Richard Brand: The Great Divide

There is nothing that illustrates the great divide between the wishes, the hopes, the passions, the compassion of the American public and the members of Congress more than the current sad treatment of the military veterans.

The citizens, the average person, the people in the street care deeply about the veterans. They have and continue to respond to the great number of programs and charities that have sprung up to support our veterans. So many companies have created programs where the purchase of their product means that the company will make some donation to a veterans’ cause. The Wound Warrior charity gathered in large donations which unfortunately did not get to the veterans, but still demonstrated the public’s great desire to help.

The public has great sympathy and compassion for these veterans because they understand that our government has sent them over and over into some terrible situations that should have never been begun. These veterans were asked to begin a war. Something no other veterans in our history have done. These veterans were sent into a war that should never have been started by us. But they have gone and done their duty to their commanders. They have sacrificed lives, body parts, and emotions. The public recognizes the great debt we owe to these men and women.

Yet over the last eight years the House and the Senate have repeatedly refused to pass legislature that gave better benefits to these veterans. When veteran hospitals and medical services are so backed up that three months waiting lists are normal, when more veterans are coming home with physical disabilities and emotional needs, when the job market is complicated at home, the House and the Senate have five times failed to help veterans.

In 2015 when the Veterans Affairs Funding was presented in the Obama budget, the House Appropriation Subcommittee removed more than $1.4 billion dollars in veteran services. Included in those cuts were $690 million earmarked for direct VA medical care and another $582 million in VA construction projects. The results of those cuts were that that approximately 70,00 fewer veterans were able to receive needed care.

In 2014 there came forward a very personal and emotional bill called the Women Veteran and Families Health Services Act that was a bipartisan bill to provide fertility treatment and counseling for severely wounded veterans and the spouses. This bill never made it out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee because Republicans wanted amendments that prevented the involvement of Planned Parenthood.

In the same year, 2014 Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act. This was sweeping overhaul of healthcare and education benefits. The Senate gave it a 99-0 procedural vote approval, but Senator Mitch McConnell attached all kinds of sanctions against Iran and the debate over the amendments resulted in an expanded debate over cost of the benefits and 41 of the 45 Republican Senators voted against the bill.

The refusal to vote for and give the veterans the increased benefits they deserve has a long history. Republicans in the Senate refused to approve a Veterans Job Corps Act in 2012 and Senator McConnell killed a Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Act in 2010 because they did not like the cost. But they could turn around and voted for increase military spending in the same session. This is a country that spends more on military equipment than the combined total of the next 25 developed countries (24 of which are allies) and we could not take the money from one super jet and spend it on veterans?

The American public recognizes that we, as a country, owe these men and women a blank check for benefits for what they have been willing to do for us. But that compassion, as strong as it is in the public arena, has not been felt in the Senate or the House. We need a new Senate that is better at feeling the desire and emotions of our people.