Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Veteran and Military Community Must Vote for Congressional Leaders Who Are Willing to Resolve VA Issues Not Exploit Them

As an avid supporter of military families, I have learned to temper my outrage when it comes to the treatment of those who have served by our government after a military person retires from active duty. I have also learned that many individuals who say "thank you for your service" to show support for member of the military will also vote for a member of Congress who would be willing to cut funding for services to a veteran while giving him/herself a raise. Cutting services that could help veterans, voting against funds, or not voting on bills at all to help the Veteran Affairs (VA) are as common as crossing the street. Yet, it is done often by members of congress who will wave the American Flag while blocking votes to help veterans.

Having several members of my family who have served, I have heard stories that represent the good, the bad, and the ugly about VA Hospitals. I remember vividly as young girl seeing one of my uncles, a WWII veteran, kick out the back door of an ambulance while screaming, “Don’t take me to the VA!” He had one bad experience that left him afraid of the doctors at the VA for the rest of his life. I have also experienced in my adulthood some of the best healthcare given to veterans at VA hospitals. Recently a friend who is a member of the Triple Nickles, the First Black Paratroopers, got ill and was hospitalized at the VA. Over the years, I have visited the VA on many occasions to visit veterans and their family members. I have often wondered if Congress members visit the VA in their area without announcing they are going?

Triple Nickels
The VA issues that have been reported on for the last several weeks regarding veterans not being seen by doctors and the backlog of disability claims, as horrendously as it is, are not new. I have heard these issues talked about in my grandparents’ home during the 70’s. That was before the Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq Wars. Dissecting the many issues of the VA would take a month long in-depth series but let us look at a few that are systemic from one decade to another.

Many in congress now have been in congress for several terms. On the VA Subcommittee for Healthcare, the role of the committee states: Subcommittee on Health, which shall have legislative, oversight, and investigative jurisdiction over the Veterans Health Administration including medical services, medical support and compliance, medical facilities, medical and prosthetic research, and major and minor construction.

The Members of the Subcommittee are: (Republicans) Dan Benishek (MI) Chairman: David Roe (TN): Jeff Denham (CA); Tim Huelskamp (KS); David Jolly (FL); (Democrats) Julia Brownley (CA;)Ranking Minority Member; Corrine Brown (FL); Raul Ruiz (CA); Gloria Negrete-McLeod (CA); and Ann Kuster (NH).*

Of the names listed above, Jeff Denham is the only member on the committee who has served in the military. Healthcare is one of the most important issues that a veteran faces after service. With millions of veterans returning from Afghan and Iraq, members of the committee should have some military experience to be able to relate to the gravity of the veteran and military issues.

Don McCasland (Army): Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq Veteran
 Here are a few of the bills that have been introduced over the years that deal with veterans’ healthcare:
U.S. H.R. 3053 (113th) - Healthcare for Our Heroes Act Armed forces and national security
Kyrsten Sinema / The bill has been referred to committee.
To amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Professional Scholarship Program.

U.S. H.R. 635 (113th) - Help Establish Access to Local Timely Healthcare for Your Vets Act of 2013
Armed forces and national security
Stevan Pearce / The bill has been referred to committee.
To amend title 38, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts with community health care providers to improve access to health care for veterans in highly rural areas, and for other purposes. 

U.S. H.R. 3895 (112th) - Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012
Economics and public finance
Jeff Miller / The bill has been introduced.
To amend the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to clarify that all veterans programs are exempt from sequestration. 

U.S. H.R. 3682 (112th) - Patient Centered Healthcare Savings Act of 2011
Health
Sean Duffy / The bill has been introduced.
To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and provide for comprehensive health reform, and for other purposes. 

U.S. H.R. 315 (110th) - Help Establish Access to Local Timely Healthcare for Your Vets (HEALTHY Vets) Act of 2007
Veterans
Stevan Pearce / The billed has been introduced.
To amend title 38, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts with community health care providers to improve access to health care for veterans in highly rural areas, and for other purposes. 

U.S. H.R. 6036 (109th) - Help Establish Access to Local Timely Healthcare for Your Vets (HEALTHY Vets) Act of 2006
Veterans
Stevan Pearce / The bill has been introduced.
To amend title 38, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts with community health care providers to improve access to health care for veterans in highly rural areas, and for other purposes.

