On Monday, May 2, 2016 Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) will host a Veterans Town Hall in Fallon, NV for two hours – from 10 am until noon. That’s nice. Retired vets can make that time frame, working ones perhaps not so much. [News4] Courting the veterans vote is a long time strategy for the Republican Party, and this bloc constitutes a substantial chunk of the state’s electorate.
Someone might want to ask Representative Amodei how he felt about the House Appropriations Committee slashing more than $1.4 billion from President Obama’s request for veterans. The 2016 House proposal reduces VA medical care by $690 million from the President’s request. And, there was another $582 million cut from construction costs for outpatient services and priority construction projects. Additionally, the House proposal cuts funding for military cemeteries, including delaying expansion of cemetery operations in Portland OR, Riverside CA, Bayamon PR, St. Louis MO, and Pensacola FL. [VA.gov]
Another question could be raised about the fate of H.R. 2275 (Jobs for Veterans Act of 2015) introduced by Republican Jeff Miller (R-FL1). It was referred to committee in the House on May 12, 2015 and hasn’t been heard of since. [GovTrack]
Should someone ask what happened to the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014? Probably, because this legislation got caught in the brambles of Senate posturing about economic sanctions on Iran, and after passing at least one procedural vote went into oblivion from which it, too, hasn’t returned.
Perhaps we should go back to a particularly egregious moment in 2010 when the Republicans blocked a bill to approve a $3.4 billion program to help homeless women veterans, and homeless veterans with children. Senator Tom Coburn brought out the “Deficit Dragon” saying, “If we don’t start paying for new programs and continue on our path to bankruptcy we’ll have a homelessness problem beyond imagination.” [HuffPo] Interesting, by Republican lights we always seem to have enough money to start wars, and to finance them, but when we talk about spending money on the people who actually did the fighting — “OMG, we can’t add to the deficit?”
If the Veterans town hall is really about veterans, then a person might hope that there would be ample attention paid to the issues like homelessness among the veteran population? About what services we should be providing for homeless veterans with children? About how many VA facilities we need to be constructing or leasing for veterans’ care – either in medical or employment terms?
What would not be helpful is to have such sessions devolve into the collection of negative interactions between veterans and the Veterans’ Administration. Yes, the VA is a bureaucracy, one which has trouble meshing with its counterpart agencies in the Department of Defense (Have we thought about funding computer and IT services in the DoD and VA?) But, no, it isn’t necessary to create a whipping boy in order to “prove” that government doesn’t work, and other GOP canards, and to “solve” the problems by privatizing services for veterans.
We, as a nation, send people into wars. We promise we will support them. We promise them education, health care, and benefits when they return. We promise their families some burial benefits if they do not. They went voluntarily, under our flag and under our imprimatur. Therefore, the least we can do as a nation is to keep those promises, and not entangle the funding for older programs and initiatives for new ones in a labyrinth of ideological rhetoric, excuses for inaction, and poison-pill amendments. We can do better.