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article imageSenate rejects broad and sweeping Veterans Affairs bill

By Karen Graham     Feb 28, 2014 in Politics
“I don’t know how anyone who voted ‘no’ today can look a veteran in the eye and justify that vote,” Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion said on Thursday after the Senate rejected a sweeping Veterans Affairs bill.
The bill, sponsored by Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), came up four Republican votes shy of passing in the Senate. The legislation would have waived a VA spending limit set under the budget Congress and President Barack Obama passed in December 2013.
The legislation would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation’s veterans, as well as repealing a military pension cut for future troops. But GOP efforts on Tuesday to cut many of the benefits in the VA bill, as well as add on some sanctions against Iran for its nuclear weapons program, were blocked by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev).
While both the Democrats and Republicans want the support of the nations 22 million veterans and their families, they are still playing the "blame-game," pointing their fingers at each other in an effort to force someone to make a publicly humiliating political blunder.
The Democrats spoke proudly of the over 24 veterans groups supporting the legislation, while Republicans pointed out how much they wanted to help veterans, but also needed to be careful and prudent with federal spending. Veteran's groups expressed their dismay at the bill's failure, saying it fell to partisan politics. The legislation was only four votes shy of the 60 votes needed for passage.
Republicans expressed concern over the number of veterans that would be added to the VA role, should the bill pass. With a Veterans Affairs system struggling with increased wait-times at medical clinics, and extensive backlogs of veteran's disability claims, the bill would have extended the time veterans have to enroll in the VA health-care system from five years to 10 years after deployment.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), explained the legislation would increase the frustration and delays already present in the VA system. “We have veterans dying from long waits for basic, necessary tests like colonoscopies,” Burr said Thursday. “Veterans waiting for their disability claims to be processed know all about frustrations and delays at the VA, and adding more individuals to an already broken system doesn’t seem wise.”
Republicans are also objecting to allowing more veterans without service-connected injuries to be eligible for treatment at VA facilities. They are saying this would further stress an over-burdened system.
Sanders' legislation addressed everything, from giving overweight veterans more than 15 minutes from a VA facility free membership in private gyms, to providing fertility or adoption services for some wounded troops unable to conceive.
The VA would have been given more tools to help in clearing the backlog of 390,000 benefits claims that have been awaiting action for more than 125 days. Benefits for the spouses of some deceased veterans would have improved, too. But we will never know now.
More about Senate, Veterans affairs, Budget cuts, military pensions, Obama
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