The San Diego region is home to a very large and active veteran community, with more than 50,000 former service members living in California’s 53rd Congressional District alone. As Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, Susan focuses on caring for service members both during their active duty service and once when they leave the military.
Improving Service at the VA
Susan called for improvements to the VA’s telephone service system when she heard from veterans who couldn’t get through for the answers they needed. Soon after, the VA created a Contact Operations Manager position, increased the number of phone lines, and is planning to add a more efficient call routing system.
When the Post 9/11 GI Bill started its rollout, a backlog of applications threatened to cause veterans to miss important enrollment deadlines. Susan asked the VA to get to the bottom of the delay and emergency advanced payments were announced shortly thereafter.
In addition, Susan commissioned a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to look at how the VA and participating schools can more efficiently administer veterans’ education benefits.
Taking Care of our Own
Men and women in uniform leaving the service shouldn’t receive less than honorable discharges because of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress (PTS). Susan included language in the National Defense Authorization Act to require face-to-face examinations before separating a service member under less than honorable conditions.
Susan knows children are especially vulnerable to the anxiety of having a parent on long deployments. One of her top concerns is how a family copes with deployment, and she regularly meets with Navy Ombudsmen and Marine Corps Family Readiness Officers to stay informed about military family issues. To this end, the Department of Defense has put $7.6 million toward studying children whose parents serve on active duty to better understand the challenges faced by military children.
Susan also added provisions to the Higher Education Act to help reservists defer student loan payments and reenter college after activation.
During World War II, a select group of young military women were trained to become pilots; in fact, they were the first female military pilots in history. Over 1,100 women volunteered for this position, but sadly their stories went relatively untold until 2010 when Susan coauthored legislation to honor them with the Congressional Gold Medal. The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, broke barriers for the many female aviators that came after them, and recognizing their service was long overdue. Read more here.
Homeownership for Veterans
Susan passed legislation to open the Cal Vet home loan program to veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains committed to improving the program. She also introduced the bipartisan Veterans Home Loan Refinance Opportunity Act (H.R. 834) to permit veterans in Alaska, Oregon, California, Wisconsin, and Texas to take advantage of low-interest home loan refinancing options available from the state.
Currently, veterans in these states can use the home loans to purchase a primary residence – but not to refinance. Given the large number of foreclosures that have swept the nation, it’s only right to give veterans the opportunity to refinance into low-interest, affordable loans. The legislation also includes a provision that will allow federal bond limits to increase each year as the cost of housing rises – ensuring the home loan programs remain viable.
Helping Homeless Veterans
A strong supporter of veterans’ transition programs, Susan has helped secure funding for programs in our community to help organizations expand and renovate their facilities so they may continue to meet the needs of the growing veteran population.
The VA is launching a new treatment center in San Diego for vulnerable veterans. The center will help at-risk veterans get back on their feet. Susan knows the trauma of war takes a toll on our service members, and wants to be sure they are getting the help and services they need.
Susan has long supported the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program because she sees the difference it makes in the lives of veterans in San Diego. HUD-VASH provides rental assistance for homeless veterans along with case management and clinical services in an effort to help them become self-sufficient members of their community once again. No veteran should be sleeping on the streets.
Helping Veterans and Service Dogs
Susan has cosponsored the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 198), a bill to establish a pilot program for training dogs to help treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other post-deployment mental health issues.
She is also an original cosponsor of the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act (H.R. 1154) which would make sure veterans accompanied by service dogs are able to enter VA facilities without being turned away because they have their canine companion. In the past, veterans in need have been turned away because they rely on a service dog to get around, and Susan wants to see that changed.