May 17, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC), today suggested to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough a number of simple fixes that could smooth the process for servicemembers transitioning to veteran status. In a hearing of the SVAC committee, Senator King pressed the Secretary about feedback he heard on the transition process at his recent Brunswick Foreign Legion conversation. During the exchange, Senator King suggested that transferring transitioning servicemembers’ information from the military to the VA should be an opt-out system instead of the current opt-in process to ensure that veterans are properly equipped with the information and resources they need for a successful transition into civilian life.
“That two- or three-year period after leaving active duty is a moment of danger. And so I wondered if you had some thoughts about somethings we might be able to do to make this a more effective process in order to protect our veterans,” Senator King said.
Secretary McDonough replied “Yes, I think your instinct is exactly correct, in my view. I've talked about this with SecDef. We're looking at this a lot. I worry sometimes that we think the answer is to overload the transition. The TAP programs…”
“Yeah. Handing a veteran, a 300-page form is not the answer,” Senator King continued.
“Right. As you know, I'm not a vet, but I've signed out of jobs before, like, when I was leaving the White House, I signed a lot of different things, but I wasn't going to go to any extra thing that I didn't want to go to. So, what we think very strongly is we need to fit our programming and our opportunities into veterans’ lives through a customer experience journey rather than make them fit our stuff on our schedule, in our form,” the Secretary said. “So, we're making good progress on this. And that may mean that we're talking to veterans outside the Tap program, and we're using the program, using that time, as you say, in that year to three years after they've transitioned to establish a connection with them.”
Senator King concluded, “Well, one suggestion that I've been looking at is right now, an active duty service member has to opt in to have their data conveyed to the veterans service officer in the state. If we made that an opt out, it would probably increase the amount of contact. My vision is, frankly, someone meeting the veteran at the airport. Saying, “welcome home. Here are some resources. Here's my number, here's the VA number.” But we have to be able to contact the veteran. Now, if they don't want to be contacted, that's fine. But we've got this cadre of VSOs and people out there that are very willing to help, but we've got to make that connection easier.”
As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator King works to oversee the VA and ensuring the proper implementation of various programs, such as the PACT Act and the John Scott Hannon Act. Senator King hopes to help improve the bureau’s capacity by investing in its workforce, facilities, and other modernization efforts.
Last year, Senator King conducted nine interviews with Maine veterans as part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, an effort by the Library to collect, preserve and distribute the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. You can find or watch all nine of Senator King’s interviews HERE.
Senator King is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and has repeatedly pressed for action from top DoD officials on the issue of servicemember suicide. Additionally, he recently spearheaded the passage of legislation to better track and study servicemember suicides by job assignment. Senator King has also worked to properly honor and recognize the sacrifices of Purple Heart medal recipients, protect veterans from fraud, and expand veteran assisted living services.