Article in Today’s Congressional Quarterly:

CQ TODAY
Nov. 14, 2005 - 10:48 p.m.
American Legion to Chairman: We Will Not Be Talked Down to or Lectured
By Tim Starks, CQ Staff

The tense relationship between House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Steve Buyer and veterans’ groups is deteriorating rapidly - to the point of nastiness - in the wake of a revamped hearing schedule the Indiana Republican unveiled recently.

The latest row: The American Legion’s national commander, Thomas Bock, fired off an angry response Monday to a Buyer letter about a Nov. 7 summit at which the chairman announced the new schedule.

“You begin your letter by stating in an almost condescending manner that, ‘it is unfortunate that the American Legion chose not to send a representative,’” wrote Bock. “I might say to you that it is unfortunate that your staff chose not to send an invitation to the National Commander of The American Legion.” By the time Buyer’s staff “deigned” to contact the group, Bock said, it was too late.

“I must tell you, sir, to a person, we find your letter and your implications to be insulting and patronizing,” Bock fumed, adding that the group would not be treated as if it were “superfluous.”

Buyer said that while he strongly disagrees with “much of the letter’s accusations and rhetoric,” he still wants to work with it and other groups “for the good of our nation’s veterans.”

Timeline of House Activity over Past Three Years:

Timeline on Veterans’ Health Care – 3 Years of Facts

2003

January 2003 Bush Administration cuts off veterans’ health care for 164,000. In January, the Administration cut off VA health care for 164,000 veterans without service-connected disabilities, who make as little as $25,000 a year. Through 2005 this has denied health care to more than 522,000 veterans. [68 Fed. Reg. 2670, 2671, January 17, 2003]

March 2003 Republicans vote to slash veterans’ health care. House Republicans voted in their budget to cut $14 billion from veterans’ health care. The GOP budget also included the President’s proposal to impose a $250 fee for enrollment in VA health care for low and moderate income veterans, along with a doubling of the drug co-payment for those veterans. [H Con. Res 95, Vote #82, 3/21/03]

July 2003 Republicans break promise on veterans’ health care. After agreeing to reduce some of their budget cuts, the House GOP reneged on their promise to increase funding for VA health care and passed an appropriations bill providing $1.8 billion less than their FY 2004 Budget. [H. Res. 338, Vote #450, 7/25/03]

October 2003 Democrats seek an additional $1.3 billion for veterans health care, but Republicans reject it. The Bush Administration opposed and House Republicans rejected a Democratic motion to include $1.3 billion for veterans’ health care in the Iraqi Supplemental. [H.R. 3289, Vote #600,10/31/03]

2004

February 2, 2004 Veterans Secretary acknowledges inadequacy of FY 2005 Veteran Budget: "In a rare move by a Cabinet member, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi told a House committee he had sought $1.2 billion more than President Bush was willing to put in his budget. 'I asked OMB for $1.2 billion more than I received,' Principi said...Last year, Principi said the administration did not provide as large of an increase as he requested for the 2004 fiscal year."- Associated Press, 2/4/04

February 26, 2004 Bipartisan House Veterans’ Committee calls for an additional $2.5 billion funding for veterans health care.

March 25, 2004 Democrats seek to amend the budget both in committee and on the floor to add money. Republicans defeated – by a vote of 194 to 232 (Democrats votes YES) – the Democratic substitute to the GOP FY 2005 Budget Resolution to include a $2.5 billion increase over the Bush budget for veterans' health care for FY 2005, which veterans critically needed to maintain the current level of veterans' health care services. [H.Con.Res. 393, Vote #91, 3/25/04. Rejected 194-232 (R 0-224; D 193-8)]

March 25, 2004 Republicans pass inadequate budget resolution that shortchanged veterans' health care by $1.3 billion, compared to the amount the bipartisan Veterans’ Affair Committee said was needed just to maintain current services. [H.Con.Res. 393, Vote #92, 3/25/04 .Adopted 215-212 (R 215-10; D 0-201)]

June 24, 2004 Democrats offer “National Priorities” Bill to increase veterans’ health care by $1.3 billion. Republicans defeated an “investing in national priorities” bill that would have invested in key priorities, providing an additional $1.3 billion to improve veterans' health care, shorten waiting times at VA health care facilities, and provide critical mental health services to address needs resulting from wartime deployments. The Paralyzed Veterans of America called this bill "vital," as it would have brought veterans’ health care funding to the level that the House Veterans' Affairs Committee on a bipartisan basis had said was needed to maintain current services. [H.Res. 685, Vote #301, 6/24/04. Rejected 184-230 (R 2-217; D 181-13)]

September 29, 2004 Democrats offer motion to add veterans’ health money to Fiscal Year 2005 Continuing Resolution. Republicans defeated the Democratic motion to provide an additional $1.3 billion for veterans' health care for FY 2005, which veterans critically need to maintain the current level of veterans' health care services. [H.J.Res. 107, Vote #478, 9/29/04. Rejected 200-221 (R 1-219; D 198-2)]

