Truth To Power: VVA's
BY AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF
Every year, the U.S. House and Senate
Veterans’ Affairs Committees meet in joint session to hear
testimony from the major veterans service organizations. On April
14, VVA President Thomas H. Corey, accompanied by Government
Affairs Chair Avery Taylor, Veterans Affairs Chair Bruce Whitaker,
and Government Relations Director Rick Weidman, delivered VVA’s
These sessions are usually staid and
formal. But this year VVA delivered a forthright message that
brought the audience to applause and even to its feet several
times. These are difficult times for veterans advocates. We’re
printing VVA’s testimony (slightly edited) here. It’s your
organization; it’s your message. —Ed.
Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.):
It’s an honor and a privilege to introduce to the committee my
constituent, personal friend and adviser, and current president of
the Vietnam Veterans of America, Mr. Thomas Corey.
Tom entered the Army and was sent to Vietnam in 1967, where he
served as a squad leader with the 1st Air Cavalry Division. While
engaged in an assault against enemy positions on January 31, 1968,
he received an enemy round in the neck, which hit his spinal cord
and left him paralyzed. After a long hospitalization, Tom returned
to his family in Detroit. He moved south to my hometown of West
Palm Beach in 1972.
He has been and continues to be involved in veterans’ advocacy. He
has received numerous awards for his work on behalf of veterans
and the disabled. Tom has returned to Vietnam many times, working
on POW/MIA and Agent Orange issues. He was also the first
recipient of the Vietnam Veterans of America Commendation Medal,
VVA’s highest award for service to veterans, their families, and
sincerely appreciate the advice and counsel he has given me over
the years. It’s a great opportunity to introduce him to you,
Chairman Buyer [Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.)], and members of the
VVA President Thomas H. Corey:
Mr. Chairman, ranking members, and other distinguished members
here today: On behalf of the membership of Vietnam Veterans of
America, we are grateful for this opportunity to present to you
VVA’s legislative agenda and policy initiatives. I will briefly
summarize these priorities and ask that our written statement be
part of the record.
This statement reflects our position on issues affecting homeless
veterans, Agent Orange, PTSD and other mental health issues,
compensation and pension benefits, women veterans, employment
training and business opportunities for veterans, and taking care
of our Gold Star moms and other survivors of our KIAs.
Mr. Chairman, our highest national priority is the fullest
possible accounting of our POW/MIAs. VVA advocates increased
resources to deploy more search teams
in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea, and other parts of the world
where American soldiers are still in battle.
Chairman Buyer, you’ll recall VVA recognized your leadership on
this issue with an award in 1998. We know you’ll continue to press
for the fullest possible accounting, and we look forward to
working closely with you, particularly with regard to our Veterans
Chairman Craig [Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho)], we applaud your
efforts to make more dollars available for VA health care, as well
as for state veterans’ homes and VA nursing homes. We thank you,
Mr. Buyer, for endorsing funding for veterans’ homes. We hope to
work with you on issues vital to the well-being of veterans and
As you heard from our colleagues and other VSOs, the foremost
legislative priorities for us are always twofold. First, we need
to achieve sufficient funding for VA medical programs for the next
What the president has proposed, we maintain, is arguably $4
billion short. Without additional dollars, there will be staff
cuts at every Medical Center in the nation.
Second, we hope you will see the wisdom of creating a mechanism
that will insure in every budget cycle sufficient sustainable
funding to enable the VA to properly care for the veterans who
depend upon it to meet their health care needs.
By “sufficient,” we mean funding that at least matches the per
capita funding increases for Medicare patients, funding that takes
into account annual medical inflation to insure the VA of a
reliable, predictable, and consistent level of funding.
know that many of you have visited Operation Iraqi Freedom and
Iraq Operation Enduring Freedom returnees at Bethesda Naval
Medical Center or Walter Reed Army Medical Center or the military
hospital or VA Medical Center in your home state. Most of you have
some idea of the trials and dangers military service poses to
those who are intimately acquainted with its violence and
Many of your colleagues and most Americans do not really
comprehend the sacrifices made by those who don the uniform to
defend the Constitution and the liberties we hold dear.
The resources must be there to properly care for them. We must
leave no veteran behind. This care must be considered part of a
continuing cost of national defense.
Many of us have grown weary of the tired platitudes and empty
praise of our troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why?
Because when they come home—some of them physically broken, too
many of them mentally or emotionally shattered—we hear that these
newly minted veterans somehow will drain the national treasury.
The undersecretary for personnel and readiness for the Department
of Defense is quoted as saying, “The cost of veterans’ benefits
are taking away from the nation’s ability to defend itself.” This
is absurd and shameful, and an apology is warranted.
