Congressmen Roe and McNerney talk veterans affairs at KPU event
Both men said more needs to be done to help returning service members transition to civilian life
Congressmen Phil Roe (R-TN) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA) jointly addressed AU students on April 14 during an event on veterans’ affairs, hosted by the Kennedy Political Union and co-sponsored by the American University Veterans.
The discussion, which was moderated by Sam Shumate, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, was followed by a special reception for members of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and AU Vets.
Roe and McNerny spoke on various topics centered around improving the lives of veterans, including finding effective ways to deal with post-traumatic disorder and making sure veterans get the support they need after returning from active duty.
According to McNerney, early detection and treatment is key for those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can impact all aspects of daily life, including an individual’s ability to hold a job and stay in long-term relationships.
“The sooner you get treatment for post-traumatic stress, the better your outcome is going to be, so we really need to find ways to reach veterans or soldiers that are still in active duty and determine if there are post-traumatic symptoms,” McNerny said.
Both congressmen stressed the importance of understanding that everyone’s situation is different, and methods of treatment depend on the individual. They discussed how surfing, wearing special goggles to help with the ability to focus and rewire the brain, pet therapy, and one-on-one and group counseling are various activities that can help those suffering from PTSD.
There is a stigma attached to PTSD and in order to move past it and get veterans the care they need, changes have to be made, starting from top leadership positions, according to McNerny.
“[Commanders] they need to be aware of the problems that are happening within their command, and they need to encourage the kind of behavior that will nurture post-traumatic-stress injuries,” McNerny said.
Roe and McNerny also spoke about how veterans’ issues are the only area where politicians have looked beyond party lines and cooperated to make progress. The number of homeless veterans have significantly decreased in the past eight years, according to Roe.
“When I first came to Congress, there were over 100,000 homeless veterans, but through the HUD-VASH program - the biggest problem is finding adequate housing for these veterans – but through the program, it’s dropped in half,” Roe said. “To me it’s heartbreaking when you have one veteran who’s served his country, who’s under a bridge tonight.”
After the event, Roe told The Eagle in an interview that income is a challenge veterans face in trying to get the services they need from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as it determines whether or not they are eligible for help from the government.
“Veterans that have PTSD, unless they have a disability associated with it, they can’t get care at the beginning,” Roe said. “Income is a challenge, because if you make too much money, you can’t get in regardless of what your situation is.”
In the months and years ahead, Roe’s goal is to give veterans more control over decisions concerning their own health.
“What I would like to do is put power in making healthcare choices in the veterans’ hands, and take it away from the bureaucrats’ hands,” Roe said. “I want to put the power in the person who earned it.”
McNerny also spoke to The Eagle about how veterans deserve a more seamless transition from the time they serve to their return to life before service, and that every effort needs to be made to make sure they are aware of what benefits are available to them.
“I think one of the most important things we can do is to make the transition from active duty to veteran status smooth so that the army can transfer information to the VA so that when you go to the VA, they have your information and they know what experiences you’ve had,” McNerney said.
Roe said in the interview that accomplishments he is most proud of include being a founding member of the Invisible Wounds Caucus in 2010 and working on putting together the Veterans Choice Act in 2014. He also discussed why he enjoys his work.
“I’m not a career politician. I’m just a citizen of this country, and I love this country,” Roe said. “I served my country once in the military years ago and I want to serve my country once again, and the Veterans Affairs Committee is the perfect place for me to do that.”