By Mario Lotmore | Updated October 17, 2019
On Friday, October 4, Verdant Community Wellness Center was the location for a Veterans Forum hosted by Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-02).
Larsen opened what he coined the two E’s and two H’s for veteran issues – employment, education, housing and healthcare. Larsen is currently working to reduce the timeframes and state licensing barriers for veterans to transfer their credentials into the civilian workforce. For education, he would like the G.I. bill to pay for college application fees.
Larsen shared the success of the HUD-VASH program helping over 400 veterans into homes and into supportive services. HUD-VASH is a collaborative program between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veteran Affairs (VA), combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help Veterans who are homeless, and their families find and sustain permanent housing. In Lynnwood, there is a 20-unit affordable housing facility for veterans called Sebastian Place.
Larsen then informed attendees of the upcoming changes to the Community Base Outpatient Clinic in Mt. Vernon. He shared a bi-partisan bill he and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) will introduce to make permanent the Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act to allow veteran groups to transport individuals to and from VA facilities in connection with vocational rehabilitation, treatment, or care.
He shared the passage of the Blue Water Navy Bill that extended disability benefits to veterans who served on Navy ships off the coast of Vietnam that were exposed to agent orange.
Larsen emphasized the importance of veteran townhalls by sharing the update to an issue that was introduced in a similar meeting. This year the House of Representatives passed legislation where survivor benefits paid to a minor are exempted from the tax penalty under the Alternative Minimum Tax.
The panelists for the forum were: Joe Beedle, CFO at Veterans Health Administration, Steve Strope, Veteran Services Center Manager, Laura Aunan, Veterans Representative at WorkSource Lynnwood, and Mike Schanche, Veterans Service Officer at Snohomish County.
Panelists shared updates to veteran services throughout Snohomish County. Attendees were informed of the new Mission Act, previously the Choice Act, that will expand access care to veterans in the local community to reduce their travel time.
One of the major changes that took effect this year was the implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. “An appeal will now go through three new lanes; supplemental claim lane, those cases that need more evidence; higher level review lane, for veterans wanting another decision; and a third lane for Board of Veterans appeals for a hearing or make an immediate determination,” said Strope.
The turnaround target for the program is 125 days, but according to Strope the actual performance is 36 days.
Schanche shared progress of the Veterans patient scheduling system transitioning from VistA to Cerner by Cerner Corp. The goal is to allow for electronic medical records access and seamless service.
Other topics of discussion and questions from the audience centered on concurrent receipts, traveling veterans’ services, discharge reevaluations for past trauma, and housing discrimination because of PTSD.
Washington state is home to more than 540,000 veterans, including just over 59,000 veterans in the Second Congressional District. Larsen has held 69 public Veterans Forums across his district to hear directly from local veterans about how he can better serve them in Congress. Since 2017 Larsen has assisted with 193 one-on-one cases out of his office, resulting in about $1M saved or earned for veterans.