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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Veterans, Military Families and the 2016 Election

Terron Sims, Board Member, Truman National Security Project
Philadelphia, PA
July 27, 2016

Date: 07/27/2016 Location: Philadelphia, PA Description: Terron Sims, Board Member at the Truman National Security Project, discusses the role of veterans and military families in this year's election at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. - State Dept Image

4:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome again to the Foreign Press Center at the Democratic National Convention. Just a reminder, our briefings are being streamed live on, and the transcripts will also be posted there and the video on the DVIDS hub. Our briefings are on the record and all our briefers’ views are their own and do not reflect U.S. Government policy. And when we get to the question-and-answer portion, please state your name and outlet for the transcript, and look out for the microphone, which will be coming from the left or the right.

So with that, I’d like to introduce our next speaker, Terron Sims II. He is the senior partner and founder of Doug Pollard LLC and on the board of principals for the Truman National Security Project and a member of the American Council in Germany. In 2014, Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed Terron to serve on the Virginia Military Advisory Council. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and was deployed in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and while there he established and mentored the government in Baghdad’s Tisa Nissan district, where he served as the liaison officer to the CPA and the United Nations. He is president of the Northern Virginia Black Democrats, chairs the Democratic Party of Virginia’s Veterans and Military Families Caucus, and is on Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Steering Committee and vice chair for recruitment of the DNC’s Veterans and Military Families Council. You keep very busy. (Laughter.)

And without further ado, I will turn it over to Mr. Sims.

MR SIMS: Afternoon. I’ll just dive into the speech. Hopefully – I hope you guys are all policy wonks. This is a policy speech.

So I believe in making sure that people who sacrifice for us are given all the care and the benefits and support that they need, and I believe that taking care of our veterans is part of our solemn duty as Americans. When Secretary Clinton stated these words, they are not just words but an innate part of her foundational value set, for her father was a World War II Navy veteran. Secretary Clinton was raised knowing just how imperative it is to support our women and men in uniform, our military family members, and our veterans.

Supporting our veterans strengthens our military, our economy, and our country. It is a part of our broader commitment of taking care of our Marines, soldiers, coast guardsmen, sailors, and airmen, and their families. They all are volunteers, all having sacrificed in the service to our nation against all enemies both foreign and domestic. A future Hillary Clinton administration will support the women and men who make our military the best trained, best equipped, and the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, while ensuring that we properly invest in them and their families as they transition out of the military and after they have completed their uniformed service to the nation.

Military families face unique concerns and challenges, especially after 14 years of continuous deployments. Military family readiness is critical to our total force readiness. Secretary Clinton will build on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative with a national push to improve the pipeline of our nation’s veterans into the workforce. To tackle these challenges, a Hillary Clinton administration will provide military families with additional opportunities and much-needed flexibility in juggling a myriad of challenges, some of which are increasing access to child care; creating flexibility around military moves by allowing families to continue receiving their housing allowance for up to six months after a military member’s PCS move under common-sense circumstances – for example, when the service member has a spouse enrolled in a degree-granting program or when one or more children is enrolled in a local school; expand military spouse employment initiatives; and make the post-9/11 GI Bill a lasting part of the nation’s social contract with those who serve, working with Congress to pass legislation that solidifies existing benefits, preserves and extends family transferability including to nontraditional families, and expands qualified uses in the 21st century economy.

A Hillary Clinton administration will continue efforts to identify and treat invisible, latent, and toxic wounds of war that continue to affect veterans, family members, and caregivers long after their service, such as Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, the effects from burn pits, and two issues on which Secretary Clinton has focused for several years, PTS and TBI. In addition too, her administration will maintain presumptions of service connection for latent and invisible wounds from all our nation’s wars while directing the VA to consider additional presumptions of service connection for disabilities arising from toxic exposure; dedicate research funding and provide mechanisms for collaborative efforts to facilitate the development and expansion of evidence-based diagnostic tools and treatments for veteran-centric conditions, including mental health issues and other invisible, latent, and toxic wounds of war; and direct the VA, Health and Human Services, and DOD to collaborate and integrate portfolios when it makes sense to do so.

To move decisively at ending veteran homelessness, the Hillary Clinton administration will build upon successful initiatives and expand programs that help ensure long-term success; for example, increase funding for reducing homelessness while expanding public-private partnerships, expand complementary programs and services, and also addressing the needs of homeless women veterans and homeless veteran families by clarifying language in the Fair Housing Act that removes ambiguities in the law regarding gender and family-specific housing.

