5 Easy things that members of Congress could be doing for our military and veterans, but aren’t.
Too many times these days, our veterans are getting caught up in the childish games in Congress. That’s unacceptable.
I’m running for Congress in North Carolina’s Second District. We’re fortunate to be home to over 50,000 active duty soldiers, their families, and thousands of veterans. These folks have been severely impacted by reckless votes in Washington like the government shutdown and sequestration cuts.
Washington has become an embarrassment. It seems as if politicians can find a way to make every issue partisan and polarizing. Protecting and serving our military and veterans shouldn’t be.
I’ve used my voice to sing for years, but it’s time to use my voice to speak up for thousands whose voices aren’t being heard. So in an attempt to be part of the solution in Washington, here are five simple, practical things that I think Congress could be doing to improve the lives of our nation’s heroes, but because they refuse to work together, they simply aren’t.
1. Eliminating veteran homelessness
Soldiers shouldn’t return home to find themselves on the streets, but that’s an all too common reality for many veterans.
On a given night in January 2013, there were 57,849 homeless veterans across the United States. In North Carolina alone there were 1,123 homeless veterans.
In a tough economy, it can be hard enough to find and hold down a job. Transitioning out of the military can be more difficult than transitioning into it. And the psychological effects of war can exacerbate problems as well.
Congress needs to permanently authorize the National Center for Homelessness Among Veterans and fully fund the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. These programs sponsor veteran shelters, job training and professional development services, health and substance abuse treatment, and career counseling and job placement services. By partnering with community organizations, these programs require only minimal resources from the federal government and can make a monumental difference in the lives of tens of thousands of veterans a year.
2. Expanding Veterans Treatment Courts
Veterans often face difficulties transitioning into civilian life. Unfortunately, that can sometimes lead them into criminal behavior.
Veterans Treatment Courts focus on rehabilitation when mental health and substance abuse problems prompted criminal activity. These courts are modeled after successful drug courts.
In North Carolina, we opened our first Veterans Treatment Court in Harnett County in 2013. But these courts need to be more accessible to all of our veterans.
Congress needs to move on passing H.R. 2187 - Servicemember Assistance for Lawful Understanding Treatment and Education Act, which was reintroduced in the U.S. House in May 2013 by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA-07). It’s time to take action on providing veterans the justice they deserve.
3. Encouraging the hiring of veterans
Encouraging companies to hire veterans and supporting veteran entrepreneurship should be a no-brainer. Our veterans leave the armed forces equipped with leadership and specialized skills and a sense of duty that can’t be taught in a classroom.
Yet for the fourth year in a row, post-9/11 veterans are unemployed at higher rates than non-veterans. My brother returned from serving in Iraq a few years ago only to job search for over a year.
Organizations like Hire a Hero do a great job at giving veterans the resources they need to job hunt, but our federal government should do its part.
Congress must make permanent the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, which provides incentives of up to $5,600 for companies hiring veterans. Congress must also make permanent the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit, which can mean $9,600 in tax credits for hiring long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities. Congress let both bills expire on December 31, 2013 — just another example of how Congress is doing nothing and it’s hurting people. If Congress would get to work our veterans would too.
4. Ensuring veterans receive benefits
Congress needs to take action to assure veterans get all the benefits they deserve.
Current laws delay or prohibit many disabled veterans from collecting their VA disability compensation if they also receive retirement pay, even though they fought and worked to earn both benefits. Surviving families of our fallen soldiers are also many times being denied benefits under current law. We also need to eliminate the Widow’s Tax so that spouses of our fallen soldiers are getting the compensation they deserve.
Congress should pass H.R. 333 - Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act and H.R. 32 - Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act to assure veterans and their families get all the benefits they deserve. These bipartisan bills have been stuck in committee since January 2013 — it’s time to take action on making them law.
5. Educating military children
Counties with many federal properties such as military installations collect less property tax, and that leads to far fewer dollars to spend on things like public education.
