“I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern.” -- Olympia Snowe, former U.S. Senator, Maine
The 113th Congress was one of the least productive in history as its work on veterans’ issues clearly shows. Not to be outdone, the 114th Congress is even less productive and hasn’t passed an appreciable piece of veterans’ legislation in the past two years. As lawmakers now prepare to return to their home districts to ask for enough votes to come back to Washington in January, it looks like the 115th Congress will also grind to halt through partisan grandstanding and stalemate tactics.
Our country deserves better.
At a time when angry rhetoric consistently replaces thoughtful governing, our flag, our national anthem, our communities, our policing, and our veterans all suffer. Meanwhile, our elected congressional representatives bask in the negativity of the day, hiding behind self-righteous angry talk to avoid actually working comprehensively on solutions and passing laws that seek to make our nation stronger, better and more unified.
The Veterans Affairs committees of the House and Senate in this Congress have passed a mere handful of benign bills that have become law and are purposely stalling so that they don’t have to pass anymore, while preparing to leave D.C. next week so they can continue to raise campaign funds for their reelection attempts in November.
Dear Congress: the veterans of this nation call on you to pass VA appeals modernization now!
Complaints about veterans’ inability to access health care, get their claims processed, find gainful employment after leaving the service, and addressing the epidemic of suicide among those who have served have dominated the media for more than four years, and rather than send bills to the president for him to sign that will help address these issues, lawmakers are content to sit back and lament that there isn’t enough time to get them to the floor because they need to go on recess early. Their campaigns await.
The House and Senate have one week left to at least make it look like they care about supporting our nation’s veterans by sending the Appeals Modernization bill to President Obama to sign. This bill will significantly redesign VA’s appeals process, giving veterans more choices, shorter wait times, and actually increasing protections they don’t have today. The President is waiting for it so he can sign it into law TODAY.
This bill was designed by a collective group of senior veterans service organizations, VA claims and appeals executives, congressional staff members, attorneys and claims experts from across the country. The bill saves taxpayer money and even has a built-in plan to address the half million appeals that are pending today so that rather than wait three, four, or five years to have their appeals decided, veterans will be able to have them decided in 12 months or less.
Negative language is lazy and easy. Solutions are difficult and take effort. At the suggestion of Congress, this group of experts spent several months working on this solution, and all agree that it serves veterans better than the system we have in place now that is overburdened, under-resourced and frustrating. Veterans are dying while waiting for their appeals to be processed and Congress is poised to let this plan sit on the shelf.
Olympia Snowe said she retired from Congress because “the Senate is not living up to what the Founding Fathers envisioned,” (and) routinely jettisons regular order, habitually eschews full debate and (favors) take-it-or-leave-it proposals.”
The House and Senate must work together if they are to serve the citizens they represent, which means that if the Senate fails, the House fails as well, and vice versa. It’s long past time to stop the angry sanctimonious rhetoric and do your jobs, or go home and stay there.
Louis J. Celli Jr. is the National Director for Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation for The American Legion. He is a 22 year retired Army MSG, spent 10 years as CEO of a nonprofit organization that teaches veterans to start and run successful businesses, graduated from Harvard University, and lives in Southern Maryland with his wife Elise.
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.