Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Doing Right by Our Veterans Starts with Making Sure They Know About Benefits

May 21, 2001
Op-Ed

Throughout our nation's history, millions of men and women have served in our armed forces -- during times of peace and war -- defending the freedoms and way of life that we all treasure so dearly. Our country has a duty to honor this sacrifice by providing veterans and their families with a wide variety of benefits.

We hear in the news so much about how the special needs of our veterans are not being met, but doing right by our veterans starts with the very basics -- providing them with timely and accurate information about what benefits they are entitled to receive and how to obtain them. Too often, however, this has not been the case.

Incredibly, a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) indicates that less than one-half of all veterans contacted were aware of certain benefits they are entitled to, such as pensions for disabled and low-income veterans. As a veteran myself, this is simply unacceptable and needs to be immediately corrected.

In order to address this very serious problem, I recently introduced a bill in the United States Congress called the "Veterans' Right to Know Act." My measure would:

  • Require the VA to inform veterans about eligibility for benefits and health care services whenever a veteran first applies for any benefit with the VA;
  • Require the VA to help widows and survivors of veterans by informing them at the time of a burial request or application for life insurance proceeds about the full array of benefits available to them;
  • Require the VA Secretary to prepare an annual outreach plan that will include efforts to identify veterans who are not otherwise enrolled or registered with the Department for benefits or services, and will also include provisions for informing veterans and dependents of any changes in benefit programs or health care eligibility;
  • Require the VA to consult with veterans' service organizations in developing the plan. This will ensure that the special needs of our nation's veterans will be addressed.

So many men and women have served America with valor and distinction and the very least our government can do is let America's heroes know what programs are out there to assist them. That is what my Veterans' Right to Know Act is all about.

Some statistics serve to show just how many veterans are out there. There are 48,440 veterans living in the 21 municipalities of New Jersey's Eighth Congressional District and the Garden State has total of 740,660 veterans. According to the VA, the current national population of veterans is estimated at 25.6 million. And many folks probably don't realize that 80 of every 100 living veterans served during defined periods of armed hostilities. Altogether, almost one-third of the nation's population -- approximately 70 million persons who are veterans, dependents and survivors of deceased veterans -- are potentially eligible for VA benefits and services.

The Veterans' Right to Know Act is strongly backed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, and the American Legion.

This is not about doing veterans any favors. Ensuring that every person who has served our nation know what benefits they have earned is our most basic responsibility. Support for my bill is growing in Congress among members of both political parties, and I will fight to pass this critical piece of legislation because our veterans, who have ensured that America remains free, deserve nothing less.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about this, or any other issue, please feel free to write me at 200 Federal Plaza, Suite 500, Paterson, New Jersey 07505, or call me at (973) 523-5152.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.

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