Democrats offer double-talk on Veterans Affairs
© Greg Nash

In a recent article, Democrat Terron Sims II argues that Republican Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the current Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is a poor choice for VA Secretary because he is not a veteran.

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Sims goes on to blame Miller directly for many of the Department’s current woes relating to accountability and the Choice Act. Sims’ arguments are not only lacking in substance, but they reflect little understanding of the many problems that currently plague the entrenched bureaucracy, and amount to nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to vent his political frustrations with the 2016 election results.

First, it is worth noting that, although Chairman Miller is not a veteran, Democrats are not exactly championing actual veterans for key leadership positions in the veterans policy arena.  

In 2014, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) bid to be the Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee, but Democratic leadership passed over him in favor of Rep. Corrine BrownCorrine BrownFormer Florida rep sentenced to five years in prison for fraud, tax evasion Genuine veteran charities face a challenge beating the fakes Former Florida rep found guilty of tax evasion, fraud MORE (D-FL) based purely on her seniority.

Walz was the only Democratic member of the Committee with any military experience at the time, and Brown has since been indicted on federal corruption charges and was forced to step down.

Her indictment aside, Brown has been described by journalists who cover veterans policy as “frequently confused about the issues despite being on the committee for over two decades,” whereas Walz has been described as “a more credible voice on Veterans Affairs” and “the top veterans advocate” on the Committee.

Now, as Rep. Walz again bids to be Ranking Member, some of his fellow democrats are again overlooking his experience as a retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard in favor of non-veteran Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), again based purely on seniority. 

If placing actual veterans in key policy making positions was as much as a priority as Sims claims, House democratic leadership would be endorsing Rep. Walz, hands down . . . they aren’t, and that’s truly a shame.

Next, Sims assert that Miller has obstructed VA reform at every turn. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. To the contrary, VA bureaucrats desire to protect unions rather than push for accountability is what has obstructed VA reform.

The incremental progress that has been made toward improving the VA is as a direct result of Miller’s leadership and willingness to compromise with former-Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE, and the bipartisan way in which both Chairmen negotiated the 2014 Choice Act deserves praise.

Although Sims states that the Choice Act is a “failure” – this is due to VA’s ineptitude in its implementation, not Congress’ failure to act. To this end, Miller was integral in getting the legislation passed through his work with whistleblowers uncovering the national wait time schedule, ordering an aggressive series of oversight hearings, and continuing to call for more accountability.

Yes, it is true that Miller has often criticized the VA, but his criticisms often stemmed from frustration when VA staff – including Secretary Bob McDonald who Sims praises – failed to cooperate or negotiate. As a reminder, the same Secretary McDonald who Sims praises exaggerated his own service record, received “4 pinocchios” from the Washington Post for his description of the number of employees fired in the wait time scandal, and compared VA wait times to Disneyland.

Although Sims also states that serving our veterans is a non-partisan endeavor, his article reads as a defense of his preferred political party’s priorities rather than such a non-partisan effort. 

My personal disagreement with Sims’ assessment aside – in full disclosure I worked as a House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee Staff Director under Chairman Miller and chose to leave a previous position as an attorney at the VA due to my frustration with the bureaucracy there – it is nonetheless important to remember that cabinet level appointments, such as that of VA Secretary, are in fact political appointments, so the unfortunate reality for all sides is that politics will play a role in who fills such positions, regardless of what political party is directing the appointments. 

With that being said, Jeff Miller has received praise from veterans, VA whistleblowers, and the Veterans Service Organization community, so he certainly deserves fair consideration from the Trump Administration, if they so choose, based on his leadership of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Consideration of such leadership shows that the new administration would in fact be putting veterans first, not bureaucrats.

Rory E. Riley-Topping is the principal of Riley-Topping Consulting, and a former Subcommittee Staff Director for the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.


 

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