Senator Sanders and Senate Democrats Warn President Not to Short Troops, Veterans in His Upcoming Budget

WASHINGTON, D.C. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined Democratic members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Iraq war veterans to call on the President to work with Congress to provide critical funding for our veterans and members of the military in his upcoming Fiscal Year 2008 budget. Despite the enormous burden placed on our veterans and their families by the war in Iraq, President B

WASHINGTON, D.C. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined Democratic members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Iraq war veterans to call on the President to work with Congress to provide critical funding for our veterans and members of the military in his upcoming Fiscal Year 2008 budget. Despite the enormous burden placed on our veterans and their families by the war in Iraq, President Bush failed to mention them even once in his State of the Union Address. Sanders said, Time and time again, this Administration has turned its back on those who have served this country. This is especially tragic when we have men and women in harms way in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. As a member of both the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Budget Committee I will be pushing very hard to ensure that we approve the resources necessary to provide veterans with the health care and benefits they are entitled to. This past election Americans said loud and clear that they want a new set of priorities in Washington. Treating our veterans with the dignity and respect they deserve is a new priority that I think all Americans would approve of wholeheartedly. Sanders was joined at the press conference by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator John Tester (D-MT), Iraq war veteran Brady Vanengelen, Steve Robinson with Veterans for America, and Joyce Raezer with National Military Family Association. The full text of Senator Sanders statement at the press conference is below. STATEMENT OF SENATOR BERNARD SANDERS AT PRESS CONFERENCE ON VETERANS ISSUESFebruary 1, 2007Let me begin by saying very sincerely that I wish we did not have to have this press conference; that instead, all of our veterans were getting the health care and benefits they were promised and that the Bush Administration was committed to keeping faith with our nations veterans. But that is not the case. The reality is that time and time again, this Administration has turned its back on the men and women who have served this country. This is especially tragic when we have men and women in harms way in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The examples of the neglect that our veterans have suffered are many, but let me just touch on a couple.Year after year the Bush Administration proposes to tax veterans with higher copayments for health care and prescription drugs. If enacted, the Bush Administration itself acknowledges that some 200,000 veterans would leave the VA health care system and up to another 1 million more would be dissuaded from enrolling. Is that the way we express our appreciation to the men and women who served? By imposing unfair fees designed to drive them away from the VA health care they have earned?Thankfully, the Congress has repeatedly refused to impose these new health care fees on our veterans and I will fight to make sure that we do again if the President proposes them again. Higher copayments are not the only way that this Administration has tried to deny veterans the health care they need. In 2003, the Administration barred certain high income veterans from enrolling in the VA health care system if they did not have a service-connected disability. This high income category includes veterans making as little as $27,000 a year. By the end of the current fiscal year, over 1 million veterans will have been denied care because of the Administrations bar, including an estimated 1,500 in my own state of Vermont. How many others simply did not come to the VA because they had heard they would be denied health care? This Congress needs to act boldly to protect veteran health benefits. In my view, we need to enact legislation that will provide mandatory funding for the VA health care. If there was ever a category of government spending that should be an entitlement this is it veterans have earned this health care and it has been paid for with the sweat and blood and lives of Americas service men and women.Beyond health care, it is simply unacceptable that veterans who have suffered an injury during their military service have to wait in some cases well over a year to have their claims resolved. In Vermont, with a wait of 5 to 7 months, is not as bad as some areas of the country but even that is far too long for a disabled veteran waiting to get the compensation he or she is entitled to. These long waits are not an accident. They are the direct result of a failure to hire and properly train enough people to handle the claims.And this situation is getting worse. According to the Independent Budget prepared by leading veterans organizations, in December 2000 the VAs claims backlog was a little over 360,000. By September of last year, it had risen to almost 590,000. Is this really the best we can do for veterans who have become disabled in the service of their country? And, not only have we been derelict in how we are treating our older veterans, we face a major crisis in terms of taking care of those who are now coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been over 22,000 soldiers injured in Iraq, almost half of them seriously. In addition, studies suggest that tens of thousands of our newly returning veterans are suffering from PTSD. Does anyone seriously believe that we have the funding or effective plans to treat them appropriately?If our country makes a decision to go to war we must treat those who served in those wars as a cost of war. It is beyond my comprehension, therefore, that we have a President who gave a State of the Union speech without mentioning the word veteran, and who is prepared to spend well over $500 billion for the war in Iraq, but cannot come up with the few billion needed to take care of those who served. As a member of both the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Budget Committee I will be pushing very hard to ensure that we approve the resources necessary to provide veterans with the health care and benefits they are entitled to. This past election Americans said loud and clear that they want a new set of priorities in Washington. Treating our veterans with the dignity and respect they deserve is a new priority that I think all Americans would approve of wholeheartedly.