Addressing toxic exposures. Earlier this week, VA began screening all veterans enrolled in VA health care for toxic exposures, thanks to a bipartisan bill President Biden got through Congress—marking the biggest expansion of VA health care in nearly 30 years. In August, President Biden signed the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act and announced that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs would make all presumptive conditions effective immediately. This new law makes it easier for veterans to get benefits and services they have earned. Since enactment, more than 137,000 toxic exposure related claims have been filed and more veterans are now eligible for health care. Thanks to this new law, 31 new clinical sites will be opened and more providers hired to deliver the care. The Department of Defense (DOD) also announced updates to its policies related to burn pits – thereby decreasing exposure for troops in the future.
Reducing veteran suicide. Since releasing a comprehensive public health strategy for reducing military and veteran suicide last year, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to improve suicide prevention efforts. This year, both DoD and VA have reported declines in suicide deaths, marking progress in federal efforts to prevent suicide. VA awarded $52 million in grants for 80 community-based organizations to deliver or coordinate suicide prevention programs and services for veterans and their family members. In July, the 988 Veterans Crisis Line went live to provide veterans and their loved ones an easy to remember number to help veterans in crisis.
Ending veteran homelessness. Thanks to efforts by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), and VA, as well as historic investments from the President’s American Rescue Plan, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness declined by 11% between 2020 and 2022 – the largest decline in the last five years – and our nation is on track to permanently house 38,000 veterans in 2022 alone. To further this progress, last month, VA awarded $130 million to support programs to help veterans and their families find stable housing. VA also released three new grant opportunities to provide veterans with rapid re-housing services, 11,000 temporary beds, and case managers who can help find community-based assistance and permanent housing.
Supporting women veterans. Women are the fastest growing group of veterans who use VA services. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing and providing resources for the specialized health care needs of women veterans including increasing cancer screenings, improving mental health care and access, addressing infertility and reducing intimate partner violence. Over the past year, VA has expanded access to reproductive health services to include abortion counseling and abortion services in limited circumstances, committed to improving maternal health, and placed a Women’s Mental Health Champion at every VA Medical Center to ensure women feel welcome and receive equitable treatment and care.
Removing barriers to services for LGBTQ+ veterans. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to protecting and serving our LGBTQ+ veterans. The Administration ended the ban on transgender service and directed a review of all policies and practices to ensure greater inclusivity of LGTBQ+ veterans. VA also committed to providing gender affirming care and resources in an inclusive environment. Last month, VA also announced it was extending survivor benefits for certain survivors of LGBTQ+ veterans.
Protecting service member and veteran education benefits. For too long, service members and veterans have been targeted by predatory marketing practices from for-profit educational institutions. In October, the Department of Education closed the 90/10 loophole in the Higher Education Act that allowed for-profit colleges to aggressively recruit veterans and service members. The revised definition means institutions will no longer be able to count money from veteran and service member benefits toward the 10% revenue requirement from non-federal sources requirement.
Protecting veterans and military families from fraud. In 2021 alone, veterans, military personnel, and their families reported fraud losses exceeding $267 million. The Biden-Harris Administration is working to better protect veterans and their families against these scams. VA, in partnership with the Department of Education, Federal Trade Commission, Social Security Administration, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, State Department, and Department of Defense are working to develop new consumer education initiatives, consolidated fraud reporting processes, and more rapid responses to fraud attempts against veterans and military personnel. More information will be released in the coming months.
Connecting more veterans with resources for training and employment. The Department of Labor and its partners are working to ensure all veterans have access to the resources they need to find gainful employment. This year, the Department of Labor (DOL), in partnership with the Department of Transportation, launched a 90-Day Trucking Apprenticeship Challenge that produced more than 2,000 veteran apprentices and 500 fully trained veteran trucking professionals. In April 2021, DOL launched the Employment Navigator Partnership Pilot (ENPP) to provide one-on-one career assistance to transitioning service members. Since launch, more than 6,500 service members and their spouses received assistance through the program.
Expanding services for veteran caregivers. More than 5.5 million caregivers provide support to our nation’s wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans, many of whom require close care and supervision. Ensuring caregivers receive the support, training, and compensation they deserve is a critical priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. In October, VA expanded the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to veterans of all service eras. Of the 17,000 applications received since, over 14,400 have been reviewed and advanced to the next stages of processing or clinical review.
Helping educators support military-connected students. As part of First Lady Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative, the Administration will release new toolkits later this month to help educators support military-connected children, including the more than 2.3 million children and youth living with and supporting wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans. The toolkit outlines ways educators and school administrators can build awareness and community around veterans and their families. It includes activities elementary, middle, and high schools can use to support military-connected students throughout the school year.
Supporting children living with wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans. Under the leadership of First Lady Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative, the Hidden Helper Coalition supports the more than 2.3 million children and youth living with and serving wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans. Since its launch one year ago, the coalition has announced a series of new commitments to bring attention to the untold stories of child caregivers and expanded the coalition to 75 member organizations that represent a diverse cross-section of public and private sector partners committed to supporting this mission.
Ending hunger and promoting healthier living. Addressing hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity are key to improving health outcomes for veterans. As part of the White House Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, VA announced it will establish an Office of Food Security to help tackle food insecurity among veterans, expand the clinical nutrition services it provides to veterans receiving VA health care, and pilot produce prescription programs, food pantries, and mobile food pantries to meet the needs of veterans. VA also announced $16 million in funding to help veterans participate in adaptive sports. And, earlier this week, the Department of Interior announced the availability of a free lifetime pass for veterans and Gold Star families to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests.
Helping heal trauma. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) opened applications for the second round of Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants. The program provides resources to support local and regional communities in artmaking experiences to support veterans and their families. In June, NEA funded 26 organizations that incorporate visual arts, crafts, dance, creative writing, theater and music to improve engagement and outcomes for veterans. Creative Forces is an initiative of NEA in partnership with DoD and VA to improve the health, well-being, and quality of life for military and veteran populations exposed to trauma, as well as their families and caregivers.