If it is the will of the American people to constrict the benefits
to which veterans are statutorily eligible, VVA challenges
Congress here and now to propose, introduce, hold public hearings
and debate whether America wants to limit access for certain
veterans who are now deemed unworthy to receive VA health care.
The administration has pointed to the increases it has called for.
And you and your colleagues have seen fit to grant them over the
past four years to fund the VA. These increases, however, have
failed to keep pace not only with medical inflation, but also with
increases for services by veterans in priority groups.
In the President’s budget proposal, we see the writing on the
wall. The enhanced restraint discussed by OMB in testimony in
February before the House Budget Committee would eliminate more
than one million veterans from the VA health care system—one
Some have no service-connected disabilities, but their economic
fortunes may be teetering. Others have service-connected
disabilities that are rated zero percent compensable. They may be
required to pay up to $500 to use the VA medical services. Please
note that these men and women generate 40 percent of the
third-party reimbursement to the VA coffers.
Please note, too, that this is not a temporary exclusion. To
relieve the short-term pressures, for priority 8, this is a
planned exclusion intended for the next 20 years. Chairman Buyer,
we must tell you that many of your public comments and statements
in the past few months have been disturbing and hurtful, and quite
frankly, insulting to many of our members.
They have been taken as a direct and personal attack on our honor
and integrity, both as a group and as individuals. VVA has no wish
to diverge from our longstanding policy of focusing on the needs
of veterans rather than on political parties, partisan politics,
or personalities. VVA wants a free, open, and intense debate and
dialogue on issues without our integrity or that of our fellow
VSOs being called into question. We believe that caring for
veterans is not a Democratic cause; it is not a Republic effort;
it is an American issue.
It is one that cuts across all party affiliations. Rather than cut
back and give less, it is time to do more. We call on you to enact
the bill introduced this week by Congressman Lane Evans that
recognizes and deals with the human tolls taken by PTSD and other
mental health disorders derived from their experiences on the
And we call on the President and Congress to take the first steps
toward drafting a real national plan that meets the needs of men
and women serving in the military. There must be a comprehensible,
coordinated effort akin to what America did for World War II
Let us not thwart, injure, or impede another generation of
American veterans as happened to Vietnam veterans. It is time for
our public officials, veterans organizations, recent returnees,
and leaders from the private sector to fashion a truly
comprehensive response to the needs of OEF/ OIF veterans returning
Elements of such a plan must address the needs of veterans
suffering from PTSD and other psychological maladies. It must
include real transition assistance and health care, employment and
small-business assistance. The most intensive efforts must be
devoted to the catastrophically wounded.
Such a national undertaking will give real meaning to what
otherwise is the empty promise of a plastic yellow ribbon. We must
leave no veteran behind.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Members, and other distinguished members:
This may be the last time I come before you as national president
of Vietnam Veterans of America. It is my sincere hope that you
will heed our words and will read our statement and not be party
to any attempt to marginalize those who have served our nation
with honor. Let us work together. Let us do the right thing. Thank
Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.):
I appreciate the gentleman’s testimony. Like many in this room, I
come from a family of rich military heritage, following my
grandfather and his two brothers in World War I, and my father
from Korea, and my brother is on active duty right now just up at
Fort Meade, as a colonel. And I’m one of three who continue to
serve in Congress and still wear the uniform….
serve in the Army Reserves and graduated from the Citadel,
following my father and my brother’s footsteps….
So considering where we have been in the military dimension, it’s
not hard to understand what motivates all of us in our common
As military men and women we’ve all subscribed to what I believe
are a core set of values and they serve us well in uniform and
they continue to guide us in our lives, long after many of us pack
away the uniform.
Those values are duty, honor, courage, respect, integrity,
commitment, and service above self. They are more than words to
all of us. They are a common bond and they are equally our
identity and we rely upon them to guide us through a lot of
different turmoil for which we find, whether its in our private
life or in our public life or in our business….
So when you joined veterans service organizations, you brought
those values with you. The veterans service organizations then
define themselves based on core principles and core values because
you also must refer to them as you guide yourself in legislation.
So whenever organizations chartered by Congress to be non-partisan
get out of kilter, I’ll say it. Because when I wear the uniform,
no one ever asks me if I was a Republican or Democrat. When I
serve on the Armed Services Committee, we try to work in a
bipartisan fashion and this committee has a long history of
working in a bipartisan fashion.
You may disagree with me, Mr. Corey, but I want you to know that
my internal make-up and my moral compass demands that I never,
ever step before the disabled, the special needs, or an indigent.
That is my internal compass. And if you disagree with that, I
Since you mentioned my name, I’d like to respond to you.
In my statements, I said I’d like to work with you and the
committee and that we need to move on. But there were statements
that were made that needed to be addressed, and it hurt a lot of
people in our organization, in this room, and I just wanted to
clear that up. Let’s move forward and do what we have to do to
take care of our veterans. Thank you.