This issue came to a boil last Monday, when the leaders of the major veterans’ service organizations met with President Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Our leadership made it very clear that this proposal was a non-starter. Going into that meeting, the VFW’s position was clear. Previously, Commander in Chief Glen Gardner stated that "It is unconscionable to pass along the costs of war to wounded and disabled veterans. This is one policy proposal that the VFW will work hard to defeat because it breaks a sacred trust that veterans have with their government.
A joint letter from the major veterans’ service organizations unambiguously staked out our position by stating:"This proposal ignores the solemn obligation that this country has to care for those men and women who have served this country with distinction and were left with the wounds and scars of that service. The blood spilled in service to this nation is the premium that service-connected veterans have paid for their earned care.” This same letter asked for a meeting with the President, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orzag.
By the time of the Monday meeting, this issue was getting some play in the main stream media and the White House was not looking for any adverse publicity. At the conclusion of the Monday meeting, the President stated that the Administration wouldn’t go through with its proposal if the organizations remained opposed. Surprisingly, it took more than forty-eight hours and a major lobbying effort on Capitol Hill before the White House withdrew the proposal. On Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Commander in Chief, Glen Gardner presented the VFW’s legislative priorities to a Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee. Gardner opened his remarks by stating the White House’s “…proposal would lead to disabled veterans subsidizing their own injuries through increased premiums and fees as insurance companies try to find ways to pass along the added expense," testified Gardner, a Vietnam veteran from Round Rock, Texas.
"It could also make it harder for veterans to obtain and maintain private health care insurance, and it is entirely possible that this proposal could impair a veteran’s ability to obtain a job." This issue clearly resonated with the members of the Veterans Affairs committees, the Chairmen, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Representative Robert Filner (D-CA) and the Ranking Members Senator Richard (R-SC) and Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN) made it clear that this proposal had no support in The Congress. Chairman Akaka stated the Obama plan was “dead on arrival”, while Chairman Filner remarked, this committee “…will not authorize such a plan…”
This was clearly a lesson in Civics 101 for the Obama Administration. America’s veterans when working together represent an incredibly strong interest group. Additionally, the President can only propose, it is The Congress that disposes. What is troubling is that the Administration’s bean counters have little respect for America’s veterans by believing that veteran’s would willingly assume the burden of paying for a disability resulting from selfless service to this country. Lastly, where was VA Secretary Shinseki? Did he or did he not raise a caution flag on this proposal? Will the man described as soldier’s soldier, really be a veteran’s veteran?
Echoing the concerns of many veterans, Mr. Gardner asked if veterans can trust VA after the revelation that 16,000 pieces of mail were shred at one Regional Office. The Commander in Chief also addressed the need for advanced funding of the VA, further traumatic brain injury research and treatment, suicide awareness and prevention, women veterans' healthcare needs, seamless transition, new GI Bill implementation, vocational rehabilitation program enhancements, military Tricare, homeless veterans and survivor benefits, among others. For a complete copy of the testimony go to http://www.vfw.org/PR/Legislative/H&STestimony3.18.pdf.