A record number of people watched the Eurovision final

A record number of people watched the Eurovision final

During a working visit to Washington, Ukraine’s Minister of Veterans Affairs, Yulia Laputina, spoke in an interview with Voice of America about the Ministry’s new policy, the return of veterans to a peaceful life, PTSD, which almost all Ukrainians will have to undergo, and the legalization of cannabis.

The interview has been edited for clarity and flow

Maria Ulyanovska, Voice of America: We are talking to you during the visit of the delegation of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs to Washington. Tell me what was the purpose of this trip.

Yulia Laputina: We set ourselves several tasks during this visit. The first is to present our veteran policy in Congress, the State Department and the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, as well as among international organizations that help Ukraine. We talked about what politics is like now, how we see it in the future, what challenges there will be after our victory.

Currently, there are 500,000 veterans in the electronic register, but after the victory, this figure may reach 4-5 million.

Another task is to draw attention in the US to the fact that veterans policy is a separate type of policy that needs to be allocated separately. Currently, there are 500,000 veterans in the electronic register, but after the victory, this figure may reach 4-5 million. These people will need economic integration, medical and psychological assistance. And we also have to do everything so that these people are integrated into the family, into the community, into various spheres of civilian life. And this requires special help from American organizations. It is necessary to finance not only the reconstruction of buildings. As First Lady Olena Zelenska correctly said, if we restore the people, then the people will restore the country.

M.U.: Are the partners ready to support the Ukrainian veteran policy?

Yu.L.: Yes, the congressmen even proposed at the level of state leadership and American organizations working to support Ukraine to unite us at the level of local authorities. I think we will return to Kyiv and work it out.

M.U.: This year you published surveying veterans about their needs. The results showed that only 1.5% of veterans are satisfied with the way the state takes care of them, 1.3% are satisfied with the implementation of the inclusiveness policy, and 2% are satisfied with how accessible rehabilitation, restoration and prosthetics programs are. How and when will the Ministry of Veterans Affairs change the attitude of the state towards its veterans?

Yu.L.: From 2014 to 2019, there was no veteran policy at all. There were many veterans and volunteers, but no one took care of them. Only non-governmental organizations with the support of international partners helped people to integrate into a peaceful life. When the Ministry was created in 2019, it did not have a budget – only funds for its own maintenance. When I joined the team in 2020, the Ministry had a housing queue of more than 3,000 people. And money was allocated for 10-100 apartments.

It was fundamental for us to institutionalize the veteran policy. The first step we took was to provide 5.5 billion hryvnias for housing for these people in the budget. Unfortunately, with the sequestration last year, this money was taken from us due to a large-scale invasion – everything had to be transferred to defense. But this year we’ve protected that money again, and it’s in our budget.

Now it is important to lay the foundations of the system organization of veteran policy. Because responsibility is shared between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Policy and the Ministry of Education. There is a lack of understanding that veterans policy should be coordinated by a separate equivalent ministry.

M.U.: The Department of Veterans Affairs cannot influence the services that other departments provide to veterans. How to fix this, and is there a need for a ministry that has no real leverage?

Yu.L.: It cannot be said that we do not have leverage. The Cabinet of Ministers has already initiated institutional reform in all areas related to veterans. This is a military-to-civilian transition strategy, where the Department of Veterans Affairs will coordinate this issue among all ministries.

Secondly, we maintain the state electronic register of veterans. When a person acquires the status of a veteran, he does not have to look for references – the registries must receive information from other ministries and provide it in the veteran’s electronic account.

In addition, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on a comprehensive review of the system of social guarantees for veterans. Our veterans are getting younger and will need other services, so the system needs to be reviewed every five years.

Another tool that we want to implement is the institute of a veteran’s assistant, who will meet a veteran in the community when a person returns from the front. We are launching a pilot project financed by our Ministry in four regions of Ukraine — Lviv, Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsia and Mykolaiv. We understand that the social protection system, which was formed over 30 years of independence and has post-Soviet institutional memory, cannot be changed in one year. Therefore, this assistant will facilitate the veteran’s dialogue with the bodies that provide services. This is especially important in those remote regions where there is no psychologist or doctor, and a person has to go to another city to get some services. This institution will then operate at the community level — we will create service services for veterans that will provide them with services and monitor the activities of mentors. And at the regional level, we want to create a special unit or department for veterans’ affairs, which will be equivalent to the department of social protection and the department of health care. So that we can independently implement this policy in coordination with other structures. If it is effective, we will scale this project to the whole country.

