As John Rowan, our National President,
noted in his column in the last issue, VVA officers and Government
Relations staff are spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill,
visiting the offices of members of Congress, talking to them about
VVA's 2006 legislative agenda.
Our objective has been to meet with these elected officials and
key legislative aides who serve on the Veterans' Affairs, Armed
Services, and Appropriations Committees. We focus our
conversations on promoting and soliciting support for VVA's
highest legislative priorities: a sufficient, reliable, and
predictable funding stream for the VA's health care system;
accountability on the part of VA managers for using their funds to
provide the highest quality of care for veterans who use the VA
system; and outreach particularly to the 80 percent or so of our
nation's 26 million veterans who don't go near a VA facility, yet
who are unaware of the benefits to which they are entitled.
We also seek their support of H.R. 4259,
the Veterans' Right to Know Act. If enacted, it should go a long
way toward uncovering the truth about the chem-bio testing that
may have adversely affected the health of tens of thousands of
veterans since the end of the Second World War.
Overall, in the first quarter of the year,
we met with 37 Senators or their aides (18 Republicans and 19
Democrats), and 78 Representatives or their aides (40 Republicans
and 38 Democrats) a total of 115 legislators. Twelve out of 14
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee members were contacted, along
with 24 of the 26 House Veterans' Affairs Committee members.
These meetings were facilitated by Carl
Tuvin and Jim Kuhn, VVA's special advisers, who use their savvy
and years of experience on the Hill to open doors for us.
What are the results of our efforts? While
not easy to quantify, we believe we have sensitized the folks with
whom we met about the needs of veterans and, of course, our
In the wake of our meetings, nine
additional Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of H.R.
4259, bringing the total as of this writing to 31 co-sponsors.
CONVERSATION WITH CRAIG
These individual meetings culminated in
the presentation of the VVA Legislative Agenda to the House
Veterans' Affairs Committee on February 16, and to the Senate
Veterans' Affairs Committee on March 30.
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), chair of the
Senate Committee, encouraged a give-and-take with John Rowan and
the three others on John's panel: George Basher, president of the
National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs;
Gerald Harvey, national commander of American Ex-Prisoners of War;
and Ed Kemp, AMVETS's national commander.
This session became, to a great extent, a
conversation between Sen. Craig and John Rowan, whose recounting
of personal anecdotes lent additional credibility and urgency to
the veterans’ issues being discussed.
Our contingent also met with Democratic
leaders in the House of Representatives, who have come to champion
veterans' issues. We expressed to them our concerns and our fears;
we received from them assurances that they would continue to fight
the good fight to insure that veterans' needs are among their
highest priority. Should the Democrats regain control of the House
in the November elections, we'll see if their actions match their
For whatever positive results that came
from all of our meetings, ultimately we need the active support of
VVA's membership. Our message needs reinforcement from the
grassroots level. To insure the widest possible distribution of,
and support for, the VVA Legislative Agenda, we urge all of you to
make a personal effort to contact your Representative and your two
Senators and urge them to support the three key points identified
at the beginning of this column. For contact information go to the
following websites: House of Representatives:
Congressional Quarterly noted recently
that "President Bush reiterated he will veto spending bills if
necessary to restrain spending and stay on track toward cutting
the deficit in half by 2009. Bush has made similar statements in
the past, but has not exercised a veto because Congress has
generally remained within Bush-proposed spending limits."
What's wrong with this statement? We are spending billions and
billions of dollars in the attempt to export democracy to Iraq.
Many of these billions are supposed to rebuild and enhance the
infrastructure in Iraq, as well as to construct schools and
clinics and the like. And all of these dollars are in a
supplemental appropriation, initiated by the administration and
thus far rubber-stamped by Congress.
Does anyone, including the President,
think that these supplementals exist in another stratum, one that
doesn't affect the looming deficit?
Do any VVA members think that at least
some of this money could be better spent on, say, long-term care
facilities for veterans? Or for VA clinics in rural areas? Or for
additional centers of excellence that would help the VA care for
veterans with certain service-connected conditions, such as spinal
cord injury, amputation, or blindness? Or for a host of other
domestic initiatives that help veterans and their families?
ATTENTION NAVY VETERANS
When the FY'06 Defense Authorization bill
is finally signed, sealed, and delivered, Navy veterans might be
interested in this small item: The House version of the bill calls
for "cooperative outreach to members and former members of the
naval service exposed to environmental factors related to
Sarcoidosis is a chronic disease of unknown cause characterized by
the enlargement of lymph nodes in many parts of the body and the
widespread appearance of granulomas, or grainy tissue, produced in
response to infection, inflammation, or the presence of a foreign
This provision would obligate the
Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to conduct an outreach
program to identify and find seamen who may have increased risk of
sarcoidosis as a result of having been exposed to particles
resulting from the removal of non-skid coating used on naval
The Senate is expected to go along with
Next Issue: much news on Agent Orange Developments in 2006