Annex - Meetings held in Washington DC,
10-12 June 2013|
Below are details of those meetings relevant to the
inquiry into Implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in
Northern Ireland that members of the Committee
held during their visit to Washington DC.
Rob McDonald, Criminal Justice Consultant, presentation
on Veterans Treatment Courts
Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) were established
in 2008, and followed the model of the United States' Drug Courts,
first introduced in 1994, whereby non-violent offenders received
treatment, rather than a custodial sentence, to overcome their
behaviour. Ever more veterans had been appearing before the courts
and, if they did not receive treatment, would keep reoffending.
Since 2008 some 300 veterans had been dealt with by the Courts
and, significantly, none of them had reoffended. There were now
104 such Courts throughout the US.
VTCs had been set up to deal with the number of veterans,
both regular and reserve, who had become involved in crime and/or
had mental health problems. There were certain requirements for
an offender to meet if they wished to appear before a VTC; if
these criteria could not be met, the veteran would be dealt with
by a traditional court, and could end up in prison, or they would
be sent for treatment for their mental health issues. Court staff
would go through the records to see if anyone facing charges was
a veteran and, if so, if they then met the criteria to go before
a VTC. Although certain categories of violent offender were excluded
from the VTC system, some of the courts would deal with people
guilty of domestic abuse. Veterans did not have to approach a
VTC themselves; a court official would make the first contact.
The rationale behind the Courts was to get, and treat,
an offender who had committed a misdemeanour before they could
progress onto committing a felony. VTCs tried to change an offender's
behaviour; such changes were not instantaneous but they did transform
lives. When asked whether VTCs could be translated successfully
to the UK, due to the different legal systems in the UK and in
the US, it was pointed out that all individual US States had their
own legal systems, yet all of them now had VTCs.
VTCs helped members of the local community to become
involved with veterans, as there could be a perception that veterans
were treated more leniently than non-veterans. Veterans were not,
of course, the only group of people who were dealt with outside
the usual criminal justice system, and VTCs should be viewed in
the same way as Drug Courts, Young Offenders Courts and Family
Courts. However, there was generally a positive view of VTCs as
they were effective in reducing reoffending.
Senator Bernard Sanders, Chairman, and staff of
the Veterans Affairs Committee, US Senate
The Veterans' Affairs Committee was created in 1970
and under the Standing Rules of the Senate, the Veterans Affairs
Committee shall be referred all proposed legislation, messages,
petitions, memorials, and other matters relating veterans.
Concerning the disparity of service provision between
the federal and state Governments, we were told that:
· Veterans affairs is a national programme
provided by the federal Government (covering healthcare, disablement
· Veterans affairs has a budget of $150
billion (second largest US budget), and
· States provide some additional benefits,
but these are relatively minor.
Historically, keeping track of veterans had not been
good, but had improved in recent years. Service leavers were briefed
on benefits and joining the Veterans Administration (VA), received
advice on employment opportunities and also free healthcare. There
were still issues around leaving the Department of Defence
not automatically linking up with joining the VA, and also issues
around sharing medical records between these two Departments.
The US spent more on military per capita (4%) than
any other nation. Some thought that this was too high, but there
was generally a consensus that support for veterans was important.
Compensation payments were by far the biggest part of the veterans
budget, accounting for about 60% of the $150 billion.
If service personnel were wounded in action, they
would get healthcare through the VA and, if not wounded in action,
there was an income assessment for the VA to provide healthcare.
The VA also played a role in medical research, having led on work
into PTSD, and developed treatment options; there had been large
amounts of spending on PTSD and traumatic brain injuries in light
of soldiers wounded in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
More was also being done to support the families
of service people, with programmes being developed for children
and spouses, and programmes to focus on reintegration following
service, and informing families of the effects of service.
On education matters, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provided
free state tuition, course books, and a stipend. This was a very
lucrative benefit. The VA also provided training and education
for older veterans to improve employment prospects.
The VA also provided guarantees for home loans, allowing
veterans to purchase a home without a deposit.
Colonel Fred Hargreaves, British Embassy and Phil
Burdette, Principal Director, Wounded Warrior Care and Transition
Policy, US Department of Defence
A joint UK/US Service Personnel, Veterans and Families
Taskforce had been set up in May 2011, which had brought many
tangible benefits for the armed forces, particularly in respect
of medical issues. The United States leadership was very interested
in how the Covenant was being implemented in the UK, and would
be particularly interested in hearing about the situation in Northern
Ireland. Five Taskforce working groups had been set up
headed, on the UK side, by 3-Star Generals. The First Lady and
the Second Lady were fully involved in the "Families"
aspect of the Taskforce.
Until 2007, and the Walter Reed revelations, the
mental health problems experienced by veterans had not been appreciated,
but since then there had been a substantial initiative; nowadays
some 6000 people were responsible for looking after 12000 wounded
warriors. There were, however, still some enormous challenges,
especially for those personnel who had received severe inquiries.
