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Veterans' Rights - On Paper, at Least

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You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't believe veterans deserve a stable and productive life after serving their country in the armed forces. But for many discharged vets - including women and members of minorities - life after service can be extremely difficult. Veterans are at an increased risk of suicide and homelessness, and often silently suffer from mental and physical handicaps such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Other abandoned veterans may turn to theft in order to survive, or are arrested due to outbursts triggered by wartime flashbacks. (for these situations, see the New Jersey Courts' Veteran's Assistance Project) It's an unspoken truth that veterans returning from service are oftentimes one of society's most vulnerable groups.

Veterans' rights are mostly covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an agency known as much for its failures than its success in helping the men and women who have served. One protective measure - on paper - is the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which enforces the affirmative action provisions of the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). This law serves two functions: (1) it encourages employers tied to the federal government to actively recruit disabled, active, recently separated, and decorated veterans for employment and (2) prevents the employers from utilizing discriminatory recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices that unfavorably affect those with veteran status. It also requires reasonable accommodations to allow mentally- and physically-handicapped veterans to perform the functions of their employment. Additional information for filing a complaint under this act can be found on the Department of Labor's website for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Another federal program is the also controversial Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which provides health care services to Community Living Center patients and residents. The VHA is also supposed to provide rights for veterans' family members, including the ability to make medical decisions if the veteran is unable to. Veterans may also qualify for disability compensation, if a medical condition was created or worsened through their service, or pension programs, if veterans are unable to continue working due to such a medical condition.

Other, local, resources exist, like Rutgers University's Veterans PTSD Support Group in Piscataway. The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has a Women in Sustainable Employment (WISE) program.

If a veteran wants more opportunities by returning to school, the GI Bill program provides financial assistance for higher education tuition, housing, and supplies. Many financial packages exist as well: veterans in need may be able to obtain favorable home loans, mortgages, and life insurance programs. Though government initiatives are far from perfect, they at least establish legal rights to protect those who have protected their country. Veterans battling a bureaucracy should seek out advocates for assistance, whether a congressman, state representative, private organization or lawyer. Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 collaborated with me on this blog. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.

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