Contact: Mokie Pratt Porter, Communications Director 202-628-2700 Ext.
VVA DECRIES CONGRESS' FAVORING HIGHWAYS OVER DISABLED VETS
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 31, 1998)
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) appealed to Congress today to abandon
its consideration of building pork-barrel transportation projects on the
backs of disabled veterans. In a letter to every member of the House and
Senate, VVA National President George C. Duggins decried this as unethical
and potentially unconstitutional public policy. "The transportation
bill currently before the House and Senate would have dire effects on VA
spending for disabled veterans. This is because a budget gimmick would
allow Congress to save $10.5 billion by abolishing tobacco-related VA disability
benefits, and then turn around and spend these monies on the budget- busting
Since last year, the Administration has advocated cutting veterans disability
benefits for tobacco-related illnesses because they are expensive and inconvenient
to process. Some in Congress seem intent on stealing these monies away
from veterans programs for other federal spending priorities.
VVA also testified before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on
March 31, that the military was culpable in veterans becoming addicted
to cigarettes, and therefore these are bona fide service-connected disabilities.
"Unlike alcohol use," said VVA Benefits Program Director Bill
Russo, "the military gave out free samples of cigarettes and provided
on-duty opportunities to smoke. Tobacco use was actively encouraged and
subsidized in the military, therefore nicotine addiction is not ‘willful
misconduct.' Furthermore, veterans are being singled out for unfair treatment;
other federal beneficiaries--like Social Security disability recipients--will
continue to receive compensation for tobacco-related illnesses."
VVA is very concerned that neither the House nor the Senate versions
of the transportation bill specify the funding offsets which will be required
for implementation. This shelters individual members from having to choose
between disabled veterans benefits and the highway, bridge and mass transit
projects included in the bill. The difficulty the veterans community faces
is that nearly every Member of Congress has funding for a transportation
project in their state/district in the bill. So most elected officials
do not want to vote against the transportation bill for fear they will
lose this special pork-barrel project that they believe their constituents
The general strategy of the leadership and transportation bill supporters,
it seems, is to pass both bills without the necessary offsets, thereby
shielding individual members from voting on the potentially controversial
program cuts. The offsets--including a $10.5 billion slice from VA compensation
for disabled veterans--would somehow magically appear in the conference
agreement. Members of Congress would then have no opportunity to strike
this highly offensive language.
The veterans community, with nine of the largest veterans organizations
speaking in a unified voice, denounced the pending action as absolutely
wrong public policy. "Don't Rob America's Veterans Again!" blasted
a half-page joint advertisement in today's Washington Post. "Congress
has already slashed billions from veterans' health and benefits programs,
only to spend the money elsewhere... Here's our advice [to Congress]: Quit
your own bad habit of continually robbing veterans' programs."
"Rest assured that finger pointing and blame shifting will not
appease American veterans, nor the voting public," Duggins' letter
went on. "While the transportation bill itself does not currently
impose cuts to veterans programs, you are certainly aware that Congress
will have to designate offsets at some point in the future to pay for the
grandiose transportation spending. Any effort to take the money away from
veterans tobacco-related compensation, in order to pay for pork-barrel
transportation projects is an absolute outrage. This is election-year politics
at its worst."
Congress must not support this outrageous proposal; Don't Rob America's
Vietnam Veterans of America is the nation's only congressionally
chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely to the needs of
Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA's founding principle is "Never
again will one generation of veterans abandon another."
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