The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
Stating the Case to Congress:
Mandatory Funding Crucial
BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF
"Each year we come before you and
say the same thing: Veterans health care is dangerously under
funded." 'With these words, VVA vice president Ed Chow, filling
in for President Thomas H. Corey, opened VVA's annual testimony
on funding priorities and significant issues for veterans on
March 25 before a joint session of the House and Senate
Committees on Veterans' Affairs.
Highlighted in the testimony were VVA's concerns, leading off
with the organization's highest legislative priority: restoring
the funding base for the VA medical system, which would probably
best be accomplished by a change in the manner in which
veterans' health care is funded. This is VVA's priority and is a
priority for many other veterans service and military service
Why is mandatory funding so important? Because the current
method of funding pits veterans against other groups and
projects for a smaller and smaller piece of the shrinking
discretionary budget pie. If the administration's budget passes,
caps on spending will result in a decrease of billions of
dollars for VA's medical operations. Under almost any scenario
now possible under the current rules of funding, Priority 8
veterans will continue to be denied service, effectively
shutting out 450,000 veterans over the two-year period.
Mandatory funding will provide VA with a predictable funding
stream for its medical operations, a position nine VSOs are
united behind in The Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget
Also highlighted was a reiteration of VVA's grave concerns
regarding some of the
recommendations of the CARES Commission, even though VVA
endorses the concept of good stewardship behind the efforts of
the commission. VVA particularly appreciates the dedication,
integrity, and hard work of commission members.
VVA offered praise for the Vet Centers as havens for veterans
suffering emotional difficulties as a result of their military
service. "We ask you to provide additional funds earmarked for
the Vet Centers, which will see an infusion of new clients, new
veterans from the current battles being fought around the
globe," said VVA.
On the thorny issue of hepatitis C, VVA praised the progress
made in the testing and treatment of the virus by the VA under
the leadership of Lawrence Deyton. What VA leaders still need to
address is how to reach out to the 80 percent of all
veteransmore since the administration started freezing out
so-called Priority 8 veteranswho do not use VA for their
Concerning Agent Orange, in addition to supporting a study of
the disposition of specimens collected as part of the Ranch Hand
study, VVA endorsed funding during the next decade to track the
health issues of Vietnam veterans exposed to herbicides. We urge
that Congress provide significant funding for research into the
long-term and possible intergenerational effects of exposure to
"Unlike set-asides for minority-owned and women-owned
businesses, goals for awarding federal contracts to veteran
entrepreneurs are just that: goals, which need strong
presidential leadership if they are to be met," Chow said.
"Congress must act to insure that agencies comply with the law
regarding contracting with disabled veteran-owned businesses.
Additionally, those same agencies and departments must be forced
to properly accord the earned veterans' preference rights of
wartime veterans in hiring and retention of federal employees."
Despite the laws passed and monies appropriated to meet the
psychological and domiciliary needs of homeless veterans, "the
resources never seem to make a dent in the need," said VVA. "For
years, we've been talking about a quarter of a million homeless
veterans sleeping on the streets or in shelters every night. For
these veterans, who once served our nation with pride, we simply
must do more and we must do better."
Noting that women have served our nation in every war since the
American Revolution, he said, "we must endeavor to insure that
their needs, particularly the emotional residuals of sexual
trauma, are met with understanding and compassion. As recent
headlines attest, many military women never report physical
assaults, let alone the trauma of sexual harassment." VVA
supports legislation that would make outreach and counseling
services for veterans who have experienced sexual trauma while
on active duty "a permanent facet" of VA health care.
VVA's entire written testimony can be found at
www.vva.org, it is considerably
more detailed. We urge all VVA members to take a few minutes to
visit the Web site and read the full text of the testimony.
NO ON NUSSLE
In his presentation, Chow urged the defeat of the budget for
veterans proposed by the House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep.
Jim Nussle (R-Iowa). This budget, which essentially
rubber-stamps the budget proposed by the administration, calls
for a modest 1.8 percent increase in funding for the VA's
medical operations. It also caps future spending for the VA that
will result in decreases of billions of dollars during the next
four federal fiscal years. It also causes the VA health care
budget to be billions less than what is needed for decent care
for all statutorily eligible veterans. On a per capita basis,
veterans using the VA health care system get less than 60 cents
for each dollar given to those receiving Medicare, using 1996 as
the base year. This should be unacceptable to all Americans.
Every House Democrat voted against the Nussle bill. They were
joined by ten Republicans. Of these, only four cited the impact
of the budget on veterans and veterans' programs as the reason
for their "Nay" votes. For the record, the four are: Reps. Chris
Smith of New Jersey, chair of the House Committee on Veterans'
Affairs; Christopher Shays of Connecticut; Virgil Goode, Jr., of
Virginia; and Rick Renzi of Arizona.
