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America’s Veterans Are Heroes, Not Bargaining Chips
The House of Representatives has a rich history of passionate debates and a healthy exchange of ideas. It is important that legislators engage in a discussion of their philosophical differences when addressing what our nation’s funding priorities should be. This is exactly the type of vigorous debate that our Founding Fathers envisioned. A rare exception to this history has been legislation that addresses our nation’s veterans. Both parties have historically worked together closely to ensure that the brave men and women who sacrificed so much get the benefits and services that they are promised. This is what makes the current state of Congress so disappointing.
This past summer, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved their respective versions of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. This legislation provides: $21.4 billion for improvement to and construction of service member facilities; $4.1 billion to improve VA facilities, hospitals and clinics; and $2.9 billion for mental health care and substance abuse treatment for veterans. The House approved the legislation 409-2, while the Senate vote was 92-1. The Senate quickly named its conferees to work out the few differences with the House version of the bill. President Bush has already indicated that he would sign this vital legislation. With this strong, bipartisan support, one would think that this legislation would quickly be signed into law. However, the Democrat leadership in the House has refused to name House conferees, effectively blocking the passage of veterans’ funding. Several recent news stories have bolstered the view that this inaction may be due to plans by the Majority to use the measure as the vehicle for a larger bill that could include billions in wasteful and unnecessary spending.
This act of political gamesmanship has real-world implications for our service people and their families. This unacceptable delay means that aging facilities aren’t getting the repairs they need, and desperately needed increases to mental health services are on hold. The federal government is also already into the new fiscal year, and without the passage of this legislation, the VA is having difficulty implementing programs such as claims processing units and adding new clinics.
I recently joined my colleagues in sending a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi requesting that she move immediately to finally pass this legislation so we can ensure our veterans receive their promised benefits.
I once again urge my Democrat colleagues to remind their leadership that adequate funding for health care and housing for our veterans and men and women in uniform is a top priority for Congress, and their needs should take precedence over partisan politics.