Veterans group gives Congress low marks

An influential veterans group says a large number of lawmakers failed to help veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Action Fund is releasing its congressional report card on veterans’ issues Wednesday. The organization gave as many as 154 lawmakers D’s and F’s, while only 20 House and Senate lawmakers scored an A+ for “exceptional” handling of veterans’ issues. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who is in a tough reelection race, is the only senator to earn the highest grade. 

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By comparison, 150 lawmakers earned an A+ on IAVA’s previous report card, in 2008 for the 110th Congress. This year’s number represents a nearly 87 percent decline in top honors. 

IAVA’s report card is based on lawmakers’ votes and sponsorship of bills in support of the organization’s legislative priorities, which include disability reform, predictable veterans’ affairs budgets and veterans’ employment and education, as well as eliminating veterans’ homelessness, improving healthcare for female veterans and easing the benefit claims process. 

The veterans organization said the grades are based solely on IAVA’s legislative priorities and are blind to party and ideology.

“The nonpartisan report card is a critical tool for holding these lawmakers accountable and showing America just how little Congress got done this year for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of the IAVA Action Fund, said in an e-mailed statement. “Heading into the midterm elections, it is important that every American knows who in Washington really supports Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and who is just full of hot air.”

Aside from Lincoln, House lawmakers earned the rest of the top distinctions. Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), John Boccieri (D-Ohio), Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Al Green (D-Texas), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Steve Kagen (D-Wis.), Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.), Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) are the other lawmakers who earned an A+.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is the only politician in the upper chamber who outright failed IAVA’s scorecard, and for the second time in a row. DeMint is joined by several House lawmakers who also received an F, including Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).

The Senate leaders of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), scored a B and a C, respectively. The chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee scored even lower: Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) earned a C this year, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earned a D. 

The leading appropriators who control the Veterans’ Affairs budget and other veteran-related funding, Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), scored an A and a D, respectively. Appropriations Defense leaders Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) scored a B and a D, respectively. 

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, did not fare any better than his Senate counterpart, Akaka. Filner scored a B, while ranking member Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) earned an F from IAVA. Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.), the leading Republican on veterans’ affairs matters, also received the failing grade, while Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas), the leading Democrat, earned an A.

Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.), the leading lawmakers on military matters, also did not score very high. Skelton earned a B, McKeon and Dicks a C and Young an F. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not receive a grade because as Speaker she often does not cast votes. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was graded a D.