SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Dana Gardner, Pat Romanski, Zakia Bouachraoui, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White

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Veterans Should Get More Help, Not Less, from the FCC's Lifeline Program

The Lifeline program making cellphones and broadband service available to an estimated 1.3 million low-income U.S. veterans is a vital service, but one that needs to be expanded to help more vets, according to a filing made at the Federal Communications Commission by Constance A. Burns, president and CEO, National Association of American Veterans (NAAV).

The filing with the FCC comes as the Commission is considering changes – including a restrictive budget cap, higher minimum standards that would shrink available service, and limitations on the enrollment through the National Verifier System for Lifeline – that could end up seeing many or even most vets being forced out of the program.

In her communication with the FCC, Burns notes: “While several federal programs direct billions of dollars annually to projects that deployment of broadband infrastructure, only Lifeline focuses on affordability of essential communications services for low-income households. We urge the Commission to recognize the role of Lifeline in helping low-income and rural veterans afford critical broadband internet service. Furthermore, we urge the Commission to strengthen the ability of Lifeline to help low-income veterans access essential (telehealth and other) services, in both rural and urban areas...”

Burns also told the FCC: “...the Commission can do more to make Lifeline an even friendlier and more accessible program to our nation's low-income veterans. That includes the FCC working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify and assess whether the addition of other federal eligibility programs such as VA's Supportive Housing (VASH) Program could help promote low-income veterans' access to broadband.”

A key NAAV concern is about vets who may be unfairly excluded from Lifeline on the basis of technical rules. As Burns explains: “We also agree with others that recommended a reassessment of Lifeline Program's income-based eligibility threshold. Currently, veterans with a spouse and child who have a 100% disability rating may receive service-connected disability compensation at rates that render them ineligible for the Lifeline program. For these disabled veterans, affordability could remain a significant factor for broadband adoption unless they can qualify for Lifeline via enrollment in Medicaid or other existing eligibility programs.”

The NAAV filing also makes the following points: “The benefits of broadband for veterans cannot be overstated. Affordable broadband service is critical for access to employment opportunities, fulfill banking and other financial transaction needs, engage in distant learning opportunities, and obtain critical health care services through telehealth. Each of them has the potential to erase barriers to quality services due to the challenges of geography for veterans living in rural, insular areas or veterans with limited mobility due to disability. We urge the Commission to invest additional resources into improving outreach on Lifeline to veterans, facilitating Lifeline enrollment, and ensuring a competitive Lifeline marketplace to foster innovation and robust Lifeline broadband services.”

The mission of the National Association of American Veterans (NAAV) is to assist service members and disabled veterans and their dependents, particularly severely wounded warriors and single-parent service members and veterans, by helping access their benefits, improving communication and coordination with VA, and collaborating with the VA and other veterans groups, health agencies, medical professional organizations, educational organizations, and the public in support of veterans, their families, and military caregivers. For more information go to www.naavets.org. Follow us on Twitter at @NAAVETS.

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