Delivering for Veterans
As the daughter of a World War II veteran, Claire believes America has a moral responsibility to keep its promises to those who have sacrificed to protect our country. While much work remains to be done to ensure that those who have served receive the benefits and care they have earned, Claire - as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and founding member of the Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus - has successfully championed new policies and resources to improve the quality of life for America's military heroes.
Claire has traveled throughout Missouri to meet directly with hundreds of veterans in dozens of communities to hear their stories. She asked questions about which programs worked, which ones didn't, and what Congress could do about it. The firsthand stories she heard helped shape her priorities for the Senate to include:
- Fully funding the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- Improving access to treatment for mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury
- Strengthening the treatment of substance abuse disorders
- Reducing wait times to receive benefits
- Establishing an automatic cost-of-living adjustment for veterans
- Expanding education benefits and ensuring they reflect today’s education costs
- Increasing access to all services for rural veterans
Claire was recognized nationally for her work to successfully replace the Army officials managing Walter Reed Army Medical Center following reports of neglect at the facility and to clean up the mismanagement of Arlington National Cemetery following disclosures of mismarked gravesites. More recently, Claire has focused on addressing the Pentagon’s troubled recovery efforts for American personnel who are prisoners of war or missing in action (POW/MIA), saying “We should be honoring our missing heroes by ensuring that these operations are being conducted in a competent and transparent way…”
Strengthening Services and Care
In 2011, Claire launched the Veterans’ Customer Satisfaction Program (VCSP)—a confidential secret shopper survey that gives thousands of Missouri veterans an opportunity to offer direct, meaningful feedback on the quality of service they receive at their local VA facility.
This secret shopper program—which Claire designed after a series of incidents called into question the care provided at the St. Louis VA Medical Center, John Cochran Division—brings together local veteran leaders, the VA, and Claire’s staff to address the frustrations of veterans, assess the quality of customer care they receive, and seek solutions where they identify problems. The surveys come from the hands of veterans directly to her office, with the help of veterans’ service organizations like the American Legion and VFW. Claire has said that the surveys “are the best, most valuable indication of what care is being provided at Missouri VA facilities… I think other parts of the country could learn a lesson from this effort.”
Hiring our Heroes
A founding member of the Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus, Claire recognizes the urgent need to expand job opportunities for veterans returning home - and believes that unemployment and homelessness among veterans is a stain on our nation.
Claire cosponsored and helped to pass the 21st Century GI Bill—one of the most important new benefits passed for veterans in decades. The bill provides an important financial benefit to those who have served in the military since September 11, 2001, to assist them in pursuing a college degree or vocational training, and gives a unique transfer option for veterans to pass the benefits to family members. Claire also helped to pass the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which provides tax credits to employers to hire veterans, extends educational opportunities to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and helps veterans translate their military experience into relevant skills sought by civilian employers.
Claire believes more work must be done to ensure that the skills mastered by military veterans are recognized by civilian employers back home, and has pledged to continue working to address this critical challenge.
Mental Health Parity
With more and more veterans returning from tours of duty overseas, Claire is committed to ensuring that each one of our men and women in uniform has access to the mental health care they have earned. She believes that too many of our veterans have fallen through the cracks as it relates to depression, suicide, PTSD and combat-related stress. That’s why Claire helped pass a provision to ensure that military members returning from duty in combat zones receive mental health care screenings with a qualified provider at set intervals for a period of two years following their return home. Similarly, she backed a measure on behalf of Guard and Reserve forces to ensure that they receive access to quality mental health care following their return to the U.S. from duty overseas.
Following America’s war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Claire recognizes the importance of continuing to improve the quality and breadth of mental health services and substance abuse programs to confront menacing issues of combat and operational stress and PTSD Claire understands that a failure to address these needs can lead to long-term issues such as homelessness and high unemployment.
Claire has said that when our military servicemembers return from combat injured, it's not just the veteran who is affected—friends and family are often called upon to provide care and assistance to their loved ones. Claire continues to fight for support services for families of wounded warriors. She supported and helped pass into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act to provide assistance to family members of veterans in need of personal care services due to a serious injury incurred or aggravated during active duty. This measure, which would be particularly beneficial to families of disabled veterans in rural areas, aims to train and certify family members as qualified caregivers and provide the counseling and resource services necessary to ensure they are best equipped to handle the demands of this selfless service to their disabled, veteran family member.
Claire is also fighting to include veterans who have been traumatically wounded as a result of deployment-related vaccines. Inspired by the case of a young servicemember from Springfield who was medically retired from active duty, she introduced Lance Corporal Josef Lopez Fairness for Servicemembers Harmed by Vaccines Act to ensure the VA's Traumatic Service Member Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) coverage and benefits extend to these forgotten servicemembers who sometimes undergo long-term hospitalizations, paralysis, amputation as a result of severe reaction to vaccines.