Secretary Clinton will bring sustained and focused White House leadership and attention to coordinate the programs supporting our veterans across all levels of government, ensure continued consultation and engagement with the veterans and military families community, and leverage the private sector to ensure the entire nation is mobilized to meet this challenge. To do so, she will create a standing president’s council on veterans coordinated by a senior White House official responsible for veterans’ integration.

The council will be an all-of-government approach to supporting veterans comprised of the heads of all 17 agencies involved in our mission to synchronize and integrate the patchwork of programs and benefits; conduct an end-to-end evaluation to optimize the full scope of benefits afforded to our veterans and provide recommendations to ensure that greater investments in services and support for veterans are smart, effective, and will best meet the needs of veterans today and for generations to come; convene a White House summit on veterans to personally address progress on veterans’ issues with all stakeholders directly; meet early and regularly with a cross-section of veterans to understand their needs and ensure we meet our promises; and work with state governors to ensure that veterans and national guard issues are addressed at the state level given their important role; finally, to continue to engage private and philanthropic sectors with our efforts by ensuring that companies understand and embrace the value of hiring veterans and by amending federal ethics and acquisition regulations to allow the VA, Department of Defense, and other federal agencies to effectively partner with the private and nonprofit sectors, including better data sharing, more open access to federal facilities, and sharing of resources.

At this time, this concludes my remarks. I’m open to questions if there are any.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Lauri Tankler with Estonian Public Broadcasting TV and radio news. What would you say about the other party’s nominee’s – Mr. Trump’s remarks that he would set up a phone line and maybe personally take care of veterans because they need some help or assistance? Have – I’m just going to let you – yeah.

MR SIMS: Yeah. One, the phone lines that he’s referring to already exist, so it’s just another example of Mr. Trump not understanding or even having any comprehension of how government functions or how any of this veteran, veteran/military family services function or exist. We do have some infrastructure issues that we have to work within the VA, of course, and so those helplines – so there is a suicide helpline. There’s also like a general benefits type helpline. And so we’ll be – I’m trying to say – I want to say robusting, but I don’t think that’s a word. We’ll be making that more robust, ensuring that we’re hiring folks so that those lines can continue and people can get help. But to directly answer your question, it already exists.

QUESTION: One more?

MR SIMS: Oh, cool.

QUESTION: Just one more. The VA scandal that was sparked in 2014 and everything that the Veterans Affairs – it’s been difficult to fix even now. How much do you see this as the fault of the Obama Administration right now, and how much have you – how would you evaluate their efforts to fix this?

MR SIMS: The VA is an interesting issue with respect to the problems, especially the publicized ones you mentioned from 2014. VA is a massive bureaucracy, right, so when we were campaigning in 2008 we had this laundry list of things, great things that we wanted to do to improve the VA, make it more modernized – 21st century technology, improve the benefits process, decrease the wait times for veterans to both register for the VA and also get health care. And so the Administration went in wholeheartedly going in to fix those things, and a lot of those things they did fix and did improve upon. But because the bureaucracy is so large and the workforce is so immense, it didn’t happen as fast as we wanted it to happen.

So right now with the new secretary in place – I guess he’s not really new anymore; he’s been in for about a year and a month now – we’re pushing forward those initiatives, creating more transparency, especially down at the hospital level; creating more accountability for those hospital administrators, and at least will hopefully – going into January of 2017, we’ll be creating some more, like, initiatives, some plans to, I guess, help alleviate more of that wait time so that we don’t have any of these big front-cover issues. I mean, there are always going to be issues, but obviously we don’t want to be – hurt anybody.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Just follow up one more. So would you say that the Republicans’ notion that the veterans aren’t being taken care of in this country and they’re going to fix that, and that’s not true?

MR SIMS: Yeah, the Republican rhetoric is rhetoric. I can answer this in two ways. It might turn into three.

So first, Republicans are always – when we go through the budget process and the VA is ask – requesting X amount of dollars, not only does the Republican Party say no to the increase, but they actually – they also are slashing the budgets. And they do this across the board and have been doing it for at least two decades.

The other piece too is generally when Democratic legislatures are attempting to put in new policy, new legislation to improve the VA, however you want to define that, again, Republicans aren’t standing up for those things because they know it costs money. So they take the easy road by just saying yeah, we support veterans, but then you ask them to take a step forward and they can’t tell you exactly what they’re going to do to improve veteran services because they know it’s going to cost money.

MODERATOR: All right, Mr. Sims. I want to thank you for your time today.

MR SIMS: Cool. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone. The briefing is concluded.

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