By Bryn Garick, Managing Editor
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs delivered the keynote address during the opening ceremony of JWV’s 128th Annual National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida. Jacobs recognized the hard work that VA is doing to support veterans, saying that 2023 has been an extremely successful year for providing benefits to veterans and their families.
“Since the President took office, and with JWV’s support, we’ve delivered more care and more benefits to more veterans than at any other time in our history,” Jacobs said. “And all of that work adds up to the one statistic that actually matters most: Veterans’ lives saved or improved by the work that we do together.”
Jacobs addressed a primary goal of the VA: preventing veteran suicide. The 2022 VA National Suicide Prevention Annual Report states in 2020 the unadjusted rate for suicide among Veterans was nearly double the rate among non-Veterans.
Jacobs referenced 2022’s convention when keynote speaker VA Secretary Denis McDonough spoke about the rollout of the National Suicide Prevention Program “988 Press 1.” “Since that launch, the hotline has fielded over 1 million calls, texts, and messages with an average time to answer just under 10 seconds,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs remarked on veterans’ timely access to high quality healthcare. “In just the past year, veterans have had over 73 million out-patient appointments at VA, and 37 million more out-patient appointments with community care providers.” He addressed the increase in telehealth appointments, which provide veterans with needed care from the comfort of their own home “Creating more convenient healthcare through streamlined telehealth services and technology improvements has improved average wait times in nearly 60% of our facilities,” Jacobs said.
August 10th marked the one-year anniversary of the PACT Act, which expands health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances. Jacobs indicated that “veterans and survivors have filed over 2 million [PACT Act] claims,” adding that “VA has awarded nearly two billion dollars in earned benefits to veterans, their families, and survivors who have filed PACT act related claims.”
Jacobs then mentioned that the VA Life Insurance Policy “provides low-cost coverage to Veterans with service-connected disabilities.” He further explained that VA Life allows Veterans with any rating of service-related disability to apply, including those with 0% ratings.
Jacobs then spoke to other pressing concerns facing our society: antisemitism and other forms of hatred. Jacobs noted the incident that had just occurred in Jacksonville the day before, in which the cowardly gunman “drew swastikas on his guns.” Jacobs expressed that this incident has no place in our society. Jacobs stated that Americans must recommit to tackling all forms of hatred including racism and antisemitism.
“In order for us to combat and confront antisemitism, Americans first must recognize and understand it,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs then talked about the Administration’s National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism. “This strategy is the most ambitious and comprehensive United States government-led effort to fight antisemitism in American history,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs is the VA representative on the White House Interagency Policy Committee to Combat Antisemitism. He explained that the committee has developed a strategy that reflects input from the Jewish community as well as JWV and serves as a blueprint for tackling other forms of bigotry.
“Simply put, antisemitism has no place in America; all Americans should forcefully reject antisemitism wherever it exists,” said Jacobs. “We must stand united against hate to preserve the values that each of you fought to defend.”
Jacobs affirmed that the VA has taken steps in support of that national strategy.
“With your help, we’re going to keep our sacred promise to those who served and sacrificed for this country and to serve all Veterans as well as they’ve served us,” Jacobs declared at the conclusion of this address. “So, thank you for your service, for your unyielding dedication to ending discrimination, and for fighting like hell for our veterans alongside us.”
Volume 77. Number 3. 2023