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By Lieutenant Colonel Scott E. Rutter - columnist and senior contributor to Warrior Maven -- U.S. Army (Retired)

It is extremely easy to describe a Golden Retriever to a man who has seen a German Shepherd, but how can you describe an elephant to someone who has never seen an animal in his life?

Solutions for our Servicemembers, Veterans and their Families require that improvements be made as a reflection of the input and voice of those that have served. We can not inspire “change” when there is a complete disconnect between the development of real ideas and the mindset of policy makers and elected representatives who have never walked in the shoes of these heroic giants. A good idea on paper can be ineffectual to the everyday dynamics of the Servicemember’s family. We must intimately involve those that serve in our armed forces and have honorably left service in taking large steps forward that strengthen our Services and support our Veterans.

Service members salute the American flag during a retreat ceremony Oct. 2, 2014, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The four military members represented each branch of the U.S. military and assembled to show solidarity. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel)

Service members salute the American flag during a retreat ceremony Oct. 2, 2014, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The four military members represented each branch of the U.S. military and assembled to show solidarity. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel)

What are those steps? While there are a myriad of issues that can be tackled at this juncture, it is important to focus to achieve our endstate. We also have to understand that in this economic climate and the egregious size of the federal government that we have to make targeted choices that reflect the needs of our Servicemembers and their Families.

Jobs. Period. - Sevicemembers must be able to obtain gainful employment when transitioning out of the military and Family Members must be able to get jobs as they move to different locations. There is no more important issue in this economic climate than to ensure that our transitioning Servicemembers and their Families have a competitive edge in the marketplace. It is completely unacceptable that Veterans suffer a higher level of unemployment and homelessness than non-Veterans.

  • That means real agreements with large contractors to cross train service members as part of contractual requirements
  • That means financially rewarding companies for hiring Veterans and spouses
  • That means continuing benefits promised in the GI Bill
  • That means paying companies the equivalent unemployment insurance benefits when they hire Veterans for periods of 12-24 months
  • That means incorporating SBA and local banks in projects that allow Servicemembers and their families to start businesses; including setting up special government backed loans at lower rates for approved businesses of Veterans
  • That means asking Veterans and Servicemembers to testify in Congress committees regarding the obstacles they encountered and how they succeeded to establish a Best Practices for transitioning to the civilian workforce
  • That means significantly reducing the administrative burden with simplified contracting vehicles to support Veteran owned and Service Disabled Veteran Owned small businesses.
  • That means providing tax incentives to large businesses to use Veteran owned businesses for the provision of services, not only for government contracts, but for private sector projects
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A Really Responsive VA – As with most government agencies, the VA is growing to become a behemoth. Large doesn’t necessarily mean better, and it definitely does not guarantee a responsive organization. What we don’t want to create in the VA is a government run health care system. We know that doesn’t work! This morning when I went on the VA.gov website, I couldn’t find the mission of the VA. What is the primary goal of this organization? They’ve put together a nice website, but what is the fundamental mission of this organization? We need to headline that mission and stick to it every day, 24.7.365. The Veterans from OIF and OEF are young, a new generation that have a full life ahead of them. From the moment that they decide to leave the Service, the transition to the VA needs to begin. The VA must then respond to their needs in a way that supports their reintegration into the civilian world.

  • That means that the backlog of VA claims is cleared within 90 days. The failure of the government to process claims is not a basis for a delay in Veteran care. Delays in claims are a factor in Veteran homelessness, inability to find work and degraded medical conditions. This situation is completely unacceptable.
  • That means that all new claims will be submitted 60 days from the date of departure of active service in the Armed Forces while the Servicemember is still on active duty
  • That means full integration of DoD and VA medical systems – with any and all information security issues resolved via Congressional action
  • That means that VA Medical centers will be open on nights and weekends to allow working Veterans to access regular care without continued disruption to work schedules
  • That means that the VA and DoD will perform a top down review of all government positions to determine the cost\benefit of engaging fully qualified small businesses to perform the same work; thus acting more as an insurance provider rather than a point of service provider for medical services
  • That means the government establishes a central credentialing repository for all VA, DoD and Contractor physicians which eliminates real redundancies in each hospital to manage and credential physicians. Transparency in the activities of physicians will not only strengthen care, it will allow the use of telehealth capabilities in advance of solutions in the private sector.
  • That means leading the way in implementing a real online medical record solution, extending the use of MyHealtheVet to an integrated electronic medical record using the latest security technology.

Commitment to Strength. They call it low hanging fruit. It’s easy to target defense spending as the first area of cuts. We have all heard of the $1500 toilet bowl bought by the government. This type of unchecked spending threatens the sovereignty of our nation. Excessive levels of debt disrupt all financial units – whether it be a family, a business or a local, state or federal government. But, the knee jerk reaction can not be to axe away at defense spending while the current administration is unwilling to even mention, let alone seriously consider, reductions in entitlement programs. 

The strength of this nation is built on the bedrock of a strong national defense. And because this nation was born out of a Revolution, our most primal need is to protect the integrity of our Constitution. Veterans have served to do just that. We must thank them for that defining personal sacrifice. As a result, we bask in the glow of freedom hoping and talking about our future with our families, enjoying the dividends of years of stability. The rhythms of our lives do not include palpable concerns about foreign invasions, dictators, and bombs being thrown in front of school buses. Yet as our children and grandchildren sleep, there are tyrants and terrorists throughout the world that are planning our demise and would dance in the streets if the US government should collapse. 

We weren’t around during the War of 1812 when Washington burned, but we did witness the attack on our Pentagon in 9-11. Freedom is not an entitlement program. You don’t have to be a certain age, or a certain color, or from a certain income bracket. Freedom, in all the ways that we each define it and enjoy it, is something that we all get. But, it is also something that we must all protect.

God Bless America.

Scott Rutter is an expert columnist and senior contributor to Warrior Maven - these views are his own