Minnesota Congresswoman scheduled to speak in Montana this week
Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee today asked U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., to reconsider her proposal to freeze VA health care funding and cut $4.5 billion in veterans' benefits.
In a letter to Bachmann, Senator Jon Tester said the controversial proposal is a "giant step in the wrong direction."
"I do not agree budget cuts should be made on the backs of America's veterans--folks who put their lives on the line for this nation's security and freedom," Tester wrote. "With more and more veterans coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, we can't go backwards for the folks who put their lives on the line for us--especially those wounded in combat, who gave part of themselves for us."
Bachmann was invited by Congressman Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., to speak during a political fundraiser in Helena, Mont., this Saturday, February 5.
Tester said although he appreciates Bachmann's willingness to "stir the conversation" about cutting spending, he speaks for many of Montana's 102,000 veterans in taking exception to her proposal to freeze VA health care funding and cut veterans' disability benefits. The call to freeze health care funding comes even as the use of VA facilities grew in Montana by 10 percent since 2006.
More than 17,000 Montana veterans receive the disability compensation that Bachmann's proposal would jeopardize. Some of the 1,600 widows receiving survivor payments could also see their benefits cut.
Tester noted he fully supports eliminating waste and fraud within the VA, and has passed laws to streamline the agency. But he said he cannot support any plan "that pulls the rug out from under veterans."
"We make America's veterans a promise when they sign up to serve our country; it is our duty to make sure we live up to those promises," Tester said.
Numerous veterans' service organizations have also rejected Bachmann's proposal to cut veterans' benefits:
* "No way, no how, will we let this proposal get any traction in Congress," said Richard L. Eubank, the national commander of the 2.1-million member Veterans of Foreign Wars. "The day this nation can't afford to take care of her veterans is the day this nation should quit creating them."
* "It is absurd to suggest such a thing when we are fighting two wars and creating more veterans every day who have served their country honorably and have already earned their benefits," said Jimmie L. Foster, the national commander of the American Legion.
* Bill Lawson, the president of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said Bachmann's plan is "short-sighted, dangerous and an insult to the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our freedoms."
Tester's letter to Bachmann appears below.
Hon. Michele Bachmann
United States House of Representatives
103 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative Bachmann:
I write to say thank you for your service to the people of Minnesota and America, and to extend a warm welcome to the Treasure State as you prepare for your political fundraiser in Helena this Saturday.
I also write to say thank you for your commitment to our shared task ahead: Working together in Congress to build a job-friendly business climate, and to cut government spending. I agree our current path is unsustainable, and I look forward to a serious debate about how best to cut spending while strengthening our economy.
I read with interest your online proposal to cut more than $400 billion from the federal budget. Proposals like yours are important to stir the conversations Congress needs to have about the difficult decisions we need to make.
But I speak for many of Montana's 102,000 veterans in taking exception to your proposal to freeze VA health care funding and cut $4.5 billion in veterans' benefits. The number of unique patients at VA facilities in Montana has grown by 10 percent since I took office. During this time, the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals have earned high marks from veterans. Meanwhile, your proposal jeopardizes the benefits of over 17,000 veterans who were injured in service to our country.
I do not agree budget cuts should be made on the backs of America's veterans--folks who put their lives on the line for this nation's security and freedom. We make America's veterans a promise when they sign up to serve our country; it is our duty to make sure we live up to those promises.
As a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I cannot and will not support any plan that pulls the rug out from under veterans.
The VA was woefully underfunded before 2006, when we both were elected to Congress. Since then, Congress brought funding for the VA to just barely where it needs to be. I'm incredibly proud of that record. I'm also working hard to continue eliminating waste and fraud within the VA. As with all government agencies, we should never stop looking for ways to save money and cut red tape. American taxpayers deserve no less.
But cutting benefits for the men and women who earned them through military service is a giant step in the wrong direction.
Military service is a proud tradition in Montana. Our rural state has the second-highest number of veterans per capita behind only Alaska. With more and more veterans coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, we can't go backwards for the folks who put their lines on the line for us--especially those wounded in combat, who gave part of themselves for us.
I hope you will join me in taking this stand for veterans, and I ask you to reconsider this part of your proposal. Again, thank you for your role in this debate. And thank you for all you do.