U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) is proposing two options for the Senate to pay for new benefits for disabled veterans. The Senate is scheduled to vote on Monday, November 16 at 5:30 p.m. on a Coburn motion that will provide immediate funding for disabled veterans care, paid for by eliminating earmarks for Defense projects not requested by the Commander in Chief. Coburn is also requesting that the Senate promptly consider an amendment he is proposing to S. 1963, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009, that would expand veterans benefits and pay for the added costs by reducing U.S. contributions to the United Nations (U.N.).
"Every member of the United States Senate wants to help our veterans who have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedom. This motion gives Senators an opportunity to put their words into action. Our veterans have made hard choices and we need to do the same. Only in Washington, D.C. is the task of setting priorities confusing, which is why we have a $12 trillion debt, a declining dollar and a 16 percent confidence rating," Dr. Coburn said, adding that it's important for Congress to treat all veterans fairly and not discriminate against veterans injured before September 11, 2001, as some would prefer.
The text of the motion the Senate will vote on states:
Mr. Coburn moves to recommit the bill H.R. 3082 to the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate with instructions to report the same back to the Senate with changes to reprioritize spending within the bill in to order to provide sufficient funding to ensure coverage of medically necessary care and payment of caregivers for all disabled veterans, including but not limited to, those who fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, the Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and any combat zone in the War on Terrorism and that such funding for veterans' assistance should be paid for with reductions in spending for earmarks for less urgent projects and other unnecessary programs not requested by the Commander in Chief.
"Our priority should be veterans in need, rather than politicians in need. This bill's priorities are the exact opposite," Dr. Coburn said.
For instance, the bill includes 96 military construction earmarks costing $633 million. Two-thirds (63 of 96) of the earmarks are for projects in states represented by appropriators or members of Senate leadership.
"I've never met a veteran who said they served to help politicians get re-elected, avoid hard choices and pass on crushing debt to future generations. Instead, our veterans served to protect our freedoms and our heritage of service and sacrifice. If we don't start making hard choices, and stop making excuses, our veterans won't have a country left to defend," Dr. Coburn said.
Dr. Coburn has been accused of blocking assistance to disabled veterans because he is seeking to offer an amendment to S. 1963 to ensure that the care promised by the bill is paid for, equally applies to all disabled combat veterans, and becomes available as soon as possible. As written, S. 1963 would provide caregiver assistance to veterans disabled in combat since September 11, 2001, authorize more than $3 billion in new spending without any corresponding reduction in lower priority spending, and not go into effect for at least year or more, unnecessarily delaying care. The Coburn motion would address all three of these concerns by directing that such care be provided immediately, be paid for by eliminating lower-priority spending, and be guaranteed to all disabled veterans regardless of the war in which they were injured.
The Senate could quickly pass S. 1963 if the Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affair Committee allow Dr. Coburn to offer a single amendment that would pay for the bill and remove its discrimination provision. The amendment would reduce U.S. contributions to the United Nations (U.N.) by the amount necessary to cover the costs of the new caregiver benefit. The United States is the single largest donor to U.N., contributing more than $4 billion annually. The amendment would expand the eligibility of the new benefits to all disabled veterans injured in military conflicts prior to and after September 11, 2001, while S. 1963 restricts eligibility to only those vets injured since that date. If Senators Reid and Akaka agree to this request to debate and vote on a single Coburn amendment, the Senate could quickly take up, debate, improve and pass this important piece of legislation.