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Welch Calls for supporting Veterans with a "GI Bill for the 21st Century"

Location: Burlington, VT

Welch Calls for supporting Veterans with a "GI Bill for the 21st Century"

Peter Welch, candidate for U.S. Congress, today called for creating a "GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century" at a veterans forum with former Secretary of the VA and Senator Max Cleland, Congressman Bernie Sanders and Vermont veterans.

Welch outlined the need for funding essential health and support services for veterans and members of the military and National Guard.

"Our country has made a promise to care for those who have defended and protected our nation. Our leaders must keep the promise made to our veterans by funding the essential programs that provide health care and support services," said Welch.

"Unfortunately, President Bush and the Republican leadership have failed to keep their promise to our veterans. We are indebted to our service members for their dedication to this country, and we must support the programs they have earned and deserve," added Welch.

Welch cited an "abysmal record" of Republican cuts to health benefits, increases in fees, and a neglect to fund the VA for an increase in needed services as a result of the war in Iraq (see appended document).

Welch outlined items he would support in Congress as part of a "GI Bill for the 21st Century":

Improve Health and Education Benefits for Members of the National Guard and Reservists

* Expand TRICARE for National Guard and Reservists
* Improve education benefits and ensure recruitment incentives and bonuses for Guard and Reservists

Fund Veterans Health Care Programs

* Ensure adequate funding now and for future increases in Veterans hospitals and health services
* Assure mental health services funding for returning soldiers
* Block increases in prescription drug co-payments and enrollment fees for veterans
* Fund the Traumatic Brain Injury Center and invest in research on military-unique injuries

End Burdensome Penalties on Benefits

* Repeal Disabled Veterans' Tax that deducts disability payments from pension payments
* End Widow Tax that does not allow both Survivor benefits and VA Dependency compensation

Modernize and Enhance the GI Bill Education and Job Training Programs

Ensure Adequate Equipment for our Troops

Protect Privacy of Current Service Members and Veterans

* Create guidelines protecting against future exposure of personal information
* Implement penalties for exposure of confidential information

The Bush Administration and Republican-led Congress have failed to make their rhetoric match reality when in comes to supporting our veterans," says Welch.

"The President and Congress cut taxes for the first time- the first time ever in U.S. history- during wartime and now they slash essential services for those fighting for this country," charged Welch. "It is wrong."

As Senate President, Welch oversaw legislation which restored $250,000 in funding for mental health services for Vermont National Guard families cut by the Republicans in Washington, supported the Vermont National Guard and Reserve Family Fund for assistance to the families of mobilized members, and four consecutive increases since 2004 in funding Vermont families with military members killed or wounded in combat.

The Republican Record of Neglect: President Bush and the Republican Leadership are Failing our Veterans

* The House Republicans voted to cut $13.5 billion from Veterans' health care over five years in their 2006 budget, despite unified opposition by House Democrats [H Con Res 95, Roll Call #149, 4/28/05].
* This year the Republican leadership voted, on a straight party-line vote in the Appropriations Committee, against a Democratic initiative to provide $735 million for the Defense Health Program. Instead, Republicans chose to fill the short-fall by charging veterans user fees.
* The Bush Congress House Budget Committee voted for a 2007 budget that would add significant increases to TRICARE costs for nearly 2 million military retirees under age 65 and cuts funding for veterans' programs by $6 million below the level CBO estimates as needed to maintain current services. The proposed health fees would triple for retired officers, double for retired senior enlisted personnel, and increase by 40 percent for junior enlisted retirees. These increases mirror proposals by President Bush to increase TRICARE costs for veterans.
* Republicans killed a Democratic proposal to reject increases in pharmacy co-pays for military families, instead raising co-pays as proposed by the Bush Administration. [HR 5122, vote #139, 5/11/06; Leadership document]
* On June 23 last year the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a $1 billion budget shortfall due to increased health care costs. Just days later, House Republicans voted against Rep. Edwards' amendment that would provide the $1 billion in veteran health care funding on a straight party-line vote with 217 Republicans voting the measure down. [H Res 341, Roll Call #325, 6/28/05]
* For the fourth year in a row, the President's budget proposes raising health care costs for 1 million veterans by imposing new fees, a cost to veterans of more than $2.6 billion over five years and driving at least 200,000 veterans out of the system.
* The President's budget this year contains $1 billion less than veterans' service organizations specify is needed, and is $10 billion below the amount needed to maintain services at current levels over the next five years.
* In FY 2004, House Republicans voted to cut $28 billion from veterans' benefits, including veterans' pension, compensation, education and health care. [H Con. Res 95, Vote #82, 3/21/03]

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