Veterans groups blast Burr for letter

Several veterans organizations are blasting Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) for a letter criticizing their response to a controversy involving alleged medical mistreatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Burr said in an open letter to veterans dated May 23 that most veterans groups that testified at a May 15 Senate hearing on the VA scandal appeared “to be more interested in defending the status quo within VA, protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle."

“While a great deal of the media coverage of the hearing has focused on what Secretary [Eric] Shinseki said, and didn't say, much less has been seen of the testimony of the [Veterans Service Organizations] that testified,” Burr wrote. 

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Burr said the American Legion was “alone among the VSOs that testified” in calling for changes to be made at the VA. 

The letter drew strong rebukes from veterans groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). 

VFW Commander-in-Chief William Thien and John Hamiliton, the group's adjutant general, called Burr’s letter a “monumental cheap shot.” 

The duo accused the North Carolina senator of “enlisting in an absolutely disgusting ambush style of politics.” 

“Without the courtesy or benefit of conversation or dialogue with me or the VFW Adjutant General regarding your disagreement with VFW’s recent testimony to your committee, you chose instead to take the low road and question VFW’s motives and levy a pejorative personal attack on VFW staff,” the VFW officials wrote to Burr.

“Senator, this is clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than forty years of involvement with the veteran community and breaches the standards of the United States Senate,” the VFW officials continued. “Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the word and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally. Quite frankly senator, you should be ashamed.”

DAV National Commander Joseph Johnston agreed. 

“DAV is outraged that North Carolina’s Senator Richard Burr chose the eve of Memorial Day weekend – a sacred time to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation — to attack the patriotism of leaders of most of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations,” Johnston wrote. 

“Last week at a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, DAV and other veteran service organizations offered comprehensive testimony on the underlying causes of the waiting list problems afflicting VA health care facilities that are currently under investigation,” Johnston continued. “Although Senator Burr attended much of that hearing, apparently all he wanted to hear were calls for the VA Secretary to resign. Senator Burr may be enamored with the idea that all of VA’s problems and challenges can be overcome by replacing one Secretary, but the plain facts and simple logic indicate otherwise.” 

PAV President Bill Lawson and Executive Director Homer Townsend wrote that Burr represents “the worst of politics in this country."

“Your ‘open’ letter to all veterans clearly displays why the vast majority of the American public puts no faith in their elected officials to do what is right for this country,” Lawson and Townsend wrote. “You truly should be ashamed for being so bold as to challenge veterans’ service organizations (VSO) and the veterans who represent our organizations on a weekend when we clearly know more about what the holiday represents than you do.  

“Your attitude and actions reflects great discredit upon the United States Senate and every member of Congress should be embarrassed by your ‘open’ letter,” the PAV leaders continued. “Only a politician would be so bold as to believe he or she knows better what veterans want and need than actual veterans themselves.”