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

January/February 2005
Photo:Michael Keating
Is Anyone Listening?

I hope you had a happy holiday with family and friends. We lost many friends in 2004, and as a family—VVA and AVVA together—we share the grief of all those who lost loved ones.

My personal gratitude goes to all those VVA members who have stepped forward over the years by taking on a role or assignment and those who have introduced themselves as candidates at the chapter, state, and national levels. You are the roots that firmly hold our family tree on solid, defensible ground. We need you to continue to hold our position as the leader in the battle for veterans’ rights.

It would be foolish to believe that over these past 25 years we have labored in vain, but we must face the undeniable reality that we have all become soldiers again. We will not retreat, and we certainly will not surrender.

With the resignation of Secretary Anthony Principi, we welcome Jim Nicholson as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Nicholson, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran who says his Army service was the defining experience in his life, surely hasn’t forgotten the struggles and heroic efforts to secure basic veterans’ rights, benefits, and services.

Who would have thought that those returning from America’s latest ground war would face the same problems and obstacles we faced more than 30 years ago when we returned from Vietnam? Yet with current inadequate services for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other health care, plus the projected cuts, that is just what is happening.

Secretary Nicholson has never held an elected public position. He is a well-known fundraiser and national political strategist who does not have background or experience in veterans affairs. He has said he will only support Priority 1 through Priority 6 veterans. He will have a steep learning curve in a very hostile fiscal environment, with the administration and Congress looking to cut all domestic funding to allow for yet more tax cuts.

As to hostile changes in Congress, it is unconscionable that Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was ousted as chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This was a partisan rebuke of his advocacy on behalf of those who served this nation. Smith often angered his fellow Republicans with his vocal support for a pro-veteran agenda, and he challenged the Republican leadership when he felt Congress and the Bush administration were not adequately funding veterans’ programs. Veterans will miss the leadership of Chris Smith and his determination to make things right for those who served. He has been and will remain a true friend to veterans.

He was replaced by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), an Army Reserve colonel and Gulf War veteran who has been a member of the committee for 12 years and is considered fiscally conservative. Buyer has stated that federal budget constraints do not always allow every former servicemember to have full access to VA medical benefits. He has publicly said that there is more than enough money in the VA health care system, and he has criticized veterans’ advocates for engaging in partisan politics and promoting a national health care system for veterans.

Though he refused to name those “veterans advocates,” he could be referring to the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, a group of nine veterans service organizations that came together last year in an historic common appeal “with one voice to make a case for the change the veterans health care system so desperately needs.”

From my vantage point, the opposition is quite clear, in the open, and vulnerable. VVA and our colleagues in other veterans’ organizations are seeking proper funding for health care, on a non-partisan basis. It happens that the Democrats are supportive of that effort. It is also true many Republicans who privately agree with us are afraid to say so publicly, now more than ever, as the administration and the Republican leadership in the Congress will punish them and their constituents. This is not a partisan statement on our part; it is a fact.

Without the votes of veterans, none of them or their fellow Democratic lawmakers would be there. They must be constantly reminded who they represent. We put them in office and it is our responsibility—no, it is our duty—to haunt their district offices and let them know why adequate funding of veterans’ services, care, and treatment must be a priority.

As a team with a persistent message, we have enjoyed countless successes and some failures. Now, more than ever, we need your support as we prepare for the clash ahead of us. We will keep you advised of our activities in the field and on the Hill.

Adding to the current shortfall of at least several billion, the VA’s own budget projections over the next several years show that figure ballooning to nearly $6 billion as another quarter million Americans earn the title of “veteran.”

We are only asking for everyone to live up to their affirmations of support for moral values and acknowledge that it is a moral value—a uniquely American moral value—to care for all who served and their families.

We will work with the new VA Secretary, with Congress, with the administration, and with anyone else who will listen. The question is: Is anyone listening?

Remember our troops. My personal best wishes for a year of peace, health, and good fortune for all. Peace.


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