In recent years, Harnett County, NC, has faced a major problem with overcrowded schools due to an influx in military families moving on to post in the area and the inability to keep pace due to a low tax base from which to draw school funds.
In 1950, the federal government instituted Impact Aid to help offset these lost tax dollars. Impact Aid benefits 21,000 children of military personnel in North Carolina.
But Impact Aid has not been fully funded since 1969, and it took an additional 5 percent cut in 2013 due to sequestration.
Simply increasing funding is not enough—these students need stronger support systems. And that means more teachers and counselors in these schools to support children impacted by frequent moves and the absence of parents serving overseas.
Congress actually needs to get to work to expand Impact Aid and provide additional support systems to the schools that educate the children of our nation’s heroes.
There are countless other things we could and should be doing for our military and veterans. These are just a few places we should start. The men and women of the military, both active duty and veterans, offered their lives to protect our freedoms. They are giving and have given their best. We owe them better. And if representatives of both parties would just work together, Congress could do so much more to support those who sacrificed to support us.
On Sunday, August 10, Clay Aiken hosted a telephone town hall attended by over 4,000 voters across North Carolina’s Second District.
CARY, N.C. – Clay Aiken’s campaign in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District today reported over $450,000 in contributions in the second fundraising quarter. The quarter began April 1 and ended June 30.
The campaign received over 2,700 individual contributions in Q2.
“Americans and North Carolina voters are tired of a do-nothing Congress, and our campaign’s strong fundraising quarter shows that people are encouraged by Clay’s message of working across party lines to pass meaningful legislation to get our country moving again,” said Clay Aiken for North Carolina campaign manager Ellen Zeng.
“Renee Ellmers is part of the problem in Washington. She said she was going to Washington to fix things, but instead she’s proven she cares more about serving her party leadership than she does the people of the Second District. Our campaign will continue to hold Renee Ellmers accountable for her failed leadership and misplaced priorities.”
The campaign reported $396,766.20 in receipts from April 17 to June 30. The campaign previously reported $53,525.45 in receipts in the April pre-primary report detailing contributions from April 1 to April 16. Total contributions for the second fundraising quarter amount to $450,291.65.
The Aiken campaign has raised over $580,000 from over 6,000 individual contributions since Aiken announced his candidacy on Feb. 5, 2014.
The military community and the citizens of Fayetteville have spent too much time preparing for the worst and hoping for the best during these past few weeks. And the situation seemed to only worsen with last week’s report from the U.S. Army Environmental Command that projected Ft. Bragg could lose up to 16,000 soldiers and defense civilians by 2020.
The Fayetteville Observer reported:
“According to Army projections, the region could lose 21,563 jobs if the cuts take place, and the local economy could take a nearly billion-dollar hit.
Local governments would lose $11.3 million in estimated sales tax receipts, and more than 40,000 residents would be expected to move out of the region.”
These massive cuts to Ft. Bragg are considered a “worst-case scenario.” This report is for planning purposes, and post cuts aren’t being considered in Congress yet. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to sit back and simply hope everything turns out all right for the folks in Fayetteville and on base at Ft. Bragg.
Even if Ft. Bragg isn’t hit with the worst-case scenario in the immediate future, it’s clear the current Congress plans to put Ft. Bragg on the chopping block in attempts to save money in the defense budget. We’ve witnessed that in just the past few weeks with the proposal to shut down the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Field — something that would not only negatively affect our district, but would also be a massive misstep for our country’s military readiness.
Our Congressional representatives should be the first line of defense on these issues involving defense budgets and potential cuts. They should be early advocates for the interests of our district — and they should be responsible for identifying legislation that’s harmful to our district before it’s put up for a vote.
For now, the fate of the 440th Airlift Wing is still to be decided. But back in May, when Congress was considering amendments to save the wing, Renee Ellmers’s amendment was submitted late and subsequently rejected by the House Armed Services Committee.
