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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Action Item: Tell Congress to Approve Veterans' Budget Now

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is spearheading a campaign directed at moving our congressional leaders to approve the delayed veterans' budget. They've collected funds to air a television commercial and are collecting signatures for a petition. It's not too late to donate or to add your name if you feel you'd like to support this worthy cause.

The commercial is below, and more details below the fold.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Yesterday, IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff wrote on the issue over at the Huffington Post:

In the spring, as the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center dominated the headlines, the President promised to fix the problems facing returning veterans. Congress proposed the best veterans' budget we've ever seen, including the biggest increase in funding for vets' health care in 77 years.

But more than six months later, little action has been taken. A new GAO report confirms that the problems at Walter Reed aren't solved. Furthermore, the VA budget is officially late, so veterans' hospitals are making do with temporary funding at last year's low levels. ...

Apparently, Congress is too busy fighting about Rush Limbaugh's comments or MoveOn's latest ad to solve the problems facing veterans. When there's real work to be done, they'd rather take a stand against name-calling. Lately, they've been like the Miss Manners of legislative assemblies.

We hope you'll watch the ad, and join us in reminding Congress that the troops still have real problems to worry about. The politicians need to put aside the partisan game-playing and provide some real solutions.

Clarksville Online introduces two people featured in the IAVA ad:

Annette L. McLeod is the wife of Army Specialist Wendell W. McLeod, Jr. On July 6, 2005, at the end of a ten-month deployment, Spc. McLeod sustained multiple injuries while serving near the Iraqi border in Kuwait.

On August 8, 2005, Wendell arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. During his stay, Spc. McLeod experienced sporadic appointments, was often denied the necessary tests and treatment, and had his identity stolen. Furthermore, though Wendell suffered from traumatic brain injury, the doctors concluded that his cognitive impairments were the result of a pre-existing learning disability.

In hopes of sparing other military families from having to go through a similar ordeal, Mrs. McLeod testified before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on March 5, 2007. In her testimony, Mrs. McLeod called attention to the bureaucratic hurdles and poor care that her husband and other soldiers faced at Walter Reed. Her full testimony can be found here [pdf].

Today, Wendell continues to suffer from migraines, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain. He also has behavioral and short-term memory problems. As a result, Annette has assumed the role of almost full-time caretaker for her husband.

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon was wounded in Iraq on Nov. 13, 2004, during a gunfight in the town of Habaniya. He suffered a gunshot wound to the head that resulted in the loss of his left eye and a traumatic brain injury.

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, SSG Shannon endured bureaucratic neglect and was continually denied proper benefits. Largely as a result of lost paperwork and delayed treatment, it took Shannon over two years to secure medical retirement through the Medical Evaluation Board and Physical Evaluation Board.

On March 5, 2007, SSG Shannon spoke out about the problems at Walter Reed during his testimony before the Government Reform and Oversight Committee. His testimony revealed that injured troops encountering obstacles to receiving their proper treatment often give up their benefits in order to move on with their lives. His full testimony can be found here [pdf].

Analysis from the Gloucester County Times (because it hits all the pertinent points, I am sharing a great length of it):

The veterans' health issue may be a case study in how the regular budget process does not work. House and Senate lawmakers have passed bills to significantly increase funding for the health care system run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

But members of Congress haven't managed to find a way to negotiate a final House-Senate compromise, or a final deal with the White House, even though officials in both parties want to pump more cash into the stressed veterans' health care system.

The House legislation would provide $43.2 billion for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in fiscal 2008, an unheard-of increase of $6.7 billion over last year. The Senate draft would provide $43 billion for the VA, a $6.5 billion boost. The House bill passed in mid-June, 409-2. The Senate vote occurred in early September, 92-1. But there are problems, as there have been for eight years running.

The White House Office budget office has issued policy statements to blast both the House and Senate bills for "an excessive level of spending and other objectionable provisions." President Bush, perhaps wary of vetoing a bill for veterans' health care during the war on terrorism, did not threaten to nix either bill.

Instead, Bush demanded that lawmakers cut the added money they were targeting towards veterans' health care from other programs. And he urged them to stay within his budget cap of $933 billion for discretionary programs. ...

Bush had sought $39.4 billion for the VA for next year. That would be a significant increase, but $3.8 billion less than provided by the House bill and $3.6 billion less than appropriated in the Senate measure. ...

Democrats want to spend up to $22 billion more on discretionary programs including education, children's health care, job training, farm programs, water projects, roads and bridges, homeland security initiatives, and scientific research than President Bush has proposed for fiscal 2008.

Democrats claim that $22 billion is not a huge amount of money, at least not in comparison to an estimated $12 billion per month that the government is spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House officials and lawmakers have not even begun talks to bridge the discretionary spending gap. Instead, Members of Congress have passed a bill to keep the government running through Nov. 16.

And so the delay in funding veterans' programs persists for roughly 1,400 VA health care facilities and 7.9 million enrolled veterans around the country.

Let's tell Congress this is unacceptable.

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