How 14th Congressional District candidates Hultgren, Walz plan to help veterans

Both Democrat Jim Walz and incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren are reaching out to veterans in the closing days of the 14th Congressional District campaign by unveiling dueling proposals aimed at improving the post-service lives of military personnel.

Hultgren stepped up his appeal to veterans Sept. 29. That's when he sent a letter to the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department urging the implementation of the Veterans Choice Program. Congress called for the program more than a year ago in a VA reform plan. It would provide for home care services to veterans without access to transportation, but so far the VA has not implemented it.

“Our veterans deserve results,” Hultgren said in a speech timed with his letter. “How many veterans are waiting for physician visits? How can the VA sit on its hands while our nation's veterans wait and suffer?”

Hultgren doubled down on that call by hosting a forum last week about veterans treatment courts. The courts provide veterans treatment to address mental health disorders and substance abuse problems that resulted from combat duty. The idea is to help veterans adjust back to civilian life and keep them out of prison.

A new Illinois law requires all Illinois counties to establish veterans treatment courts by 2017. Only 12 counties have the courts.

Walz believes Hultgren hasn't gone far enough to help veterans, especially in an area key to civilian life — getting a job. That's where the Veteran's Promise Initiative comes in. The program, Walz said, would guarantee a job for any veteran who receives an honorable discharge from the military.

The jobs would come via the Army Corps of Engineers. Veterans would work on public safety, infrastructure and environmental improvement projects.

Walz estimates the cost of employing about 500,000 jobless veterans will be about $26 billion. He would pay for it with savings resulting from reform of government procurement processes and savings on health care resulting from the veterans having jobs with insurance benefits.

“This program will put an end to the deplorable economic reality that our men and women in uniform endure today,” Walz said. “It will provide unemployed veterans with an opportunity to share their skills with the nation and rebuild our broken economy. Not only does this make financial sense, but it's the right thing to do.”

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