The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

May/June 2006
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
 
 

VVA Leaders Storm The Hill
 


BY JOHN MITERKO, CHAIR, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, AND THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS STAFF

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 legislative objectives.

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 words.

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: http://www.house.gov; U.S. Senate: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

BUDGET PRIORITIES

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."

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 substance.

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 ships.

The Senate is expected to go along with this provision.

Next Issue: much news on Agent Orange Developments in 2006
 

   

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