Shortly after Claire arrived in the Senate, a Washington Post series outlined how the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. was plagued by deplorable conditions in outpatient living facilities and red-tape laden bureaucracy. Claire, along with then-Senator Barack Obama, introduced the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, which served as the basis for successful legislation that provided immediate relief to servicemembers making the transition from active duty to VA at facilities like Walter Reed.
Following disclosures of unmarked and mismarked gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery, Claire led a years-long successful effort to correct mismanagement at the cemetery, and implement legislative reforms to hold Army leadership accountable. “The courageous men and women laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery dedicated their lives to protecting our freedom,” Claire said at the time. “These are our American heroes, and they deserve to be treated with the honor and dignity befitting of their sacrifices.”
And Claire has led the fight to address systemic mismanagement of the Pentagon’s POW/MIA recovery efforts, drafting measures giving the Pentagon a six-month deadline to release a comprehensive plan to address the mismanagement in its recovery efforts and winning inclusion of her language in annual defense legislation.
Education and the New G.I. Bill
Claire believes that America should make good on its promise to provide veterans with an education as a benefit honoring their service and sacrifice. She cosponsored and successfully helped pass into law the Post 9/11 Veteran's Education Assistance Act. The program is administered by the VA and provides the greatest boost to veterans' higher education benefits since World War II. The bill entitles veterans who served three years on active duty after September 11, 2001, to full tuition assistance and a living stipend for attending college.
Claire is fighting hard to ensure that our men and women in uniform do not experience any discrimination when it comes to applying for outside federal financial aid. She has proposed legislation to ensure that any service-connected education benefits do not count against veterans on applications for federal financial aid. Claire also introduced a bill to make certain that National Guard and Reserve servicemembers who have not experienced a deployment are not treated differently than other service members when they apply for federal financial aid.
Smoother Transition From the Military to the VA
Claire believes that a smooth transition from active duty is crucial in making certain that no one falls through the cracks. She supports a number of measures, such as electronic medical records, that would help veterans stay connected between the military and the VA. As part of her pledge to fight for a better homecoming for veterans, she coauthored the Homecoming Enhancement Research and Oversight (HERO) Act, which would require comprehensive research on the physical and mental health and other readjustment needs of military men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Claire believes that providing our men and women in uniform with the resources and tools they need to treat the rising incidence of substance abuse in our armed forces will help address the increased rates of divorce, suicide, crime and domestic violence and mental health issues like PTSD that are associated with drug and alcohol abuse. Problems with the existing military substance abuse program, such as understaffing and lack of anonymity, were brought to Claire's attention by a whistleblower at Fort Leonard Wood Army Base in Missouri. In response, Claire authored legislation, the SUPPORT for Substance Use Disorders Act to overhaul the alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs available for Wounded Warriors and veterans. Her legislation had the support of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), among other groups. Claire’s amendment ordered a comprehensive review, report, and plan on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse disorders in the military and called on the Department of Defense to implement new policies based on any “best practices” that emerge from the study.
Serving Rural Veterans
Claire believes that where they choose to live should not hinder any veteran's ability to receive the benefits they fought hard to earn. She heard about many challenges faced by Missouri's rural veterans during her statewide listening tours, and as a result, helped pass into law the Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act, which expanded care in rural areas through partnerships between the VA, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services at critical access hospitals and community health centers.
Claire was proud to help pass into law a measure that provides innovative transportation options to veterans in remote rural areas and has supported efforts to raise reimbursement rates for veterans for their travel expenses. Thanks to her efforts, disabled veterans who drive long distances for health care appointments now receive nearly four times the amount of money per mile than they had been receiving in reimbursement for their travel expenses.
Commemorating their service
In addition to providing the health care and education benefits that our nation's veterans deserve, Claire supports efforts to publicly recognize the sacrifice of those who have served our country so bravely.
During her time in office, she has helped secure military honors for veterans who inadvertently never received the medals they earned. Elsberry, Mo. veteran John Brown, St. Peters, Mo. veteran Walter Sitzwohl, and Farmington, Mo. veteran Dencil Francis all received the Purple Heart awards they had earned decades earlier as a result of Claire’s advocacy. And Claire joined a bipartisan group of Senators in backing successful legislation that ensures combat medals such as the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart rank ahead of a new medal honoring service away from the front lines—the recently announced Distinguished Warfare Medal that will recognize extraordinary achievement by unmanned aerial vehicle pilots and cyber warriors.
Claire has also introduced bipartisan legislation to designate the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, as the National World War I Memorial in recognition of the sacrifice made by so many Americans and their families.
And Claire supports legislation that would put in place criminal penalties for anyone who profits from making a false claim relating to military service or awards. Under the Stolen Valor Act, anyone found guilty of violating the bill would face a fine and up to six months in prison.