2005

January 6, 2005 House Republicans oust Chris Smith as chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs for his tireless advocacy of veterans rights. "It all came down to the fact I wanted to spend too much on veterans," Smith said following a 90-minute meeting in which he detailed the 22 laws he authored to help veterans in his four years as chairman. .. "This is not only a slap at Chris Smith, but a shot over the bow at veterans organizations," said Richard Fuller of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. "The Republican leadership has made a statement that the country is making too much of a commitment to the men and women who have served in uniform." [New Jersey Star-Ledger, January 06, 2005]

February 16, 2005 Despite news reports of VA shortfalls, newly appointed VA Secretary and former Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson testifies that he is unaware of that VAs are deferring purchases and maintenance to address shortfalls.

February 17 House Democrats, led by Reps. Baird and Hooley, send a letter to the President urging him to support including $1.3 billion for veterans health care in the Iraqi Supplemental.

February 23, 2005 House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Buyer supports increasing veterans co-pays and imposing health enrollment fees for in the budget views and estimates.

March 15, 2005 Republicans vote to block Democrats from offering an amendment add $1.2 billion for veterans’ health care for FY 2005 on the $82 billion Iraqi Supplemental offered by Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-OR). [H.R. 1248, Vote #69, 3/15/05. Motion agreed to 220-195 (R 220-1; D 0-193)]

March 15, 2005 Republicans blocked consideration of an amendment by Rep. Bob Filner to add $3.1 billion for veterans’ healthcare in FY 2005. [H.R. 1248, Vote #71, 3/15/05. Motion agreed to 224-200 (R 220-1; D 0-193)]

March 17, 2005 Democrats make repeated efforts on the budget to add money in committee and on the floor on the FY 2006 Budget. Democratic Rep. Obey of Wisconsin attempted to offer an amendment to provide $3.2 billion more than the President’s budget in FY 2006 for veterans' health care, to meet the growing needs of returning soldiers, The Democratic budget included a $20.9 billion increase over 5 years, for veterans’ health care and to eliminate the President’s proposal to increase fees. Similarly, Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards offered an amendment in to increase health care funding and to eliminate the Republican budget's plan for $798 million in veterans cuts over five years. [H CON RES 95, Votes #82 & 87, 3/17/05]

March 17, 2005 Republicans pass a budget that is more than $2 billion short of what is needed for veterans’ health care this year, cuts veterans’ health care by $14 billion below the amount needed to maintain these programs at their current levels over five year, and cuts of $798 million over the next five years – requiring either new fees for veterans’ health care or cuts in veterans’ benefits. [H CON RES 95, Vote #88, 3/17/05]

April 5, 2005 Bush Administration denies any funding shortfall. On April 5, 2005, the Veterans’ Affairs Department Secretary Nicholson said “I can assure you that VA does not need emergency supplemental funds in FY 2005 to continue to provide timely, quality service…” [Con. Rec. 4/12/05, S3466]

May 18, 2005 Democratic Rep. Obey offered an amendment in full committee to increase VA health care spending by $2.6 billion in FY 2006, but Republicans defeated it.

May 26, 2005 House Republicans block consideration of a Democratic amendment to provide an additional $2.6 billion for veterans’ health care in FY 2006, supported by the coalition of AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. [H.R.2528, Vote #223, 5/26/05. Motion passed 223-194 (R 223-0; D 0-193)]

June 23, 2005 Bush Administration acknowledges FY 2005 shortfall of $1 billion, even though they have been aware of this since April. “The Bush administration, already accused by veterans groups of seeking inadequate funds for health care next year, acknowledged yesterday that it is short $1 billion for covering current needs at the Department of Veterans Affairs this year…Leaders of the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans and the Disabled American Veterans all noted a striking partisan division in Congress on veterans issues, with Democrats giving them much more support than Republicans.” [Washington Post, 6/24/05]

June 24, 2005 House Democrats, led by Rep. Chet Edwards, seek to offer an amendment to eliminate the Republican VA funding shortfall by adding $1 billion for VA health care in FY 2005 to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill. The Republican majority refused to allow the amendment, so Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin then offered a motion to send the bill back and add the needed funding for veterans' health care. [HR 3010, Vote #320, 6/24/05. Failed 185-216]

June 28, 2005 Bush Administration acknowledges FY 2006 shortfall that amounts to $2.7 billion. Secretary Nicholson acknowledged that there is also a shortfall of $1.5 FY 2006 – which would reach $2.7 billion in fiscal 2006 if the Administration proposals are rejected, as they have been over the past few years. Secretary still refuses to acknowledge that the shortfall is hurting veterans access to timely, high quality care.

