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Vets group has action plan for new president

Sep. 2, 2008 - 06:41AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 2, 2008 - 06:41AM  |  
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A group representing the interests of the 1.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans issued a 10-point action plan for the next U.S. president, which includes giving a long-delayed $1,000 monthly payment to service members on repeated or extended deployments.

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A group representing the interests of the 1.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans issued a 10-point action plan for the next U.S. president, which includes giving a long-delayed $1,000 monthly payment to service members on repeated or extended deployments.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-partisan group formed in 2004, said in a statement that having a new person in the White House — Democrat or Republican — offers the opportunity to make some big changes. "With the new president in office next year, America will have the chance to turn the page on the way veterans were treated after Vietnam," IAVA says in a statement.

Most of the issues mentioned by IAVA involve improving veterans' benefits and health care. It wants the disability benefits system to be improved and streamlined, the backlog of veterans' benefits claims cut in half by the end of 2009, 50,000 vouchers issued to find housing for homeless veterans, and the Veterans Affairs Department to more aggressively advertise its services so veterans know what they have earned.

IAVA wants families to have more access to mental health services, both on military bases and in veterans' centers; and for shortages of mental health professionals in the Defense Department and VA to be filled as quickly as possible.

For active-duty members, the group wants mandatory and confidential mental health screening for every returning combat veteran both before and after their deployment, and it wants tax incentives to encourage private-sector companies to hire veterans and reservists.

Deployment pay made the IAVA list "because we have heard from a lot of people about how high deployments has been really hard on military people and their families," said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA's executive director. "This is something the president could do with the stroke of the pen," he said, noting there is existing authority to provide the monthly payment for extended or repeated deployments, but the program was never implemented because the Defense Department decided to waive the policy after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

On some of the issues listed by IAVA, like reducing the claims backlog, both presidential candidates have talked about making improvements if they are elected — but Rieckhoff said neither Republican Sen. John McCain nor Democrat Sen. Barack Obama had provided detailed plans.

IAVA has attended both the Democratic and Republican national conventions but will not be endorsing a candidate, Rieckhoff said.

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