Disabled veterans need the Senate to adopt disabilities treaty

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international disability rights treaty strongly supported by leading national veterans service organizations, could soon be up for a vote in the U.S. Senate.

The CRPD is the international framework of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is a pathway to pressing nations around the world to increase their accessibility standards to the heights of the ADA. Thus, despite coming up five votes short in 2012, veterans groups are pushing hard on senators to vote "yes" this time around.

Veterans have been significantly vocal and united in supporting the CRPD, as more than 5.5 million veterans in America live with a disability today. Many of those veterans have sustained those disabilities fighting in military campaigns overseas. Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans in particular have sustained battlefield injuries that in many cases limit their mobility.

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Last month at the Capitol, leading national veterans and military service organizations joined former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers at a press conference strongly urging CRPD ratification. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) stood united at a Senate podium surrounded by veterans, and praised the lifetime of service that combat-disabled World War II veteran Dole has rendered on behalf of Americans living with disabilities.

Numerous examples have come to light from disabled veterans who have traveled overseas only to encounter obstacles that would not have confronted them in the United States. Some disabled veterans have nearly had their sensory aids seized while navigating through foreign airports, while others have been unable to enter buildings because of a lack of ramps and elevators.

The ratification of the CRPD is the right thing to do.

The myths that were raised after this treaty was first debated have now been addressed. The reservations, understandings and declarations that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has reported to the full Senate make clear that U.S. sovereignty will not be affected; home-schooling parents will not lose the right to home-school their children; and the U.S. does not need to amend U.S. law to comply with CRPD committee recommendations.

Senate ratification would be a sign of strength for the United States. The irony in this debate has been opponents claiming that U.S. ratification of the CRPD would infringe on U.S. sovereignty while we have a coalition of veterans groups representing more than 5 million veterans in full support. Most of us involved in this debate actually defended U.S. sovereignty — rifle in hand — on foreign soil only to bear witness to fellow service members sustaining injuries and wounds. Those service members may have a certain level of confidence in the legal protections afforded to them under the ADA; but as we have been trying to explain to the opponents in the course of this debate, no such global standards currently achieve the bar we have set here in the United States for people living with disabilities. The CRPD is the key to improving equality abroad for our veterans who work and travel internationally.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should put the CRPD on the Senate floor and Republicans should join the bipartisan group of lawmakers and more than 20 veterans groups in continuing the legacy of service to people with disabilities that began under the ADA when President George H. W. Bush signed the bill into law in 1990.

Neiweem is director of Veterans Policy at VetsFirst, a program of the United Spinal Association.