Supporting our veterans is our solemn duty as Americans. It’s a lesson I learned from my father, who served as a Chief Petty Officer at Great Lakes Naval Station, and I’ve worked to fulfill that duty throughout my career.
As first lady, I fought for veterans suffering with what we eventually came to know as Gulf War Syndrome. As a senator on the Armed Services Committee, I worked across the aisle on behalf of our troops and veterans, including partnering with Senator John McCain to help build a new, state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility to provide treatment for seriously wounded service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—a cause I know you and your wife Lee have tirelessly championed, Bob.
In this campaign, I’ve proposed a comprehensive plan to support our veterans, ensuring they have access to education and good jobs, and that they get quality health care without enduring long waits. I'll work to end crises many veterans face, like homelessness and suicide. As president, here’s how I will address each of these questions.
1. As our nation’s next commander in chief, you will not only inherit the care of 2.4 million active and reserve service members — as well as their 3 million family members — you will assume the task of supporting 21 million veterans. While there has been discussion related to national security and potential uses for military force, many veterans service organizations have voiced concern that little has been addressed relating to the needs of those affected by these policies. What role should the government play in caring for our veterans?
Supporting our veterans is a sacred responsibility, and one that I pledge to solemnly fulfill as president and commander in chief. I will reform the VA—not privatize it. And I’ll create a standing President’s Council on Veterans that will coordinate an all-of-government approach so we can actually get the job done. I will also oversee an end-to-end evaluation of the full scope of benefits our military members and veterans receive to ensure that we’re meeting their needs.
2. While combat operations have officially ceased in Afghanistan and Iraq, troops are still serving in both. Nearly 53,000 have been wounded in these conflicts, including 1,646 limb amputations. More than 327,000 sustained traumatic brain injuries. Undiagnosed illnesses relating to deployment exposures may be a significant issue in decades to come. Has your campaign developed a clear plan for the long-term health care needs of our military and veteran communities?
This is a challenge I’ve been focused on for many years, especially as a senator on the Armed Services Committee. As president, I will make sure that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) focuses on what it can do best, such as care for service-connected disabilities like traumatic brain injury and prosthetics—care veterans might not be able to access outside the VHA. I will continue to fight for veterans with invisible and toxic wounds by expanding efforts to initially diagnose these wounds, while dedicating new research funding and federal collaboration to develop and improve evidence-based tools and treatments.
3. Mental health is a huge concern with the “hidden wounds of war” like post-traumatic stress and depression. Nearly a quarter of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with some type of mental health issue. Though the Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest provider for mental health care and research in the nation, it has struggled to keep up with demand. How would you address this?
Substance abuse and mental illness affect thousands of veterans across the country, and the number of veterans who commit suicide every day is absolutely heartbreaking. As president, I will increase funding for additional mental health service providers and training, in addition to setting up state-based veteran programs as part of my broader plan to combat drug and alcohol addiction. I’ve also called for reviewing and upgrading discharge categorizations for service members who were improperly discharged due to service-related mental health issues, as well as providing states with block grants to set up Veterans Treatment Courts.
4. There has been some debate as to whether veterans should be able to seek health care outside of VA facilities. Some argue to completely eliminate the VA. What are your thoughts on this, or are these ideas too expensive?
Veterans deserve a health care system that puts their needs first. As president, I will transform the VHA into an integrated health care system that retains the ultimate responsibility for care coordination and quality—and responsibly balances its role providing care with purchasing private-sector care in a smart and efficient manner. I will establish an oversight board to ensure that the VHA is meeting its mandate of putting veterans first. And I will fight as long and as hard as it takes to prevent Republicans from privatizing the VHA as part of a misguided ideological crusade.
5. Approximately 2.7 million service members, less than 1 percent of Americans, have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Retention and recruitment are vital to the success of the all-volunteer force. Is voluntary service sustainable, or is it possible that you would reinstate the draft?
I support keeping an all-volunteer force, which has protected our national security interests for more than four decades. But 14 years of continuous combat has deeply strained our military. I will work with Congress to build on the military's strong compensation and retirement benefits system so that we can continue attracting the best possible recruits while sustaining a strong and resilient force. And I will press for modern and inclusive personnel policies that bolster the strength of our armed forces and reflect our values.
6. The percentage of women in the military is growing. More than 333,000 women deployed post-9/11 and more than 1,000 were injured in combat. Many women feel they are battling a male-focused system of care. Their suicide and unemployment numbers (per capita) are higher than men’s. What is your position on women serving in combat zones? What would you do to address their unique needs?
Women should be able to serve in all combat roles provided they meet the requisite standards. Women veterans are the fastest growing population served by the VA, and I will work quickly to address the shortcomings in our current system in order to meet their needs. That means expanding access to culturally competent providers and other gender-specific health services—including mental and reproductive health. I will work aggressively to combat sexual assault and harassment, and I’ll make sure military sexual trauma is acknowledged as a valid form of PTS by ensuring the burden of proof is no higher than for other forms of trauma.
7. Unlike prior generations, today’s troops tend to serve for longer periods so they’re likely to have families who will need to be considered when planning for future needs — including the potential of becoming caregivers. What would you change so that the government or private sector can concentrate more on the families?
Service and sacrifice on the homefront rarely gets the respect and recognition it deserves. As president, I will support policies that allow greater flexibility for families during military moves, and I will establish and expand public-private initiatives to help military spouses find quality employment. I’ve also called for expanding paid parental leave across all the armed services, and I believe that additional supportive services, like mental health care, must be made available for both military members and their families.
8. Lastly, the private sector and nonprofits have a major role in the care of our veterans and their families — a role dependent on the policies a new administration will look to put in place. Has your campaign developed a clear plan for communicating and partnering with them and what role do you see the private and nonprofit sectors playing?
We need to engage with the nonprofit and private sectors to leverage their innovation and talents, and we need to amend federal ethics regulations to facilitate these efforts. As president, I would launch an Innovation Initiative to connect the VA with leaders of our nation’s top businesses, universities, and nonprofits to offer best practices and help solve problems. And we should also seize opportunities to build closer partnerships to address the crises many of our veterans face—including homelessness, suicide, mental illness, and substance abuse.