Earlier this year, the GOP had a chance to prove that it could fund veterans' health care as eagerly as it borrowed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Long before the current VA crisis, an event described as "a gift from God" by Dr. Ben Carson, Senate Republicans had a chance to vote on a landmark bill. Before the Senate vote, organizations devoted to the needs of veterans and their families offered widespread support to the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.
On January 21, 2014 the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) wrote a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsing the legislation. The IAVA believed, "This legislation would accomplish many of the goals for which veterans and military service organizations have been advocating for years, including strengthening the Post-9/11 GI Bill, expanding advance appropriations for more of the VA's budget... and much more." The Veterans of Foreign Wars was just as enthusiastic in its support, and wrote a similar letter explaining how S.1982 would help veterans:
If signed into law, this sweeping legislation would expand and improve health care and benefit services to all generations of veterans and their families. Most notably, it would expand the current caregiver law to include all generations of veterans and provide advance appropriations to ensure monthly compensation and pension as well as education payments are protected from future budget battles. The bill also offers in-state tuition protection for recently transitioned veterans, improves access to mental health and treatment for victims of sexual assault in the military, and authorizes construction of more than 20 Community Bases Outpatient Clinics to serve veterans in rural and remote communities.
Echoing the IAVA and VFW, The Paralyzed Veterans of America stated that "This legislation marks one of the most comprehensive bills to ever be considered in the Senate or House." The PVA went on to state that, "If enacted, S. 1982 would accomplish some of the highest priorities for Paralyzed Veterans and its members." VetsFirst, another group devoted to disabled veterans, also explained "this legislation goes a long way toward fulfilling many of the current and future needs of our disabled veterans."
Furthermore, The American Legion lent "its full support" to the bill since it "addresses several high priority issues for The American Legion, like repealing the 1 percent retiree COLA provision, funding the stalled CBOCs for the VA, increasing access to health care for veterans at VA, employment and education fixes, and other programs that are important to us." In addition, The American Legion explained that the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 was essential to veterans in other ways:
The American Legion also appreciates the many areas in which this bill addresses needed attention regarding Military Sexual Trauma counseling, additional training and assistance for Traumatic Brain Injury victims, improvements and much-needed updates to the Dependency and Indemnification Compensation program, VA's Work-Study program, and its On-the-Job Training program.
Therefore, with so much positive feedback from veterans groups about the bill, it's only logical to assume that Senate Republicans would do everything possible to ensure it became law.
Unfortunately, S.1982 was killed by Senate Republicans, with a vote of 56-41 -- only Republicans Senators voting nay and with only two Republicans voting for the bill. The logic behind every vote against the bill being Republican rests in the following statement from North Carolina Senator Richard M. Burr:
With $17 trillion in debt and massive annual deficits, our country faces a fiscal crisis of unparalleled scope. Now is not the time, in any federal department, to spend money we don't have. To be sure, there's much to like in the Sanders bill. And if those components were presented as separate, smaller bills, as part of a carefully considered long-term strategy to reform the VA, hold leadership accountable and improve services to veterans, we would have no problem extending enthusiastic support.
Also, Republicans called for sanctions on Iran to be included within the veterans' bill, and since it wasn't included within the bill, they voted against the landmark legislation. As stated by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell regarding the Iran sanctions, "There is no excuse for muzzling the Congress on an issue of this importance to our own national security."
So how did veterans feel about the February 26, 2014 vote where 41 Republicans voted against a sweeping bill to help veterans? American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger expressed his frustration with the outcome by stating, "There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way. That's inexcusable."
As for Senator Richard Burr, he recently received a scathing letter from the Veterans of Foreign Wars pertaining to his open letter to veterans groups about the VA crisis. In addition, Burr received another response letter from the Paralyzed Veterans of America stating that, "Rest assured, you do not speak for or represent the interests of Paralyzed Veterans' members-veterans with spinal cord injury or dysfunction or any other VSO."
It should not be overlooked that veterans have been committing suicide, enduring long wait times for disability benefits, and dealing with a wide array of others issues ignored by Congress for the past decade. Also, the most indignant Republicans like Sen. Burr of North Carolina have also voted against S.1982 and now blame bureaucratic issues, rather than funding problems, as the cause of the VA crisis. Therefore, it's safe to say that the latest VA crisis and the deaths of veterans in Arizona served as convenient opportunity for the GOP to feign indignation over issues veterans have faced for years.
What better way to circumvent responsibility for underfunding the VA and voting against veteran's legislation than blaming big government? Somebody should tell Sen. Burr and the GOP that we funded both wars with "money we didn't have" and we should fund veterans health care as enthusiastically as we paid (borrowed) for two war.