It was noticeable that the new generation of veterans
were not joining the same organisations as their fathers and grandfathers
did when they left the forces so, as soon as anyone left the armed
forces, their details were passed onto the VA, who were proud
of how they kept in touch with veterans by utilising modern technology,
such as Smartphones.
In contrast to Northern Ireland, where S. 75 could
be seen as a possible barrier to the full implementation of the
Covenant, there was no equivalent Federal/State conflict in the
US; the Federal system was so strong that it tended to overwhelm
any conflict with State legislation - although the latter could
provide an additional safety net.
One particular area that was being tackled currently
was the situation whereby certain veterans, who had served as
pilots, medical staff or truck drivers, were unable to carry on
this occupation in civilian life as the military standard of training
did not meet the criteria needed to obtain a State License. Tax
breaks were available for companies taking on veterans, and the
private sector actively sought veterans to employ in their businesses.
In the UK, the Community Partnership had been successful,
but there was a different attitude in the US towards veterans,
and the support US veterans received was mind-boggling. Charities
played a much bigger role in supporting UK veterans as in the
US the Government took on a much greater role, although it was
acknowledged that the UK had the NHS, so veterans in the UK did
not have as many concerns about the provision of health and medical
services as did their American counterparts.
Karen Malebranche, Executive Director, Office
of Interagency Health Affairs, Veterans Health Administration,
Rob Reynolds, Director, Benefits Assistance Service, Veterans
Benefits Administration, and Anita Healy, Director, Memorial Programs,
National Cemetery Administration, US Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) is a Federal
Agency which provided an extensive range of services to veterans,
such as payment of disability compensation to the veteran, education
benefits to the veterans' dependents, survivor pensions, health
care to disabled veterans, insurance and home loan assistance,
and burial/cemetery services. The VA was very proactive
in outreach programs, especially designed to promote and protect
the health of veterans, and to ensure that veterans were aware
of their entitlements. Their mission statement is:
To fulfill President Lincoln's promise "To care
for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and
his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who
are America's veterans.
Three administrations that form the Department of
· the Veterans Benefits Administration;
· the Veterans Health Administration, and
· the National Cemetery Administration
Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
The VBA provided a number of benefits including:
· Disability compensation. $60 billion of
the VA's budget is for 7.5 million veterans receiving disability
compensation. This was for disabilities either incurred in or
aggravated by military service.
· Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
program, assisting Veterans with service-connected disabilities
to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment.
· Home Loan Guaranty. This programme helped
Veterans, Service members and eligible Reservists obtain, retain,
adapt or refinance a home.
· Education. The VA's program could provide
assistance for tuition, books, fees, housing and other costs under
a number of different entitlements.
The VA also produced a book, updated annually, outlining
all federal VA benefits.
Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
There were 22 million veterans in the United States,
and 8 million were enrolled with VA healthcare. Most veterans
had other options to accessing healthcare through the VHA, through
employment or private health insurance.
The VHA's budget for 2013 was $55.4 billion, and
had a staff of 277,000, of which 84,000 were veterans. The budget
is divided into appropriations (federal money) and collections
(from insurance providers). Healthcare under the VA was arranged
into 21 geographical areas (Veterans Integrated Service Networks),
· 152 medical centres (for in-patient care)
· 990 out-patient clinics
· 300 Vet Centres (for counselling services)
· 70 mobile Vet Centres
· 102 Domiciliary Residential Programs
· 134 Community Living Centres
The VHA's new healthcare delivery model emphasised
patient-led options, with comprehensive ends-based plans being
developed. The VA also had links with specialist centres for specific
needs the VA can't handle.
National Cemetery Administration (NCA)
The first national cemeteries were established in
1862; prior to that, soldiers had si,ply been buried where they
fell on the battlefield. The NCA's mission was to honour veterans
and their families with final resting places in national shrines
and lasting tributes that commemorated their service and sacrifice
to their nation. There were now 131 national cemeteries covering
20,000 acres, where 3.8 million Veterans, service members, Reservists
and family members had been laid to rest.
The NCA was responsible for providing burial space
for Veterans and eligible family members, and for maintaining
national cemeteries. The Administration also furnished headstones,
markers and medallions for the graves of Veterans around the world,
and administered a number of grants and certificate programs.
The NCA had a staff of 1,700, over 74% of whom were veterans (the
highest proportion in any federal agency).
Veterans and eligible family members were entitled
to a number of burial benefits, which included:
· Opening and closing of the grave
· Perpetual care of the gravesite
· Headstone, marker or medallion
· US flag
· Presidential Memorial Certificate
155 Members taking part were Laurence Robertson (Chair)
Mr David Anderson, Mr Joe Benton, Oliver Colvile, Mr Stephen Hepburn,
Jack Lopresti, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Nigel Mills, Ian Paisley
and Andrew Percy. Back
During the visit, the Committee also held meetings with British
Embassy, US Department of State, US Department of Energy, Northern
Ireland Bureau, Embassy of Ireland, United Airlines and White
House officials and individual Members of the US Congress. Back
Transition to Civilian Life, Mental Health, Rehabilitation, Families
Support and Deployed Medical Support. Back