The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought renewed attention to the needs of veterans and the ways in which we, as a nation, care for them upon their return home. It is our responsibility to provide these service members and their families with the care and benefits they have earned as they transition from active duty to civilian life.
Several issues regarding veterans and homelessness have become prominent, in part because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In November 2009, the VA announced a plan to end homelessness within five years. Both the VA and HUD have taken steps to increase housing and services for homeless veterans. Funding for VA programs has increased in recent years and Congress has appropriated funds to increase available units of permanent supportive housing through the HUD-VASH program. We have seen a steady decline in the number of homeless veterans since 2009, but even one homeless veteran is too many and our work must continue in ending homelessness among veterans.
The unemployment rate for veterans who served after September 2001 is higher than the unemployment rate for nonveterans. While this is an unacceptable statistic there are a number of federal programs that have been created to assist veterans in developing job skills and securing civilian employment. Broadly speaking, these programs can be divided into (1) general veterans’ programs, (2) programs that target veterans with service-connected disabilities, and (3) competitive grant programs that offer supplemental services but may not be available to veterans in all areas. While the various transition programs for veterans have proven successful it is important for us to continually monitor their success and seek ways to improve in order to get more people back to work.
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), operates the nation's largest integrated health care delivery system, providing care to approximately 5.75 million unique veteran patients, and employs more than 270,000 full-time equivalent employees. Contrary to claims concerning promises of "free health care for life," not every veteran is automatically entitled to medical care from the VA. Eligibility for VA health care is based primarily on veteran status resulting from military service. All enrolled veterans are offered a standard medical benefits package, which includes (but is not limited to) inpatient and outpatient medical services, pharmaceuticals, durable medical equipment, and prosthetic devices.
Opening in 1952, the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center provides quality care to the men and women who have proudly served our nation. The medical center provides high quality, comprehensive primary and tertiary healthcare to Veterans in our area.
Memorializing WWI has been a passion of mine since before the days I was mayor of Kansas City. As you may know, during the war millions of soldiers passed through Kansas City via Union Station on their way to serve in the war.
The bluff that overlooks the train station that transported so many of our soldiers in those days was the perfect place to set up a memorial to honor them. In 1919, as the war was coming to an end work began to create the Liberty Memorial. The dedication ceremony that followed was the only event ever attended by all of the supreme allied leaders. It is a place that inspires reflection and offers a chance to experience WWI in a way that is not found anywhere else in the country.
In 1998, a project to revitalize the memorial was created that would also expand the site by building a museum to better showcase WWI-related objects and documents. In 2004, legislation was introduced to designate the museum as the official National WWI Museum.
I continue to work for national and international recognition of the Liberty Memorial, and all of the World War I veterans it honors. Recently in 2013, I helped create the WWI Centennial Commission that was established by Congress to plan, develop, and execute programs, projects and activities to commemorate the centennial of World War I. The commission will provide opportunities for people to learn about the history of WWI, the U.S.’s involvement in that war, and the war’s effects on the remainder of the 20th century.
More on Veterans
In this world, we only get one life. We can’t erase the things of the past, or bury them in some grave – but the good news is – we can always start anew.
On Monday, I am going to the Veteran Community Project’s dedication of the first tiny house to be placed at the Veterans Village on East 89th Street in Kansas City. This project reminds me of the opportunities that we have to start anew. A four-acre Land Trust parcel is the site for dozens of tiny houses to be built exclusively for veterans who are experiencing homelessness.
Retirees are facing extreme pension cuts, some up to 60 percent, from the Central States Pension Fund plan. A town hall meeting of nearly 1,000 retirees was held in Kansas City, February 16, 2016. They told their life stories and hoped for a change.
Through some small miracle of air travel, I was able to make it up to DC this week for an announcement that no amount of snow was able to keep me away from. On Tuesday, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission made and presented its selection for a second national WWI memorial to be constructed at Pershing Park in Washington, D.C. at the National Press Club.
On Wednesday we commemorated Veterans Day, a day on which to honor those among us who have heard the call of their nation and served diligently. They made a commitment to serve, and in return, we have made a commitment to veterans that must be honored. We owe our veterans a tremendous amount of gratitude. Young men and women who grew up in Kansas City and across our nation have sacrificed dearly for their country. I believe that by providing convenient and timely access to medical and other fundamental services, we can honor this commitment.
Congressman Cleaver greets Ward Golston, a World War II Veteran
Today, Congressman Cleaver sent a letter to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee calling for the creation of a series of commemorative stamps to be issued in 2017, 2018, and 2019 in memory of World War I.
Congressman Cleaver speaks to a crowd of thousands at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. You may watch the speech by clicking here.