Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN) is Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans ' Affairs (HCVA). Buyer ascended to that powerful position after Republican Party politics led to the unceremonious ouster of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) earlier this year. Smith 's fall from grace was so complete that he not only lost the Chair but was taken off the Committee.
Rep. Smith had parted company with the Republican hierarchy on the issue of veterans ' benefits. Smith was an outspoken veterans ' advocate and had sought increases in funding for the Department of Veterans ' Affairs (VA) healthcare budget.
Not so with Rep. Buyer. Buyer is known in the Republican Party as a team-player who does not stray from the Party line. In the veterans ' community, Buyer is known as an attack dog who tenaciously resists any effort to fully fund VA healthcare.
Rep. Buyer 's laundry-list of insults to America 's veterans got longer last week. Last Tuesday (Nov. 8), in a quietly-issued press release, Buyer announced he would now be holding hearings on the VA budget in February instead of March. The hearings would be before the HCVA only, not the traditional House and Senate venue. Buyer said he was doing this to "ensure that veterans have greater input in the [VA 's budget] process. " (Buyer 's press flack, Jeff Phillips, is a master at making the really bad sound really good.)
For almost two days this seemingly "little " news story went unnoticed. Then the firestorm struck.
Veterans ' groups realized that Rep. Buyer was trying to pull a "fast one " with their annual VA budget testimony. For 55 years veterans ' groups, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and others, have come to Capitol Hill in March to testify before a JOINT SESSION of the HCVA and Senate Committee on Veterans ' Affairs (SCVA).
Now, Rep. Buyer will limit veterans ' group 's testimony to just the HCVA, thus eliminating access to the Senators who are directly involved in the VA budget process.
But, there is a nasty political side to Rep. Buyer 's decision. By moving the testimony from March back to February, veterans ' groups come to the table with only part of the information they need to adequately make recommendations on the VA budget.
During the Joint Committee hearings held in March, veterans ' groups have had the VA 's budget request AND the White House 's response to that request (generally a lower dollar amount). And, there would be enough time to analyze both sets of figures and give testimony in the best interest of veterans.
With the single Committee hearing moved to February, the veterans ' groups would have to outline their VA budget priorities at the SAME TIME the White House figures are released. There wouldn 't be time to go through the White House 's VA budget numbers and come up with a response.
Veterans ' groups dismissed Rep. Buyer 's contention that the February hearings would give them greater influence on the VA 's budget. They claim Buyer is seeking to avoid the public-relations nightmare of having angry veterans ' groups blasting the White House. "Some people don 't want to be criticized for being deficient, " said Richard Fuller, legislative director for the PVA.
This move is Rep. Buyer 's way of paying back the White House for his Chair on the HCVA. With February hearings, veterans ' groups would not be able to criticize the low dollar figure offered by the White House for the VA budget. Rep Buyer is doing his job by protecting the White House from criticism by veterans ' groups who have become increasingly vocal about the Bush Administration 's underfunding of the VA.
That was Rep. Buyer 's "dirty trick " for the week. But, he couldn 't stop there. On Thursday (Nov. 10), the day before Veterans ' Day, Buyer had to take one more swipe at veterans.
On Thursday, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson announced that the VA was canceling the review of 72,000 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims that were granted to veterans, giving them compensation for a 100 per cent disability. The VA had looked to lower or deny PTSD benefits based on faulty record-keeping on their part.
There was overwhelming bi-partisan praise for the VA 's decision to stop the review. Senators and Representatives issued press releases and held news conferences on the eve of Veterans ' Day to let veterans know they stood beside them and agreed with the VA 's decision.
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