House Democrats have opportunity for redemption in selecting VA committee leader
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Two years ago, Rep. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzGovernors helping governors Minnesota New Members 2019 GOP earns House victory in Minnesota MORE (D-MN) — the veteran community's strongly preferred candidate to command a leadership post on the House Veterans Affairs Committee — was placed to the side by House Democratic leadership while competing for the House VA committee leadership job.

This move was made (at the beginning of the last Congress) for political and inner-caucus reasons and cleared the way for 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), a longer serving Congresswoman, known for her hyper partisan persona, and combative working relationship with Republicans on the committee.

Politics backfired. 

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Rep. Brown was hostile toward the Republicans during her time leading the committee, routinely would show up to congressional hearings late and unprepared, and in the end was defeated in her primary election after suffering a great decline in public approval stemming from her federal indictment on corruption charges.

This decision angered those of us in the veteran community who urged the House Leadership to not put politics in front of the needs of the veteran community by selecting Brown for the job in the first place, despite a stronger candidate being available who shared our values.

Fortunately, Mr. Walz is back at the top of the list to occupy the job he should have been selected for two years ago, and this time the Democrats can achieve redemption and get this right.

Walz is a veterans' veteran, having served 24 years in the Army National Guard he achieved the rank of Command Sergeant Major and milestone of being the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress.

However, that fact is only the surface of his qualifications which include: leading a bipartisan coalition and getting a major veteran suicide prevention bill passed (Clay Hunt SAV Act) through a Republican Congress and signed by President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMichelle Obama's memoir is 2018's fastest-selling book at Barnes & Noble Dem bundler: Donors waiting on 2020 commitments until Beto O'Rourke makes decision Leon Panetta’s nightmare is today's national security crisis MORE that cemented his bi-partisan negotiating chops at a time when none of us thought partisan politics could be put aside — even for veterans. 

He negotiated effectively to elevate many other legislative priorities and policy issues during his tenure on the VA committee as well, and attracts hope from those of us in the veteran community through his affable and accessible persona, and workhorse reputation. Congressman Tim Walz has been a proven leader for Veterans, and understand the unique needs of our community, he is one of us, and frankly we need him.

Challenging him in his race to become the House VA leader is Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoDems aim to balance oversight, bipartisanship on VA committee Reporter tops lawmakers to win charity spelling bee House panel advances major VA reform bill MORE (D-CA). Mr. Takano despite a very positive attitude and genuine interest in fixing the problems facing our community, lacks the experience, record, and toughness we need at this time.

He has been far too favorable and lenient on the VA during a period of some of the biggest scandals of our lifetime, does not personally connect with the veteran community beyond a surface level, and frankly, has significantly less experience than Mr. Walz.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is now at a national tipping point, still reeling from a damaged image stemming from the 2014 scandal involving manipulated healthcare waiting lists and now has been the target of more frequent calls for privatization (at least some of its functions) from within Congress and throughout the nation.

The problems at the VA, combined with a very partisan post-election national tone, is why more than ever veterans need a stable, bipartisan, substantive leader on the committee that can negotiate effectively and get things back on track. 

That candidate to fix things was Walz then, and is Walz now.

Many prominent veteran service organizations and veteran advocates have both publicly and privately supported Tim Walz. Last time around, we were asking, this time we are urging House Democrats to not make the same mistake twice. 

The House Democrats got the VA leader choice wrong last time; now they have a chance to get it right. The House Democratic Caucus needs to stop putting politics in front of our veterans. We need leadership and we need it now, and the choice is clear — we need Tim Walz for the Democratic leader on the House VA Cmte.

Chris Neiweem is an Iraq War veteran, defense and military policy analyst, and executive director of the Neiweem Group, a government affairs firm. He has served as an expert witness in Congress before both House and Senate Committees and regularly appears on radio and television, covering issues that impact the military and veterans population. 

Anthony Paolino recently ran for a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, losing to the current House Minority Leader. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 2002-2014, acting in several capacities stateside and abroad in Kuwait, Qatar, Germany and Afghanistan.


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