Also, the next day after the victory, a veteran’s office will appear in Diya – now we don’t want to put people at risk. Centers for veteran development will be created, where they will have the opportunity to learn a civilian specialty. And taking into account the presence of mentors, we will suggest where to employ a veteran — that is, it will be such a facilitated routing of a person. All of these things will create a veteran ecosystem — the infrastructure of veteran policy across the country.

M.U.: Ukraine will receive up to five million veterans at once — that’s 10% of the entire population. For example, in the United States over the past 70 years, about 4% are veterans, and this all happened gradually. What are the most important challenges in this situation and how to solve them?

The state will definitely offer those who serve to stay in the service.

Yu.L.: The biggest challenge is the integration of people into civil society. We need to minimize the gap between civilians and the military, and this requires a facilitated dialogue. On the other hand, when people return from the front, mass demobilization will not immediately involve millions, because after our victory the number of Armed Forces will remain very large, and other units, such as the National Guard, the National Police, will need to be increased. We have a very long border with Russia, and it will require a completely different security regime. Therefore, the state will definitely offer those who serve to stay in the service.

But mass demobilization will definitely be a challenge, especially for those mobilized from the civilian sector. Because military personnel and contract workers deliberately went to the service, linked their lives with a military career, and passed appropriate checks, in particular, of psychological stability. And people who came to war from the civilian sector and received this tragic experience of war will need facilitation, help and psychological support.

There are more challenges than we can say here, but the state is now working in a unified mechanism, cohesively. We obviously understand that we don’t have time, so we are preparing this system now.

M.U.: If the war ends tomorrow, what can the state offer veterans? In the field of education, for example.

Yu.L.: We have our own program that provides professional adaptation, and it does not necessarily have to be a second higher education. We should not now take away two or five years of people’s lives for education, we need to quickly integrate them into civilian life. These can be certified short-term programs for obtaining a practical specialty. They will be funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of course, if a person had no education at all, then he will take advantage of the fact that a veteran can learn for free once in his life. We have to analyze with the department of economy of each oblast what specialties they need, and further train specialists together with universities and vocational and technical educational institutions.

It is obvious that many of the veterans are starting their own business – we should support them. Last year, the Ukrainian Veterans Fund opened three grant programs to support veteran entrepreneurs. This year, together with the charitable organization “MHP — hromadi”, we developed grants for even greater support of veteran entrepreneurs – one and a half million hryvnias for agrarian business: craft farms, agro-industrial products, etc.

M.U.: Physical rehabilitation is one of the most urgent requests of military and veterans. Two large private centers – Unbroken and Superhumans – recently opened in Ukraine. They are funded by business and donors and are considered leading. Do you cooperate with them and what can you offer veterans?

Yu.L.: We cooperate with Unbroken, it’s a really powerful project. In a few months, they rebuilt a modern rehabilitation center in coordination with American partners. This is the best example of cooperation between local self-government and regional administrations. And now we want to scale it to other regions. Unbroken are our strategic partners.

M.U.: What psychological support can you offer veterans right now?

Yu.L.: We currently have 5 rehabilitation centers of various levels of support, which are aimed at psychological rehabilitation, and we want to attract the best specialists there and make them powerful and modern. The first pilot project is the reconstruction of the psychological rehabilitation center in Borodyanka. The president took it under his care and allocated 100,000 dollars from the American “medal of freedom” award for its restoration.

We also now have a request from large Ukrainian companies. They ask our psychologists to conduct trainings for their HR managers on how to deal with people who have returned from the front to work. This is very important because it is also an element of integration. People came from the front with a completely different life experience.

Of course, we need to work with the Ministry of Health, because mental and physical health is their area of ​​responsibility, but we need to prioritize the provision of these services to veterans.

In addition, we, together with the Ukrainian Veterans’ Fund, started a crisis psychological support hotline for veterans and their families from the beginning of the large-scale invasion.

M.U.: Most patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can recover with therapy or medication. But there are 30% of people who are won’t help. Legalization of cannabis has long been talked about in Ukraine. Will the Department of Veterans Affairs help people lobby on this issue?

The question of the use of cannabis for those who have been seriously injured and maimed as a result of war must be resolved positively.

Yu.L.: During this trip, we visited the Veterans Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Richmond. There, in particular, mental health is taken care of. And we talked about where drug treatment ends and non-drug treatment begins. Of course, medical cannabis is used in those cases when nothing helps a person cope with pain. In such cases, the use of medical cannabis is appropriate and appropriate. This is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, but I understand that the issue of the use of cannabis for those who have been seriously injured and maimed as a result of war should be resolved positively.

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