Veteran Basic Income could be the solution the VA has been searching for

Veteran Basic Income could be the solution the VA has been searching for
Veteran Basic Income could be the solution the VA has been searching for

By Yelena Duterte

See original post here.

Five years ago this February, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) underwent an overhaul of its appellate process when it implemented the Appeals Modernization ActCongress wanted to shorten wait times for veterans, provide more choices in the appeals process and afford clear and understandable decisions. 

This band-aid fix did not mend the broken system that is VA benefits, as veterans are still waiting an average of about 41 months for the Board of Veterans Appeals to adjudicate claims. Unfortunately, that wait time is only one step in the process and does not include the initial application, remands back to the VA Regional Office or appeals to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. 

As a researcher specializing in veterans law and disabilities, I have witnessed the significant harm the VA system has on veterans. 

The VA benefits system relies heavily on the medical community to provide diagnoses, research on medical conditions and their causes, and the expertise of examiners to provide opinions on how an event or exposure during military service is related to a veteran’s condition. This overreliance on the medical community, however, impairs veterans. 

First, there are significant concerns for veterans receiving a proper medical diagnosis.  

For instance, doctors who conduct lung testing are trained to “race-correct” results if the patient is Black, even though studies have shown that there is no biological reason to do so. That means even if a Black veteran may have a significant lung condition, because of the race adjustment, a doctor could find the results to be normal. Further, women — especially women of color — have historically not been believed by doctors, due to implicit biases and systemic biases within the medical community. These medical tests and disbelief of women and people of color not only impact adequate treatment but will likely cause the VA to deny needed benefits. 

Second, science often lags behind the lived experiences of veterans. Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data that several cancers, including esophageal cancer, may be related to toxic water exposure at Camp Lejeune more than four decades ago. Brain cancer is now associated with burn pits, unfortunately, years after Beau Biden passed away from that very disease after his service in Iraq. We have watched Vietnam veterans fight for decades to get recognition of the harmful effects of Agent Orange. 

Veterans cannot wait for science to catch up, especially when they are suffering from terminal illnesses. Scientists and the medical community just do not have enough data to determine that association until decades after the exposure — sometimes too late for many veterans. 

The old adage “delay, deny, wait til I die” appears to be many veterans’ experiences. 

This system has become inherently adversarial, requiring attorneys to advocate for veterans because of the complexity of the system. Congress must change the VA benefits system to a Veteran Basic Income — a monthly, unconditional income for all veterans who are discharged from military for service. This monthly payment may create a softer landing for military members when they transition to civilian life. 

We are in a significant recruitment slump, where the Navy is removing barriers to enlistment. The promise of a veteran basic income could encourage civilians to serve their country with an understanding that it, in addition to the GI Bill, will be a step out of poverty and into the middle class. 

For many veterans, the VA system requires them to relive past traumas to prove their entitlement to benefits. In many cases, the trauma veterans experience — like sexual trauma or combat trauma — is not officially reported. Some of my clients decide not to move forward on their case because of the repeated requirement to tell another person about their experiences — their advocate, a doctor, in an affidavit, and even testimony — to provide the VA with proof of their experience.        

A Veteran Basic Income would alleviate or mitigate some of these burdens. 

Basic Income has also been shown to reduce homelessness, and lower mental health symptoms. Housing has also been shown to improve health outcomes for veterans. With veterans’ homelessness spiking recently and suicide rates at 17-18 veterans per day, Basic Income is the answer that may solve the bigger problems facing veterans and the VA. 

Veteran Basic Income would be costly at the front end. Yet, it is shown that those who have income, are housed and have access to health care save money for the entire system. It would be a massive change for veterans and the VA, but this would allow the VA to do what it is best at: providing care to those who served. 

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