U.S. S. 1682 (110th) - Servicemembers' Healthcare Benefits and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act of 2007
Defense policy
Olympia Snowe / The bill has been introduced.
A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the management of medical care for members of the Armed Forces, to improve the speed and efficiency of the physical disability evaluation system of the Department of Defense, and for other purposes.

U.S. S. 1670 (110th) - Servicemembers' Healthcare Benefits and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act of 2007
Defense policy
Olympia Snowe / The bill has been introduced.
A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the management of medical care for members of the Armed Forces, to improve the speed and efficiency of the physical disability evaluation system of the Department of Defense, and for other purposes.

 U.S. H.R. 612 (110th) - Returning Servicemember VA Healthcare Insurance Act of 2007
Veterans
Bob Filner / The bill was voted on in the House on May 23, 2007
To amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the period of eligibility for health care for combat service in the Persian Gulf War or future hostilities from two years to five years after discharge or

The bills listed are just a few of many that were introduced. Introducing a bill is easy but getting one passed, that will benefit veterans, is an entirely different matter. Most bills are referred to a subcommittee where they die a slow death like a veteran waiting to receive healthcare.

It is time for members of the military and veterans to protect their interests by voting for members of congress who will advocate, pass bills, and regulate funding for veterans, not against them. This may means not looking at who you like or party affiliations but voting for individuals who vote the interests of the military and veteran community. Too often, members of congress use being on a VA committee as campaign badge of honor to say they are supportive of military and veterans’ issues. Often, the only bills that are passed are naming building after our heroes while doing absolutely nothing to help improve the quality of life of many of our veterans by increasing and implementing healthcare funding. It is a dog and pony show in congress when it comes to the VA. And has been for years. Yes, improvements have been made but those improvements usually come after a major scandal like Walter Reed Hospital.
Old Walter Reed Hospital
The ranking member of the Senate VA Chair is North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R). It is no secret in the veteran community that Burr has a horrible reputation with veterans groups but his actions leading up to Memorial Day Weekend made it clear for the 99% who have not served in the military that he is not fit to be on a committee dealing with veteran issues.

Sen. Burr
The week before the holiday, a hearing on the state of the VA was held. During the hearings, several leaders of Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) testified before congress. Sen. Burr was not present during their testimony and only returned after the group finished testifying.

The next day, Sen. Burr admonished the VSOs in an open letter. Here are some of his comments to the VSOs:
 Regrettably, the Legion was alone among the VSOs that testified in taking such a stand. It became clear at the hearing that most of the other VSOs attending appear to be more interested in defending the status quo within VA, protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the Secretary and his inner circle. But to what end? What use is their access to senior VA staff, up to and including the Secretary, if they do not use their unprecedented access to a Cabinet Secretary to secure timely access to care for their membership? What hope is there for change within the VA if those closest to the agency don't use that proximity for the good of veterans across our country?

Did I mention, that Sen. Burr has never served in the military? Yet, he chastised men of war of who have served faithfully and honorably about their testimony that he never heard. What do you think the VSOs leaders did? They did what men of war do; they opened a can of whip-ass (with words) and fired back telling Burr what they thought of him and his lack of respect for VSOs and veterans.


Sen. Burr was elected to the Senate in 2005 to represent the state of North Carolina. He sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee. North Carolina has eight military bases. EIGHT! Pope AFB, Seymour Johnson AFB, Camp McKall, Fort Bragg, Air Station Elizabeth City, National Strike Force, Camp Lejeune, MCAS Cherry Point, MCAS New River, and Military Ocean Terminal Point.
 Sen. Burr votes for the interests of his donors. In an accepted pay to play political culture, Congress usually votes on issues that their top donors want them to vote on not the interests their constituents.  In a state with eight military bases, Sen Burr should be fighting tooth and nail for veterans not penning a letter that was meant to marginalize and antagonize veteran groups. 

The military and veteran community need to desperately start to vote their interest. There are too many in Congress who do not vote for the interests of those who have served or is active duty military. It is time for veterans to protect their interests like they protected our country...bravely, courageously and with fierce determination.
Montford Point Marine Mark McCann Sr. meeting Vietnam Marine Bert Watkins the 1st time.

* OpenSecrets.Org
**Maplight
Photo Credits: VA, Sen. Burr, Genma Holmes, Don McCasland, Triple Nickels Archives





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