Funding our Returning Heroes, Not a Priority of This Congress
Washington, Nov 21 - What do a sailing school, a prison museum and a Portuguese language program and veterans' health care have in common? Absolutely nothing if you ask the average American. However, if you were to pose that same question in Washington you would get a very different answer.
In Washington, a veterans' funding bill has been combined with a massive spending bill filled with unnecessary pork. Some in Congress desperately want their pet projects like Rep. Charlie Rangel's "monument to me." This $2 million dollar taxpayer funded library in NYC to honor his congressional career is wasteful spending at its peak. This should never hold up funding benefits for our veterans.
This legislation almost worked the way it is supposed to. The FY2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, H.R. 2642, passed the House by a wide margin of 409-2. Likewise, the Senate overwhelmingly passed this critical veterans funding two months ago, 92-1. For a brief moment, Washington put aside the political rhetoric and partisan bickering in support of our veterans.
Contained in this legislation is $4.1 billion to improve VA facilities, hospitals and clinics. If we are to avoid future examples of inadequate VA facilities and hospitals like Walter Reed Army Hospital, then we must quickly send this bill to the president to be signed into law. When I toured Walter Reed in February one thing was clear - the very best and brightest men and women work in our VA hospitals. However they badly need the best facilities and tools to provide the best care. This funding would directly address this problem and move us in the right direction.
Another important provision in this bill focuses on the mental health of veterans. With more than 30 percent of Iraq veterans returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the $600 million allocated for PTSD, traumatic brain injury research and care in the bill is badly needed. This bill also provides $2.9 billion for general mental health care and substance abuse treatment, $480 million for prosthetic research to help wounded veterans retain a positive quality of life and $21.4 billion for facilities to house and train military personnel abroad and at home.
Unfortunately, Congress returned to political games rather than putting our veterans first. It combined the veterans' funding bill with a controversial pork-barrel spending bill, knowing full well the president would veto it. Congress is now holding our veterans hostage to get its pork.
Nobody's pet project should take precedence over supporting veterans returning home from the battlefield. Whether one agrees with the war or not, we must fully support our troops. I find the manipulative tactics taken to hold the much needed funding for our returning troops deplorable. It seems as if our veterans are being used as pawns in a political game.
Roll Call newspaper reported the decision to delay sending the veterans' funding bill to the president was a ploy to "use it as leverage to pass other spending bills." We must fully fund our veterans now, not tomorrow, and certainly not when the majority is finished using veteran funding as leverage. Currently, 8 million U.S. veterans await more than $37 billion in promised benefits.
A simple solution would be to separate the two bills and let them stand on their own two feet. Why make our veterans wait? When there is an extremely simple solution to solve a problem, Washington is unwilling to acting on it. This is precisely what is wrong with the political process today.
Some of our very bravest and honorable men and women are returning from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. As they return home to their families and friends, as generations of veterans have before, we have a solemn responsibility to fulfill our promises to them. This Congress must move past the heightened partisanship that too often poisons Washington and come together as a nation united in support of our nation's heroes.