Keeping Faith with Our Vets: Answers for the ATX Democratic Veterans Forum

Derrick Crowe discusses veterans issues with an attendee at the ATX Democratic Veterans forum on 4 Aug 2017. Photo credit: Matthew Krausse

Derrick Crowe discusses veterans issues with an attendee at the ATX Democratic Veterans forum on 4 Aug 2017. Photo credit: Matthew Krausse

Last night, I joined the ATX Democratic Veterans for their candidate forum. I’ll post my 3-minute remarks elsewhere, but I thought I’d go ahead and share my full responses for the full candidate questionnaire.

One Big Reform: No War Funding without Veterans Funds

In addition to the below, as your member of Congress, I would push for a big reform in the way we budget for military operations: implementing a rules change that would force a vote on additional veterans services funds any time Congress considered a supplemental military spending bill. This is a change that could be made from the House Rules Committee, and it would help make sure that when we send troops overseas, they return to fully funded services at home.

— DC

Question One

Veterans disproportionately represent central Texas and though veteran homelessness has been partially addressed in Austin it is still a large problem outside the city limits. Please outline a policy, action, or legislation that you will enact or do to support the LOCAL veteran community. (Does not have to be on homelessness)

First, I would work to expand and improve the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program. SSVF has been called the real workhorse of our government’s veterans homeless prevention program. (By way of illustration, of the adults served by the HUD Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, only 2 percent were veterans.) It’s the only national program that’s targeted specifically to keeping at-risk veterans from sliding into homelessness, and it’s a major support for transitioning homeless veterans who are ready for permanent housing into stable homes. In fiscal 2018, SSVF needs at least $400 million. I’d also make sure that the communities who are operating under surge funding don’t have their grants cut off — and that includes facilities in the counties that comprise Texas’ 21st District.

Second, I would work to support, expand, and modernize the key federal program that supports community-based veterans homeless services, the Homeless Providers Grand and Per Diem (GPD) Program. This is a critical program that supports outreach to veterans living on the streets, getting them into a shelter bed, and transitioning them to permanent housing. In 2014, this program got 71 percent of the veterans it touched into permanent housing. GPD alumni also get health treatment including mental health treatment, substance abuse support, and employment and income help. We need to modernize that to a grant model instead of a tough- and expensive-to-administer per diem model.

Third, I would fight the broader slide into poverty for veterans engineered by Trump and Lamar Smith in this budget of theirs. Roughly 1.75 million vets rely on Medicaid. Almost two million rely on nutritional assistance. The Trump/Smith budget would cut almost a trillion dollars ($992 billion) from those two public structures alone. The Trump/Smith budget also slashes Social Security disability insurance benefits by $72 billion — a program many veterans rely on to stay above the poverty line. Stopping the Trump-engineered slide into poverty for veterans, especially disabled veterans, is critical to keeping veterans in their homes.

Question 2

Can you describe one of your positions that you would consider “Hyper local”. We are interested in how your platform is different than if you were running one block, town, county, or set of counties east. Please also include how your connection to the community has brought this issue to light for you.

We have more solar jobs in this congressional district than any other district in Texas. I want to build on that and expand the benefits of that sun boom to the veterans community by expanding the SunShot Initiative’s Solar Ready Vets jobs training program. The program trains service members to win in the solar industry. Joint Base San Antonio works with Alamo College System’s St. Philip’s College as part of this program already. This program was authorized under the Bush Administration and funding kicked in under the Obama Administration. The problem is, it’s set for cuts under the Trump/Smith budget. It’s a hugely popular program. It’s hugely effective. It supports transitioning military families into good jobs that pay living wages. We have to save it and expand it.

According to a 2015 report from The Solar Foundation, “The opportunities solar offers to veterans are not only numerous, but also of high quality. Installation firms who employ veterans pay an hourly wage of between $19.00 (median) and $21.44 (mean). Production and assembly workers at these firms earn slightly less than installers, at $15.00 (median) to $16.88 (mean) per hour.” These are living wage jobs. We need to make these jobs as accessible as possible to our veterans through this program.

Question 3

Please outline the policy, action, or legislation that you will enact or do to help with veteran healthcare including mental health. Or how has the lack of a medicaid expansion in this state effected this issue? This answer can also include the intersection between mental health and the criminal justice system.

Most veterans actually don’t receive their health care through the VA. Of the twenty-one million veterans, 8 million use the VA. Most veterans use employer-sponsored health insurance, purchase insurance on the exchanges, or rely on Medicaid — or don’t have health coverage. That’s doubly true in Texas, where the state’s failure to adopt a Medicaid expansion means 49,000 uninsured Texas vets didn’t qualify for Medicaid. Even so, the ACA dropped the number of uninsured non-elderly vets in the U.S. by 40 percent, so stopping the Republicans from gutting it or causing it to fail is critical. That’s one of the reasons I was willing to risk arrest at a protest in front of John Cornyn’s office against the repeal of the ACA and in support of Medicare for All. Hundreds of thousands of people will die if the GOP succeeds in repealing the ACA — including many veterans.

I also strongly support the recent moves to allow veterans with “bad paper” discharges to access mental health care services through the VA. In May, the GAO reported that 62 percent of service members booted for misconduct between 2011–2015 had a PTSD diagnosis on file with in the prior 2 years. But, in other cases where misconducted forced a service member out, the military failed to document adequate screening for traumatic brain injury or PTSD. We’ve got to continue pushing mental health screenings and support services-wide.

Question 4

It is a moral outrage for a country as wealthy as ours to leave 60 million people with no reliable access to health care and tens of millions more with inadequate or overly expensive coverage. Please outline the policy, action, or legislation that you will enact or do to end this outrage, what specifically will you do if your first answer doesn’t work. We are also interested in how this effects your prospective constituents.

We need to push for Medicare For All while defending against any repeal or forced failure of the ACA.

Roughly 84,000 people in our congressional district lack health insurance. That’s more than the population of San Marcos or New Braunfels. Another 54,000 rely on the exchanges set up by the ACA. Veterans are of course included in both of these numbers.

Most veterans actually don’t receive their health care through the VA. Again, of our twenty-one million veterans, 8 million use the VA. Many of the remainder utilize ACA exchanges, and the ACA dropped the number of uninsured non-elderly vets by 40 percent.

Question 5

Discrimination on gender is rampant in Texas and the United States. Please outline the policy, action, or legislation that you will enact or do to help with the problem. Areas of interest include Economic Equality, Judicial Equality and Sexual Assault. Please include anything that is of special interest to your local community.

I’m running on a very simple message: Liberty and justice — for all. That means we reject any form of discrimination and inequality under the law, including and especially gender discrimination. That must include discrimination based on non-traditional gender identities. President Trump’s attack on trans uniformed service members is part of a larger attack on trans people in this country, extending all the way to the Texas’ statehouse’s outrageous “bathroom bill.” Trans folks face much higher risk of sexual assault and suicidality. They deserve our respect and support.

More broadly, we have to attack the most fundamental form of gender discrimination: gendered pay discrimination. This hobbled economic power translates to every other form of power in our society and is the most fundamental way non-males are kept from being fully free and full participatory in our democracy.

Finally, we have to treat reproductive rights as basic health care rights — basic human rights — in this country. That means never compromising on a woman’s right to control her own body.