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Senate Says ‘No' to Funding for Veterans Care

Press Release

Location: Washington, D.C.

The Senate today rejected a Coburn motion today to provide medically necessary care to all disabled veterans by redirecting dollars from congressional earmarks funded through the Department of Defense but not requested by the Commander-in-Chief. The motion to recommit H.R. 3082 with instructions failed by a vote of 24 to 69.

"Once again the Senate chose to fund its own parochial projects instead of helping our nation and our veterans in need," said Dr. Coburn. "If our veterans are willing to sacrifice for our nation, surely Congress should be willing to sacrifice for our veterans. Unfortunately, as this vote demonstrates, members of Congress are not willing to sacrifice their pet projects for any reason, including caring for disabled veterans."

As a result, H.R. 3082, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010 will likely pass this week without providing funding for at least another year for the veterans care programs that Senate leaders were holding press conferences about just a week ago.

The bill includes 96 military construction earmarks costing $633 million not requested by the Department of Defense or the President. Two-thirds (63 of 96) of the earmarks are for projects in states represented by appropriators or members of Senate leadership.

The text of the motion the Senate defeated 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.

Because the motion was defeated, Dr. Coburn is requesting that the Senate leaders promptly consider an amendment he has proposed 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.).

Specifically, the amendment would reduce U.S. aid to the U.N. by the amount necessary to cover the costs of the new caregiver benefit. The United States is the single largest donor to the 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 Senate leaders 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 and provide the promised care to veterans as soon as this year.

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 proposed Coburn amendment would address all three of these concerns by directing that such care be provided immediately, be paid for by eliminating lower-priority spending for U.N. programs, and be guaranteed to all disabled veterans regardless of the war in which they were injured.

"Instead of voting to borrow more money, the Senate should start paying for new programs by reducing spending for lower priority government spending. The U.S. national debt is nearing $12 trillion and the Senate is expected to vote to increase the debt limit within the next month. There will never be a perfect political moment for Congress to start making tough choices. That moment is now," Dr. Coburn said.

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