Monday, May 14, 2012

Why won’t Congress pass the AO Bill?

Time is becoming an issue. This session of Congress, the 112th Congress, began in January, 2011 and ends in December of this year. That is a scant seven-and-a-half months away. Take away the August recess, and another break in October and November for elections, and December is usually reserved to a few days early in the month to tidy up business, and you are left with a little over 4 months remaining until the Agent Orange Equity bill dies on the table once again, victim of an uncaring Congress.

Introduced last October in the Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand [D-NY], and Lindsey Graham [R-SC], Senate Bill 1626 [S.1629] still does not have an official estimate of its cost from the Congressional Budget Office [CBO]. Likely this is because the CBO is waiting for some statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs [DVA]. This, then, provides cover for Congressmen and Senators to avoid committing to a bill that the Federal Executive Branch [offices under the President] does not want passed. The DVA is a cabinet level department of the President’s Cabinet.

Congress can then throw up its hands and say, “We don’t know how much it costs, so we can’t say if we will or won’t support the bill!” They tell us to tell them how much we think it will cost and where they can find the money.

We have done so. In three earlier posts on this blog we have explained how the bill, S.1629 and its companion in the House of Representatives, HR 3612, can be expanded [click here to read how] to cover ALL Blue Water Navy Veterans who were exposed to dioxin-laced tactical herbicides [Agents Orange, White, Blue, etc.], how much we estimate the EXPANDED bill would cost [click here to read how much], and where Congress can find the money [click here to read where]. We did not just point and suggest, we also provided facts and figures, and solid logical reasoning on each point.

We also pointed out humanitarian reasons for enacting the bill in the expanded version.

The humanitarian arguments have never, ever, had an effect on Congress.

Now, here is where it gets really dicey.

Passage of the bill would mean an increase in the budget for Compensation and Pension payments to Veterans and survivors of a half percent. That’s right, .5%, or one half of one percent. However you want to show it, it is a half a percent increase. That’s based on our MAXIMUM estimate.

We all know how hard it is for Congress to pass ANYTHING to do with spending, so perhaps Congress deems such a small increase not worthy of their efforts. Nevertheless, we have found the money and it does not have to travel far since it is already in the DVA budget in quantity enough to fund the bill several times over! By liquidating real estate holdings, or by postponing non-essential projects, the money can be freed up to pay for an expanded S.1629/HR 3612. No one gets hurt except some contractors who would normally get VA money to maintain those real estate holdings, or to fulfill those project contracts.  And we are not just talking about the expanded part of the bill, but the entire bill!

No Veterans would lose. More Veterans would gain.

Oops, there’s that humanitarian issue again. Gosh, we must be careful. We should not embarrass Congress.

The fact is, we are contending that funding be taken directly from these recently approved appropriations by the House Committee on Appropriations for the National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA] for 2013, in the Veterans Section…
”Minor Construction – Minor construction at the VA is funded at $608 million, which is $125 million above fiscal year 2012 and the same as the budget request. These funds will allow VA to make progress on the hundreds of projects already scheduled to build or renovate health clinics, medical residences, and nursing homes, as well as acquire cemetery land and facilities.”
”Advance Appropriations for Veterans Medical Programs – The bill contains $54.5 billion in advance fiscal year 2014 funding for the VA – the same level provided in the House-passed Budget Resolution. This funding will provide for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities, and ensure that our veterans have continued, full access to their medical care needs.”
…and placed into:
”VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for almost four million veterans and their survivors; post-9-11 GI bill education benefits for more than 600,000 veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 200,000 veterans.”
Note: All three of the above citations are from a press release yesterday by the House Committee on Appropriations about the initial fiscal year 2013 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill. The Press Release can be found here:

http://appropriations.house.gov/news/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=294142

Please take notice of the bold highlight in the third quoted paragraph: “…four million Veterans and their survivors…” A half of one percent of 4 million is 20,000, which is our MAXIMUM estimate of all new claims under the expanded version of S.1629/HR 3612.

So, we are talking about a half of one percent of the DVA’s budget for Compensation and Pension [C&P]. Not the DVA’s budget, and certainly not the government’s national budget, but drilled down to the DVA’S Compensation and Pension Budget. Not even Congress breaks things down that far!

