FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC VETERANS CAUCUS PLATFORM 2012
Florida is home to 1.7 million veterans, the second largest veteran population in the nation where 200,000 of these are Iraq/Afghanistan veterans. Florida’s female veteran population is the highest in the nation. Florida has the highest number of totally disabled veterans. Florida’s veteran population is growing and is projected to become the largest in the nation. The number of veterans who are themselves unemployed, homeless, or needing medical and mental health care is steadily increasing and these needs are not being met by the state and federal government. In short, veterans need and deserve more effective assistance to fully reintegrate into their communities upon their return from war. Veterans’ experiences and opinions have been forged in the fire of combat in defense of our Nation. Their voices must be heard in the issues that affect our country. Outlined below are the critical issues affecting our National Security, economy and the benefits that should accrue to those that have served our Nation.
The Cost of War
We are the “Land of the Free “only because we are also the “Home of the Brave”. Our Veterans have paid a high price for our freedom; some have paid the ultimate price. Many of our disabled Veterans continue to pay a price in their daily lives. Many return home to find there are no jobs, in fact the unemployment rate for these Veterans is estimated to be as high as 24%. The war takes a significant toll on our soldiers. Of the nearly two million personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan as many as thirty-five per cent may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and as many as ten per cent may suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Many more suffer from depression and other psychological illnesses resulting in a high suicide rate for returning Veterans. Over 5800 warriors have been killed and over 90,000 maimed, wounded, resulting in permanent disabilities. Perhaps as many as 200,000 veterans from all wars are homeless living on the streets nationally with over 18,000 in Florida.
ISSUE: National Security and the Economy
The US is wasting its national treasure in terms of the lives of its soldiers and money in pursuit of military objectives that fail to address the real situation… Our national defense assets are being frittered away. History and Vietnam has shown us that US Conventional forces are not effective in counter-insurgency operations. They can not identify the enemy, alienate the very people they are trying to help and are identified by the locals as the new invader. Conventional forces must be withdrawn and tactics relying on intelligence, police and special operations be implemented in such a way to involve the local people with their own security. It is the only way to defeat an insurgency. The economy of the US has been severely damaged by the pursuit of Free Trade policies that do not have a provision for trade parity. The US enforces labor standards, OSHA requirements and environmental rules on its domestic manufacturers while allowing imports from countries that do not… As a result our National Security has been damaged by the loss of our industrial ability. Over the past ten years the US has lost over 60,000 manufacturing plants. Our monthly trade deficit averages over $50 Billion. Each billion dollars of trade deficit results in the loss of 7,000 jobs. We are trading away our jobs and National Security for cheap consumer goods. It is not sustainable. Florida’s economy is not diverse. Historically its economy has generated mostly low wage service jobs that are highly dependent on tourism or cyclical construction work. Modern capital intensive industries will not come to Florida because this State taxes production equipment, while most states do not. This makes economic diversification difficult if not impossible. The result is there are fewer quality jobs available for Veterans.
- Remove conventional Forces from Afghanistan and Iraq
- Seek Balanced and Fair trade- Apply tariffs to non compliant countries and countries that do not have trade parity with the US.
- Provide tax incentives for US based manufacturers Require Federal, State and local Government purchase products made in Florida or the US.
- Florida must remove the obstacles to economic growth- eliminate taxes on manufacturing production equipment.
ISSUE: Veterans Employment
Presently our returning Veterans are experiencing a 24 % unemployment rate
- Demand compliance with veterans’ preferences in hiring which is already established by state and federal legislation.
- Establish an advertising program to inform veterans about those jobs for which they qualify.
- Establish programs by the state and federal government to provide veterans with skills and education that makes them desirable employees in the civilian job market. If jobs are not available, the state and federal government should be an employer of last resort by establishing work programs for veterans modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) or America Corps.
- Create tax incentives for companies that hire Veterans
ISSUE: Homeless Veterans
It is estimated that nationally over 200,000 Veterans are homeless with 18,000 residing in Florida
- Legislation should be adopted to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify homeless veterans and obtain treatment for them where appropriate.
- Legislation should provide that homes repossessed by quasi-government agencies like Fannie Mae be made available for homeless veterans.
ISSUE: Veteran Incarceration
About a fifth of all inmates in U.S. prisons are veterans. Many are serving sentences for non-violent crimes. Many suffer from mental health (PTSD) and substance abuse. They need and deserve treatment instead of incarceration.
ACTION: Treatment instead of Incarceration
Veterans Courts should be established by legislation
A pilot project in Sarasota, Manatee, and Desoto Counties, Courts Assisting Veterans (CAVS), has been successful in identifying and assisting veterans who come in contact with the criminal justice system. The program was started by Chief Judge Lee Haworth and in the first eighteen months has helped over 300 veterans. Under this program veterans are identified as soon as they are arrested and when appropriate diverted from the criminal justice system into treatment such as alcohol treatment programs as soon as possible while remaining under the supervision of the court. Fellow veterans volunteer to mentor those who are in the program.
The veterans are assisted to apply for VA benefits and other education or training benefits to which they are entitled. Unemployed and homeless veterans are connected with appropriate service agencies.
The program in Sarasota operates through the court administrator and has been funded with $50,000 per year. A similar program in California saved the state $7.2 million in prison costs so the potential is immense.
ISSUE: Service Disabled veteran owned business (SDVOB)
In order to assist disabled Veterans who own small businesses the Federal Government established a program to assist these businesses in gaining Federal sales by creating a goal of 3% of all Federal sales should go to such companies (PL108-183 Veterans Benefit Act of 2003). Only a few Federal Agencies are in compliance. – most do not! There is no compliance provision in present law. Some states have created local laws mirroring the Federal Legislation such as California and about 5 others. Florida has a law– FL295.187 Florida Service Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Opportunity Act which is supposed to help such businesses, but in reality is a palliative and less than worthless.
Support Federal Bill HR -240 which strengthens compliance with PL108-183. This legislation clarifies the Federal Acquisition Rules (FAR) by stating that contracting offers SHALL award a contact to a SDVOB instead of the present terminology of MAY award. Further legislation will be required to hold Federal Agencies accountable for lack of compliance
Florida should pass legislation that emulates the Federal Legislation and apply it to all state and local purchases.
ISSUE: Veterans Benefits
Many Veterans who seek VA medical assistance live far from VA facilities and experience economic hardship.
Veterans, eligible for VA medical treatment, who do not live near a VA medical facility should be given vouchers for treatment from local medical sources—i.e. local hospitals.
Commissary and PX privileges’ should be afforded every service connected Disabled Veteran to help defray the costs of living expenses.
Federal Action Items
- Remove conventional forces from Iraq and Afghanistan
- Balanced and fair trade with trade parity. Provide tax incentives for US based manufacturers
- Federal procurement from US manufacturers as a priority
- Veterans’ preference in all Federal hiring. Provide job training. Grant tax incentives to private industry for hiring Veterans
- Homeless Veterans should be eligible for housing in Federal Agency foreclosures (Fannie Mae)
- Enforce compliance with SDVOB legislation
- Provide PX and Commissary benefits for service connected Disabled Veterans
Florida Action Items
- Require all Florida, County and municipal purchasing be from Florida or US based manufacturers
- Create Veterans Courts
- Pass a Florida equivalent of PL108-183 granting priority to SDVOB’s in state and local procurement
- Diversify the economy by eliminating taxes on manufacturing equipment