June 28, 2005 Republicans reject Democratic attempt to make up for the shortfall in the House. House Republicans voted to block consideration of an amendment by Rep. Chet Edwards to add $1 billion for VA health care in FY 2005 to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. [HR 3057, Vote # 325, 6/28/05. Failed 217-189]

June 28, 2005 Veterans Secretary Nicholson says “We certainly don’t have a crisis.” [NYT, 6/29/05]

June 28, 2005 Majority Leader Tom Delay said, “Veterans need to know, no veteran will be without their health care in 2005 and no veteran will be without health care in 2006. There are solutions to this problem and those solutions are being addressed.” [CQ Today, 6/28/05]

June 29, 2005 Rep. Edwards introduces an amendment to the Transportation Appropriations bill to add $1 billion for VA health care but Republicans block it from consideration.

June 29, 2005 All House Democrats send a letter to President Bush urging him to send up a budget request for $1.3 billion to make up for the shortfall this year.

June 29, 2005 The Senate votes 96 to 0 to add $1.5 billion for FY 2005 for veterans health care.

June 30, 2005 Several months after becoming aware of the shortfall and more than one week after acknowledging a shortfall, the White House and House Republicans begrudgingly act to deal with the current year shortfall in veterans’ health care, passing only $975 million – significantly less than the Senate passed – thereby delaying funding for veterans’ health care. Democrats attempt to bring the total of the supplemental to $1.5 billion to match the Senate amount, but Republicans reject this effort to get the money to veteran’s medical facilities immediately on a party line vote. [H RES 345 Vote #359, 6/30/05. Motion agreed to 216-191 (R 216-0; D 0-191)] So final action for this year’s shortfall is not completed as Congress adjourns for the July 4th recess.

July 12, 2005 Just two weeks after announcing the shortfall for FY05, the Bush Administration admits their numbers were wrong and requests an additional $300 million for FY05, bringing the total shortfall to about $1.3 billion, matching the number Democrats have been calling for all along.

July 12, 2005 The Senate again votes 96 to 0 to add $1.5 billion for FY 2005 for veterans health care.

July 14, 2005 The Bush Administration formally requests the additional $300 million this year, along with $1.7 billion for FY 2006 – admitting a $3 billion mistake over the two years, but still leaving veterans health care $1.5 billion short in the upcoming year.

July 14, 2005 OMB Director Bolten testifies that “There have been three consecutive years preceding this one in which more there was more money requested by the Administration and more money appropriated by the Congress for the medical care portion of veterans services than was actually needed in that year. The appropriations have exceeded the VA medical care needs in the preceding three years by over half a billion dollars in each of the receding three years. “ (testimony before the House Budget Committee)

July 18, 2005 Senate Democratic Leader Reid ask to bring up legislation to provide $1.5 billion for veterans health care in FY 2005 separately, but Republicans objected.

July 28, 2005 35 Days after White House acknowledges shortfall, House passes legislation providing $1.5 billion for veterans health care in FY 2005, finally getting the money to the VA.

October 26, 2005 It is reported that the Republican Chairman of the Budget Committee has proposed a two percent cut in all programs, including veterans’ health care. This would cut more than $600 million in veterans’ health care -- enough funds to care for nearly 100,000 veterans. The American Legion expressed concern that this cut would mean “...rationing of care, hiring freezes of medical personnel, delaying repairs on facilities, growing backlogs of medical equipment, and many other fiscal-based constraints.” And Senate Republicans have proposed a five percent cut, which would slash veterans health care by $1.6 billion, the amount needed to care for 243,000 veterans. And now, the President agrees that “I'm open to a further across-the-board spending cut as well." (Reuters, 10/26/05)

November 10, 2005 Disabled American Veterans and many other Veterans groups begin announcing concern and consternation that Republican Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Buyer (R-IN) recently announced that veterans service organizations will no longer have the opportunity to present testimony before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees. “The tradition of legislative presentations by veterans service organizations dates back to at least the 1950s. And the timing of this announcement -- just before Veterans Day -- could not have been worse,” said DAV National Commander Paul W. Jackson. For several decades now, these joint hearings have been held each year to allow the elected leaders of veterans groups to discuss their organization’s legislative agenda and foremost concerns with the lawmakers who have jurisdiction over federal veterans programs. Senators and Representatives who serve on those committees also get the rare opportunity to address the hundreds of constituent members from these organizations’ who make the annual pilgrimage to Capitol Hill.

November 15, 2005 House Democratic Leaders hold roundtable with Veterans and Veterans representatives to continue dialogue and work on passing the New GI Bill of Rights, ending the SBP/DIC Offset, fully funding Veterans Health care, fully ending the Disabled Veterans Tax, providing TRICARE to National Guard and Reservist along with many other issues of importance to America’s Veterans and Military Retirees. Democrats are listening and working with Veterans.

Office of the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, July 28, 2005

www.HouseDemocrats.gov / www.DemocraticLeader.house.gov/