We owe our servicemembers and their families a great debt of gratitude, and we need to support them in meaningful and lasting ways.  Rhode Island has one of the highest per capita National Guard deployment rates in the country, as well as a substantial active-duty presence at Naval Station Newport.  I am working hard to ensure our troops have everything they need for success in their mission and when they return home.

How I’m Working to Support Our Troops and Their Families

I meet with Rhode Islanders serving in our armed forces whenever I can, whether at my annual veterans breakfast, at send-off ceremonies in Rhode Island, at military hospitals, or at U.S. bases overseas. I carry their stories and those of their loved ones with me as I work to uphold our nation’s promise to our servicemembers and veterans.  Below are some of the ways I’m standing up for servicemembers and their families.

Services for Servicemembers and Veterans

My Rhode Island office provides casework services to help veterans in Rhode Island communicate their needs to federal government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Among other things, my staff helps constituents navigate the Veterans Benefits Administration claims and appeals process, which has occasionally resulted in veterans receiving awards for back payment of benefits.  My staff also regularly coordinates with veterans and the VAMC on complex health cases, and assists veterans with service discharge upgrade requests and requests for service records and medals. 

Protecting Troops from Foreclosure

Troops returning from active duty often need time to regain their financial footing.  That’s why I introduced legislation to lengthen the grace period of foreclosure protection for servicemembers after their tour of duty.  A version of my legislation, temporarily extending the grace period from nine months to one year, was signed into law in December 2014 and I am working to pass new legislation to make that provision permanent.

Listening to Our Soldiers

The best way to learn about the needs and goals of our servicemembers is to listen to their stories.  That’s why I have hosted open discussions with our troops, so I can hear their concerns, answer questions, and discuss policies that support their service.  For the past eight years, I have also held an annual Veterans’ Breakfast to honor and hear from Rhode Island’s veterans.  I will continue to meet with Rhode Island servicemembers and their families whenever I can.  It’s always an honor to hear from them and thank them for their commitment and sacrifice.

Caring for Children of Military Families

The strain of a deployment can be particularly challenging for the children of our servicemembers.  I have worked with the Rhode Island National Guard and Rhode Island’s educators to ensure that children whose parents are serving in the military have the support and resources they need to thrive in school. 

Victories on Behalf of Veterans and Military

Here are some of the things I have been proud to do for our servicemembers:

  • I have cosponsored concurrent receipt legislation to allow veterans to receive both military families with the benefits they earned, and legislation to provide advance appropriations for VA accounts to provide certainty to veterans that their benefits won’t be disrupted during political disputes over the federal budget.
  • I cosponsored legislation to promote veteran hiring and the landmark Post-9/11 GI Bill, which created the largest investment in veterans’ education since World War II.
  • I cosponsored comprehensive legislation, which was signed into law last summer, to address wait-time backlogs at the VA.  The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, or “Choice Act,” allows eligible veterans to seek private care at hospitals and clinic outside the VA system, and provides additional resources for new medical facilities around the country.  The legislation also expanded access to treatment for victims of military sexual assault and authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to remove senior executives for poor performance or misconduct. 
  • I am working to expand on electronic health record interoperability efforts between the VA and private health care providers to enable private health care providers to exchange patient information with the VA.  This will improve coordination of care for veterans. 
  • I introduced the Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2015, which makes permanent the one-year period of foreclosure protection that servicemembers enjoy after their military service has ended.  A report found that “the threat of foreclosure is a stressor that need not be placed on members of the armed forces during the first months of their return to civilian life.”  Congress temporarily extended these protections and I will continue to fight to make this provision permanent. 
  • I have consistently supported legislation to strengthen mental health services for our servicemembers and veterans, including the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, which was signed into law on February 12, 2015.  It improves mental health care and suicide prevention resources for transitioning service members and veterans also helps meet the demand for mental health care providers by providing incentives for mental health care workers to choose to practice medicine in the VA.  It also requires annual evaluations of the suicide-prevention practices and programs under the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. 
  • I introduced the Combating Military Counterfeits Act, a bipartisan measure to protect troops and the United States military supply chain from defective body armor and other dangerous counterfeit products.  A version of this bill became law as part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act
  • I introduced a resolution, which passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate, to pay tribute to the members of United States Armed Forces who served in Iraq and their families.

Your Ideas:  How Can America Best Support Our Veterans?

Our troops have answered the call of duty every time.  I’m working to give them the support they need.

I’d like to hear from you.  Are there policies that you believe would improve the lives of Rhode Island’s servicemembers and veterans?