis in this country. You know, unfortunately, again, this administration has gone in and used a mental health crisis in a political way. We need to make sure that veterans can get the help they need when they need it. Unfortunately, we have an overburdened system out there. We can’t hire enough mental health providers as quickly as we’re going to need them, even though the White House tried a couple of months ago to say that they were going to hire almost two thousand new employees, not telling the fact that we already had a 1,500 deficit in regards to folks.”
“What we need to look at is ways to provide those services outside of the box,” he continued. “There are networks that are used to working with active duty military individuals so they already know some of the things that they’re having to be confronted with. We could double, overnight, the capacity of mental health providers, in particular, just expanding and allowing veterans the choice, the option, to go outside of the VA system.
Responding to recent allegations of lavish conference spending within the Department of Veterans Affairs, Miller said that during tight fiscal times, there has to be a change in mindset at the agency when it comes to the budget.
“Training is necessary,” he said. “Everybody understands that. But, in the 21st century, there are ways to do it without loading up on an airplane and flying to a city somewhere far away from somebody’s home base. What we have found within the Department of Veterans Affairs is that, although they told me originally that their budget for conferences was $20 million a year, which still is a lot of money, it’s actually more like $100 million a year when you talk about the travel.”
“So you’ve got conferences that are costing $2, $3, $4 million with human resource individuals and, unfortunately, that’s taking away from the veterans’ benefits that they have earned, either healthcare or disability benefits,” he continued.
“Washington is great at this and, certainly, an organization that has a top heavy bureaucracy like the VA, they do it the way it’s always been done. Look, we’ve always loaded people on airplanes, we’ve flown them to a city somewhere. I mean, we’re finding out that they held the Golden Games in Hawaii at a tremendous cost. Now, sure, is it a good thing? Is it a heartwarming thing to do? Absolutely. But in tight fiscal times, do we need to be doing thing like that? No.
He concluded: “We are finding that there maybe have been some illegal benefits that were given to some federal workers as they were going around ‘looking’ for hotels in which to host these conferences. We’ve got to change the mindset within the Department of Veterans Affairs, change the focus. Get it away from spending. I mean their budget is almost $140 billion, a tremendous amount of money. And to think that they have been squandering for years, these dollars. Management has got to change, the midlevel management in particular. They’ve been doing this for a number of years.”
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