News From Congressman Lane Evans
 
For Immediate Release                                 Contact: Geoffrey Collver, 202-225-9756
January 30, 2006

The Bush Administration's Record of Shortchanging Veterans: The Real State of the Union

Washington, D.C. - Congressman Lane Evans of Illinois, Senior Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, issued the following statement on the President's State of the Union address:
 
When President Bush delivers his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday he no doubt will claim credit for a great many things.  But as so often happens with this Administration, the rhetoric is contradicted by reality - what you see and hear is not always what you get.
 
The President likely will tell us the economy is doing well, even though we know that many of our fellow citizens are working harder and harder trying just to keep up.  The President's economic plan will consist of more of the same - tax cuts for his rich friends and associates and fewer opportunities for average Americans. 
 
I expect he will present Americans with more misguided legislative proposals and skewed budget priorities that will mean more deep cuts to the programs the American people need and care about.  America's veterans should be spared from these false choices - unfortunately the record of this President does not give me cause to expect it.
 
Last year, the President did not once mention the word "veteran" during the course of his State of the Union address.  I wonder if he will discuss veterans this year; they and their families represent more than a quarter of the U.S. population.  No one, after all, has sacrificed more in the course of serving our nation.  Surely he can find space in his message to acknowledge and thank them. 
 
But more important than merely mentioning veterans is what his Administration should do for veterans and their families.  Has this President heard the voices of veterans across our land, voices demanding adequate health care funding?  Has he heard from veterans who deserve accurate and timely decisions on claims for earned benefits?  Has he heard veterans pleading for more resources and creative initiatives in order to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the plague of homelessness?  Sadly, the evidence shows he has not.
 
Since fiscal year 2002, which marks the first budget submitted by his Administration, the President has requested an average annual increase of only 3.4 percent in appropriated dollars for VA health care.  In fact, for this current fiscal year, the President initially requested an increase in appropriated dollars of only 0.4 percent.  Congress has provided an average annual increase of 7.9 percent.  Although this average increase of 7.9 percent is over twice as much as the President has requested, it has not been sufficient to meet the needs of the Nation's veterans.  The VA itself testified that it requires a 13 to 14 percent annual increase just to keep up.  The President wishes to take full credit for a funding job less than half-done, while his Administration stands by and watches the care gap widen.

Moreover, the President is quick to point out that he has signed into law bills that benefit veterans, again masking the complete truth - his Administration waged unsuccessful battles against the very legislation to which the President affixed his signature.  A case in point is the White House claim that "President Bush twice signed legislation effectively providing 'concurrent receipt' of both military retired pay and VA disability compensation for those regular military retirees most deserving - combat-injured and highly disabled veterans - reversing a century-old law preventing concurrent receipt."  However, the statement fails to acknowledge that the President early on signaled his adamant opposition to such legislation, vigorously fighting against its passage and vowing to veto it if it reached his desk.  Further, more work remains to fully repeal the Disabled Veterans' Tax, as disabled veterans rated at 40 percent or below - roughly two-thirds of all disabled veterans - continue to wait for their earned benefits, including elderly World War II and Korean War era veterans.

The President's claims of providing greater funding than he has requested and taking credit for new laws he did not initially support, even fought against, belies the appalling record of an Administration that has not only given veterans' needs short shrift but has, in fact, actively sought to diminish VA's mission:

It is disgraceful that year after year veterans, hats in hand, must beg for an adequate budget from the White House and GOP-controlled Congress.  As the past year's $1.5 billion shortfall in veterans' health care demonstrated, veterans have not been unreasonable in their call for adequate funding for the agency that was established to care for them.  But instead of stepping forward and legitimately addressing veterans' concerns, the President's response is to brazenly take credit where credit is not due and then further diminish veterans' benefits and services. 

So as he addresses the Nation on Tuesday, and as he submits his new budget on February 6, I will be hoping that the President will do right by veterans.  I hope that the President will own up to the shortcomings of his Administration and finally address the problems faced by our veterans and returning servicemembers.  It is time for him to step up to his responsibility - America's responsibility - and work to reverse a misguided philosophy and extraordinary failures in the veterans' benefits and health care arena.

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