There’s no excuse for sloppy work and missing deadlines when the folks in your district are relying on you. Especially when it involves service men and women and our military readiness.
It’s the job of our representatives to get out in front of the issues — nobody else is going to stand up for the folks back home if our representatives don’t. This is about our country’s defense needs, but it’s also about our communities and fighting to protect our local interests. The Army’s report clearly lays out the devastating effect these cuts would have on Fayetteville’s local economy.
A proposal to cut thousands of military personnel is too drastic and severe to be accepted here at home or in Washington, and I intend to be vocal about my opposition to this proposal as it’s being considered by the Army and Congress.
At some point in the future, these cuts may be brought before Congress for a vote. But before that happens, we need to do everything we can here in our community to fight back.
In their Sunday editorial, the Fayetteville Observer noted that simply being present and engaged in these early conversations of potential cuts is a good start to protecting our district from hardship down the road.
In the coming weeks, I will host a roundtable with community leaders to identify how we can not only protect Ft. Bragg from cuts, but also protect our community and its economy from the ripple effects a future potential downsizing would bring.
As frustrating and disheartening as politics can be, there are moments throughout this campaign that remind me why I’m running for Congress. Sometimes those moments come during a casual conversation over hushpuppies and sweet tea.
I was recently traveling the district when my staffer suggested we go back to one of our favorite spots – Brownie Lu Restaurant in Siler City. It was about 20 miles from where we were, but we decided their delicious broasted chicken was worth the drive and a little extra wait.
There were no open tables when we arrived, so we grabbed a couple of seats at the counter. A minute later, a man sat down next to us. He was an older man, probably in his mid 80s. The waiter behind the counter nodded to the man and told us Jack was a regular customer and dined there every day, sometimes twice a day.
Jack and I struck up a conversation. We got to talking about the restaurant and the 50 years he’s been a loyal customer. And then he changed the subject and asked me why I decided to run for Congress.
I told him about my frustration with representatives in Washington not working together to get things done. He agreed things have gotten bad in DC. He told me he’s followed politics all of his life and even spent a few years in the North Carolina General Assembly back when Terry Sanford was governor in the 1960s.
My ears perked up when he said Terry Sanford’s name. I told Jack that Sanford is one of my biggest role models. I recounted the story I tell so often on the campaign trail.
Back when I was in middle school, I received an assignment to interview a role model. Many students interviewed a scout leader, one of their parents – I called Terry Sanford’s U.S. Senate office and asked if I could talk to the senator. One of my fondest memories is the day I got to sit down with him for that assignment.
I asked Jack if he had any Sanford stories or got to know him well while he was in the legislature. He told me he was very fond of Terry and got to know him best when he ran Sanford’s campaign for governor back in 1960.
Well, I guess that’s a little cooler than my middle school paper.
You could call it coincidence, fate, providence. All I know is that there was a reason I ended up at that restaurant that night. The tables were full, only a few seats at the counter. It caused me to strike up conversation with a perfect stranger. But our hopes for the future of this country couldn’t be more intertwined.
Washington today is nothing like it was back when Jack was working in politics. Will we ever get Washington to return to days of civility when compromise is no longer a dirty word? I don’t know. And it certainly won’t be easy. But I’m not going to sit on the sidelines any longer while our members of Congress make excuses, call each other names, and point fingers.
Clay is proud of the support he has received from a diverse and influential group of leaders in North Carolina. They represent what is right for our state — and for the Second District — a strong voice for education, economic opportunity for all, and unwavering support for those who have served our country.
"Nobody understands better than a public school educator what it takes to deliver high-quality instruction that is sensitive to the needs of individual students and accountable to taxpayers," said NCAE President Rodney Ellis.
Just a month ago, we launched a campaign to make Clay Aiken the next Congressman from North Carolina’s Second District. Clay was already a household name, but some wondered why he decided to run for Congress.