Yes, there are two other components here that we have yet to mention: Retroactive C&P, and Medical Coverage. Both are substantial costs.

We estimated the Retroactive C&P in our original estimate so that was included in the over-all cost of the bill. It is a one-time cost that would cause the initial year’s price to go high, after which the annual cost will decline sharply the second year, and less sharply each year after the second.

The medical costs will go up. The DVA’s budget is structured to account for such increases. With budgeting now for the next two years, allowance is made for the possibility of disabled Veterans being created by new international events, such as wars, raids, and the like. It has to be done that way.

All of this leaves us with the unanswered question: Why won’t Congress pass this bill?

Why have they allowed the CBO to take so long to provide an estimate?

Call your US Representative’s local office and those of your US Senators. Ask them point blank to tell you why there is no CBO estimate for HR 3612 in the House and S.1629 in the Senate. Demand that they take action by contacting the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Representative Jeff Miller [R-FL-1], and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Senator Patty Murray [D-WA], to get that CBO estimate and MAKE IT PUBLIC! Keep calling until you get a legitimate response that gives a figure, then post it here in the comments section. Or email it to us using the ‘email me’ link near the top of the left column on this page.

Edmund Burke was an Irish philosopher and politician who, among other accomplishments, served in the British House of Commons. He served in Parliament from 1765 to 1780, and during that time he supported American Independence from Great Britain. Edmund Burke once said,
"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."
Don’t make a “greater mistake”. You CAN make a difference. You are one, and each reader is one, but together you are many and there certainly is strength in numbers. Make the calls today! Then you can say with satisfaction that you have not only done a little, but you did something!
 
VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2012: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Eighth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:24

    Passing of this bill, I think, will meet the same fate the Haas bill met. Once congress passes it, then VA will have it reversed by the Supreme Court. Congress has little power over the VA because the Supreme Court can over rule any bill passed by them. I think effort should be made to reverse the decision on the HAAS bill. This way you cut out the middleman and block VA overturning Congress.

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  2. There was no Haas bill.

    The Haas CASE was a simple claim appeal that eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case.

    There is no such thing as a Haas Bill that has anything to do with Blue Water Navy.

    Don't know where you got the idea but if someone else is spouting it, you should go back and put a stop to it.

    The Haas case woke everyone up in 2006 when the Court of Appeals overturned his denial by the Regional Office [and upheld by the Board of Veterans Appeals], and order it back to the Regional Office for disposition [to grant his claim]. The DVA appealed and the case went to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington. We attended that court's oral arguments in the case. After the Federal Circuit Court overturned the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims [which was not on the merits of the case but only deciding that the DVA had to right to write the policies since they were the agency designated to apply Congressional laws regarding Veterans], the Haas case was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case. That means they issued no decision and the lower court ruling was allowed to stand.

    The Case was argued on Haas' behalf in large part by the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, DC, with assistance from the American Legion.

    Eventually, Commander Haas got his case approved at the Regional Office Level, likely on the basis of some internal policy shifts.

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  3. Anonymous19:51

    And, the DVA Regional Office acted like "See, we eventually get it all squared away....." That is the only 'schedule' entry most RO's know..."eventually". I fear this bill will go the way of all the others, while I stay on my Rep and Senators.....I have no real confidence anything will ever happen. Haas did a lot to open eyes to what was going on but it was, I fear, a flash in the pan.

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  4. Haas was more than a flash in the pan, it told us a lot about how the DVA operates, and that was just a start.

    Every bill has been a learning experience. We are at the point now that we have removed all the excuses from Congress to the point that anything else they use to stall is identified immediately as BS. We've given them everything they need to pass the bill.

    Now, i they would only stop politicking and start legislating we'd probably be ok.

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  5. Anonymous16:58

    Well, I can't disagree. I would actually prefer to see them bring it to the floor for a vote; even if it didn't pass.....this 'lingering death in committee' puts Congress in the same league as the DVA as far as I'm concerned. I have forwarded the whole article to Jeff Miller; big deal!!!

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  6. Anonymous18:15

    Today, in a Memorial Day speech, I heard, with my own two ears, the President of the United States cite "...the diseases linked to Agent Orange...." as a priority of the DVA in caring for our veterans.
    Are Mr Obama and I living in the same country?!

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