SAVING PRIVATE OVERTIME FOR VETERANS
On April 20, the Department of Labor (DOL) released its final
rules on updating Part 541 reform as it relates to workers'
rights to receive overtime. The final rules exclude the
controversial language that originally included Armed Forces
training as a provision that would exclude a veteran from
receiving overtime and reclassifying his or her position as a
professional position. Just as important, the new rules omit
Armed Forces training noting: "Thus, a veteran who is not
performing work in a recognized professional field will not be
exempt, regardless of any training received in the armed
On March 31, 2003, the DOL had proposed regulations that would
possibly deny overtime protection to thousands of veterans who
have received certain kinds of military training. Under current
and past regulations, workers can be denied overtime protection
if they fall within the category of "professional employees."
But generally only workers with specialized degrees can be
classified as professional. Under the failed proposal, employers
would have been able to do away with this standard requirement
and allow equivalent training in the armed forces to be
routinely substituted for a specialized degree.
VVA was the only VSO to challenge those proposed rules. The
other VSOs either agreed with DOL or remained silent. VVA sent
formal comments and several letters to Secretary Elaine Chao and
others complaining that the proposed rules would harm veterans.
VVA also attended several meetings with other interested parties
to form alliances to defeat the proposed rules.
Veterans Employment and Training Service, a division within DOL,
held a VSO-only meeting on April 20 to announce that it has
heard our concerns and removed the contentious language from the
final rules, thus protecting overtime rights for thousands of
veterans. The Solicitor of the Department of Labor attended to
the meeting to explain the revisions of the proposed rule and to
answer questions. VVA thanks Secretary Chao and her department
for reconsidering the original proposal and for making these
important changes in the final rule. The rule and explanatory
material can be found at
DISABLED VETERAN BUSINESS OWNERS
As a result of Public Law 106-50 enacted in 1999 and Public Law
108-183 enacted in December 2003, all federal agencies and
departments are supposed to provide at least 3 percent of all
contracts to service-connected disabled veteran-owned and
operated businesses, and 3 percent of all subcontracts to
service connected disabled veteran-owned and controlled
businesses. Agencies are permitted to create competitive
reserves for service-connected disabled veteran-owned
businesses, or contract on a sole-source basis the smaller
contracts to such businesses.
The Small Business Administration and the Office of Federal
Procurement Policy issued a memorandum in February to all heads
of federal departments and agencies to encourage them "to focus
contracting efforts on small businesses owned and controlled by
service disabled veterans" and to inform them of the new tools.
VVA and all other VSOs and military service organizationsalmost
all of whom participate actively in the Task Force for Veteran
Entrepreneurshipawait publication of the formal regulations
implementing these new tools.
VVA joins with the other participants in the Task Force in
voicing hope that the White House will issue at least a
"Presidential Memorandum" directing all agency heads to meet and
exceed this goal. VVA has contacted the White House and others
urging such strong action.
Some senators voted against the bill creating the Department of
Homeland Security because they felt it further weakened
meaningful veterans' preference rights in the new department.
(Max Cleland was defeated in his reelection bid in part because
of this vote.) That legislation, as well as the new Department
of Defense personnel system, deliberately gut the legal
protection for those who are veterans-preference eligible.
"Veterans-preference eligibles'' includes veterans noted as
wartime veterans by Congress, along with the spouses of MIAs,
POWs, or veterans permanently and totally disabled.
Veterans are not just another affirmative action group. We are
men and women, black and white, brown and yellow, young and old,
and look like America in our diversity. In fact, we are not an
affirmative action group at all.
The philosophical basis of veterans preference and of the
current 3 percent floor in federal contracting is based on part
five of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which
guarantees the right of veterans who defended the United States
in wartime to a bounty19th century talk for a reward, or
Veterans' preference is an earned right, not a statistical
measure of gross numbers. In fact, the hiring of veterans can go
up or down without that being any indication of whether the
individual rights of veterans are being ignored or violated. VVA
knows this. Officials at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
know this. Policy makers at the White House know this. Yet OPM
and others continue to treat veterans as if we were one of many
competing groups. A department can more than meet all of its
affirmative action goals by hiring only those who are veterans
and disabled veteran preference eligible because the two are
very different and veterans
come in both genders, all races, all creeds, all ethnic
backgrounds, and all colors.
It is time for VVA and our counterparts to seek additional
legislation, because the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act
was ignored by the previous administration. It continues
weakening veterans preference by practice and procedures,
despite the impression of meaningful enforcement of veterans'
preference activity in a recent torrent of press releases from
ACCOUNTABILITY AT VA
In recent moves linked to holding senior managers and officials
accountable for performance, VA Under Secretary for Health
Robert Roswell left his post. VVA is appreciative of Dr.
Roswell's many contributions during his career, particularly his
role in helping VA move from a facility/service-centered system
toward a system that is gradually becoming a more
patient-centered one. VVA also thanks Dr. Roswell for his
support for taking a military history from every veteran seeking
health care at VA, and for the Veterans Health Initiative see
VVA also notes the departure of
Dr. Thomas Holohan as Chief Patient Care Officer, and his
replacement by Michael J. Kussman. On the Veterans Benefits
Administration, VVA notes the departure of Ron Henke as Director
of the Compensation & Pension Service.
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