By George E. Curry
If you let the Republicans tell it, President Obama is directly responsible for the fiasco at the Veterans Administration. But they don’t tell you that fresh off of Memorial Day parade appearances, they are responsible for scuttling legislation that would have expanded benefits for the nation’s 22 million veterans and their families.
A measure backed by Obama would have lengthened the period veterans are eligible to receive health care from the VA from five years to 10 years after deployment. The bill also would have allowed the VA to open 27 new health facilities, expand medical and dental care, make more veterans eligible for in-state tuition at public universities, repeal the recent cut in cost-of-living adjustments for new enlistees and extend a program that provides care for veterans with mild to severe brain injuries.
More than 20 military organizations – including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Wounded Warriors Project and Disabled American Veterans – supported the bill.
William A. Thien, commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, submitted a letter saying, “This legislation is the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation to be introduced in decades. It contains many of the VFW’s priority goals, which will implement, expand and improve both health care and benefit services to all generations of veterans and their families.”
Senate Bill S.1982, known as the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, was favored on Feb. 27 in the Senate 56-41. But the measure fell four votes shy of the number needed to overcome a threatened GOP filibuster.
Every Democrat voted for the bill and only two Republican Senators – Jerry Moran of Kansas and Dean Heller of Nevada – voted for the measure.
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the committee, said: “We have veterans dying from long waits for basic, necessary tests like colonoscopies. Veterans waiting for their disability claims to be processed know all about frustrations and delays at the VA, and adding more individuals to an already broken system doesn’t seem wise.”
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky, accused Democrats of engaging in election-year politics, a charge Senate Veterans’ Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), denied.
He told reporters after the vote: “The point of the matter is if we had won today…both parties could have gone out and said we finally overcame all of the partisanship we see here in Washington. This could have been a political winner, if you like, and certainly a public policy winner for both Democrats and Republicans.”
More than two dozen veterans groups had supported the measure. According to the Washington Post, Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, said, “I don’t know how anyone who voted ‘no’ today can look a veteran in the eye and justify that vote. Our veterans deserve more than what they got today.”
According to MediaMatters, the watchdog group, the media failed miserably in letting the public know Republicans were blocking the legislation.
“While mainstream media coverage of the serious allegations of improper practices at certain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health clinics has been extensive in recent weeks, a bill to expand health care for veterans that was blocked by Senate Republicans in February received little attention,” it noted.
“…Based on a LexisNexis search television transcripts from February 26 to 28, the veterans health bill was not covered by ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, or CBS Evening News,” the media monitoring group said. “Based on a LexisNexis search of news articles from February 26 to 28, neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal reported on Senate Republicans’ obstruction of the legislation that would have allowed the VA to open 27 new health facilities.”
The media has also done a poor job describing how proposed budget cuts will impact veterans.
For example, the Republican-led cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, will hurt veterans as well other low-income families, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington-based think tank.
“Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011, a previous analysis of Census data estimated,” a report by the CBPP noted. “…For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families.
“..While the overall unemployment rate for veterans is lower than the national average, the unemployment rate for recent veterans (serving in September 2001 to the present) remains high, at 10.1 percent in September 2013. About one-quarter of recent veterans reported service-connected disabilities in 2011, which can impact their ability to provide for their families: households with a veteran with a disability that prevents them from working are about twice as likely to lack access to adequate food than households without a disabled member.”
Republicans need to do more than simply wave the American flag.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.