In keeping with SOFREP’s efforts to help shape the political debate during this campaign season (see here and here), so that the discourse revolves around more than Donald Trump’s verbosity, hair, and numerous assurances of being “the best at military,” women’s issues, and the rest, this author offers the below outline version of a proposed ten-point plan to completely restructure and systematically change how we as Americans deal with our returning military veterans.  Welcome to The Veteran Deal.

Ok, admittedly, maybe it is not the best name in the world, but we can work on that.

After the last fifteen years of armed conflict, not to mention the nation’s previous wars — scores of veterans of which still populate the country — it is time for a concerted and unified national effort to put our veterans to work, care for and house those who need it, and harness the experiences and lessons they have learned to move the country forward.

Our current crop of veterans, in addition to those who came before them in past wars, have insights and experiences that will help them be valuable contributors to politics, business, and civic life.  Some have medical issues that need to be addressed.  Some need assistance finding jobs or paying for school.  Some have fallen through society’s cracks, and need help getting off the streets, and out of poverty.

This proposed set of initiatives, cumulatively called The Veteran Deal, and admittedly, in need of further refining and fleshing out, nevertheless offers us a place to start.  So, here it is.

1. Completely restructure the Office of Veterans Affairs (the VA).  Bring in the business and medical gurus and consultants that we all know are out there, pay them the ridiculously high fees that they will require to offer their services, and follow their advice in restructuring the VA.  Overhaul it from the ground floor.  Start again.  Make it sleek, and efficient, and pretend it is a company that needs to offer a quality service, for a good price, in a timely manner.  Make it happen.  The VA will run The Veteran Deal program, so it must be done right.

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2. Use the same focus and drive that has recently led to revolutionary advances in combat medicine to focus on veterans’ health care, across the spectrum.  Create and nurture those already-existing centers of excellence that cover the whole spectrum of veterans care, from psychiatric, trauma, and medical treatment, to physical rehabilitation from serious injury, and everything in between.  Become the world’s leading country in innovative and forward-leaning veterans-focused healthcare.

3. Restructure the G.I. Bill, Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, and all other veteran educational benefit programs into one comprehensive program, that will cover not only higher education costs, but vocational programs ranging from blue-collar trades to nursing and Emergency Medical Services training, and everything in between.  Include in this a concerted effort to recruit veterans into municipal government jobs (fire, police, EMS, etc) and federal jobs (park rangers, FEMA, the VA, etc) that will give them the same sense of mission and purpose that they experienced in the military.  Can you imagine if the VA became the largest employer of veterans in the federal government, so that veterans were serving veterans?  Revolutionary.

4. Create a position within the VA that is the equivalent of a Genius Bar at an Apple Store, where veterans can walk in to multiple locations across the country and receive assistance in claiming their Vet Deal benefits.  Place these Vet Deal Geniuses at all military recruitment centers, alongside military recruiters, and make their sole job acting as a gateway for veterans into the Vet Deal program.  Place them everywhere, and make it easy for veterans to find them.

5. Create a system of Veterans’ Homes, run by and for veterans, and with a modicum of military efficiency and structure, to combat veteran homelessness, and offer Vet Deal services to those who move through the Homes.  Make them full-service shelters, offering assistance across the board.

6. Continue and expand preferences for veteran-owned businesses and hiring, including tax breaks and incentives for those organizations that hire veterans and support The Vet Deal.  Pay for this specific part of the program by levying taxes on the defense industry, which has made millions and millions on America’s national defense spending.  Let a portion of those profits go toward helping veterans who actually fought America’s wars.

7. Encourage both political parties in America to recruit qualified veterans to run for national and state office, so that the veteran voice returns to our government.  Create veteran-only fellowships in the White House, Supreme Court, and Congress.  Give these veterans a path to participate in the governing of the country.

8. Create and foster a system of veteran-focused academic organizations on college campuses across America, so that the veteran experience can be shared with those in America’s universities, specifically those in national defense and security policy programs across America.  Create a way for academia to tap into the veteran experience, so that the divide between academia and the military is bridged.

9. Create a program within or alongside the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that taps into the veteran experience to enrich the arts, and to help veterans share their experiences through the arts.  Foster a growth of artistic and cultural expression for those with veteran experiences, and enrich our understanding of those experiences through the arts.

10. Pay for The Vet Deal through a newly-created tax — one that should have been levied after September 11, 2001 — so that all Americans have the chance to contribute to the war effort of the last fifteen years.  A small number of Americans have contributed a great deal since 9/11, through their military service.  It is time for their sacrifice to be shared more broadly, and what better way than through a new “Support the Veterans Tax” that will allow all of us to collectively show that we bear the burden of America’s defense?

It is time for The Veteran Deal.