I recently watched a C-SPAN video of my colleague, Ms. Heather Ansley, VetsFirst’s Vice President of Veterans Policy, presenting testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the topic of “Civil Rights of Military Veterans and Service Members.” In her remarks, Ms. Ansley focused on four areas: VA Home and Community-Based Services, Housing, Transportation, and Employment.
Concerning Home and Community-Based Services, Ms. Ansley advocated their expansion. I could not agree more because I am a vet with a significant disability who has been receiving such services for many, many years. I can compile a fairly long list of nurses and nursing assistants who have come into my home to enable me to get out of bed in the morning so that I was able to go to work for 30-plus years, and then to help me in the evening with personal care and my return to bed.
Looking back, I would never have been able to live the interesting, fulfilling life that I have to this point without this help. The VA needs to look at ways to expand such services to veterans of all conflicts because it is the right direction to take. Nobody wants to “live” in a hospital.
Ms. Ansley devoted the remainder of her testimony to three additional areas which are important to today’s generation of military veterans: housing, transportation, and employment. It brought me back to the early 1970s when I first started working for this organization.
My first job was Housing Director. I had to locate apartment complex owners who were willing then to allow us to renovate an apartment or two near to the Bronx, Castle Point, and East Orange VA Medical Centers in the New York-New Jersey area so we could help wheelchair-using vets leave these hospitals and get used to living in the community. Most of these vets moved on to their own apartments or homes eventually. It was a gratifying first job for me, and this organization continued to sponsor this program well into the 1980s.
As Housing Director, I had to travel to Albany in October of 1972 for a housing conference sponsored by a state agency. As I’m rolling into the conference hotel restaurant for a bite to eat the evening before the event, I run into another member of this organization who worked on disability issues for a county government. He was there for a different event, but when I told him that I was going to a housing symposium, he simply responded, “yup, housing, transportation and employment…those are the Big Three issues!”
It seems like they still are. Yes, important laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act have genuinely improved available housing, transportation, and employment. Still, persons with disabilities, vets and non-vets alike, have a higher rate of unemployment than the general public. We have a responsibility to do whatever we can as a nation to change this circumstance for the men and women who put their futures on the line for all of us in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee