terry_moakleyWe’ve all heard or spoken the cliché, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” This may no longer be true, with “sequestration” on the table. For VetsFirst, automatic federal government spending cuts and a Congress that cannot seem to agree very often will not stop us from the pursuit of a better life for all disabled vets.

So we have established a short but powerful set of three core legislative priorities for 2013. One of these priorities is community integration. While this is something that we have focused on for almost 67 years, every vet with a disability should have the chance to continue her or his education, find a good job, use easily available transportation and afford a decent place to live in her or his community.

From everything that I have seen in the media, Iraq and Afghanistan vets with disabilities are using the post-9/11 GI Bill in record numbers. Disabled vets need to be given a priority for available jobs in both the public and private sectors, too. To increase access to transportation, our staff has worked closely with an Indiana-based company that makes and distributes an accessible (automatic ramp-equipped) auto known as the MV-1, which can be used as a taxi or as a privately-owned vehicle anywhere in this nation. And, we must find ways to insure that vets with disabilities get first crack at all types of housing built new or significantly renovated.

Our second priority is improved access for veterans to health care and benefits. I have two classic examples of VA ineptitude in these areas. I am in my 15th month of seeking needed improvements to my home under a VA housing program that the VA informed me I qualify for back in late 2011. We are now working with our fourth VA staffer to try to get this work done soon.

And, oh yeah, there was the early morning of last December 1st when I went to my VA hospital at midnight with a 102+ fever and a collapsed lung. I was admitted by Emergency Room staff within an hour, but the staff on the ward I was going to refused to accept me until the day shift came in at 7:30 AM. They didn’t want to be bothered with the paperwork.

Our third priority is to promote the rights of disabled veterans here in these United States and around the planet. We have some great laws here, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act, the Air Carriers Access Act, and more. Yet, I see pretty much nothing about these laws at my local VA Medical Center, or at the five other VA hospitals or clinics that I’ve had to go to in New York, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Nevada and California during either business trips or family vacations over the years.

Knock, knock, VA! Disabled veterans are covered by these and other major disability laws, too, because WE HAVE A DISABLITY! Here’s an idea: why not consider placing brief information about these major laws in future editions of Federal Benefits for Veterans and Their
Dependents? This one step could go a long way toward educating disabled vets and their families of the protections available to them in our society beyond their military service. Personally, I do not see a downside to this. It’s worth a try for those who have served.

Terry Moakley
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee