By Amy Klobuchar
US Senator (MN-DFL)
There are nearly 24 million military veterans in the U.S., including more than 400,000 living in Minnesota. These men and women have served our country with honor. When they complete their active service and return home, they are due all the respect and support we can offer.
Through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other federal agencies, veterans may be eligible for a broad range of benefits. These include health care, disability compensation, pensions, education benefits, home loans, vocational rehabilitation, life insurance and emergency assistance.
But many Minnesota veterans tell me that it is hard to find good authoritative information about these federal benefits. Moreover, the application process can be complicated and confusing. It can be like filling out a tax return, only worse.
This isn’t right. Our veterans deserve to come home to benefits that are wrapped in yellow ribbon, not red tape.
The current VA website (www.va.gov) falls short of what a state-of-the-art site should do. It is notoriously frustrating to navigate. Even worse, the information is not comprehensive. That means a veteran could search the entire VA website and still not find the right information.
The VA has attempted to improve access to information by creating additional websites, such as the National Resource Directory. But the effect has been to scatter existing information across the Internet, making it even more difficult and time-consuming to find.
That’s why I recently introduced legislation with a common-sense solution. My Senate cosponsors are Republican Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington.
The Veterans OneSource Act of 2010 would require the VA to develop a modern, one-stop, user-friendly website providing comprehensive information for veterans, their family members and caregivers.
Under this legislation, the VA would have to consolidate and then expand all existing Internet resources for veterans (whether from the VA or other federal agencies) into an authoritative website with information on every issue that could be of concern to a veteran, family member or caregiver.
This website would cover everything from health and education benefits, to employment opportunities and veteran-specific discounts, to child-care locators and caregiver resources for families, and more.
The legislation would also encourage the VA to modernize the website’s capabilities with user-friendly features and interactive tools that could guide users through the site and offer more personalized information-sharing
This legislation is modeled in part after a successful program established by the Department of Defense in 2003. Military OneSource (www.militaryonesource.com) is the single place to go whenever service members or family members need assistance with any kind of problem.
It is available to all six million active duty, Guard and Reserve service members and their families. It offers around-the-clock information on a wide range of topics including deployment, relocation, spouse employment and education assistance, parenting and child care, education, finances, health and wellness and everyday issues.
While on active duty, many younger veterans have grown accustomed to the modern information tools on Military OneSource. In the transition to civilian life, they have been frustrated that the VA does not offer similar online assistance.
Making access to veterans information as simple and easy as possible is especially important in Minnesota. Our state does not have any military bases, so there is no place with a concentration of veterans. Also, many Minnesota veterans live in small communities and rural areas. They may be far away from the big city, but most have Internet access or can get it through their local library.
Also, some veterans can be reluctant to ask for help in person. For them, it may be more comfortable to get information via the Internet rather than through face-to-face contact.
A recent study noted that 40 percent of Minnesota counties have less than one full-time veterans service officer, and most do not have full-time support staff. Veterans OneSource would complement the more personalized “go between” assistance already offered by the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and by county veterans service officers, helping them to bridge the gap in services to veterans.
We live in a time when people expect that they can and should be able to get almost anything through the Internet. Our veterans should expect nothing less.