Sunday, July 01, 2012

Congress and veterans


Dona:  Last week, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing about proposed legislation.  C.I. reported on the hearing in "Iraq snapshot" and  "Iraq snapshot," Ava reported on it in "Scott Brown backs two veterans bills," Wally reported on it in "Veterans' cemeteries," and  Kat reported on it in "Justice for Camp Lejeune families?"   What we do in this feature is discuss the hearing.  Basics out of the way first, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee and Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  Reading over the reporting you did, it seems Burr was a big part of the hearing.  Kat, let me start with you.  What you wrote about, Camp Lejeune.

Kat: Camp Lejeune housed service members and their families and was a toxic dump which destroyed lives and harmed many people.  Ranking Member Burr has long worked on a bill to provide the victims with some sort of relief.  We're talking years of attempting to get this passed.  The big news in the hearing that he announced in his opening remarks and that Chair Patty Murray noted at the end of the hearing is that they expect to get his bill passed and on the desk of the President for a signature by summer's end.

Dona: And that would be good news.  The other big issue with Burr was about guns.  C.I., you covered that.  Veterans who are judged to be unable to handle their finances go on a list which means they can't have a firearm.

C.I.: In terms of the veteran, that is it.  But that's not all.  If they go on that list, then no one in the house can have one.  So, Dona, your grandfather is a veteran, so let's use him.  He moves in with you and Jim and your daughter.  Your daughter can't have a gun, you can't, Jim can't.  And the thing is, as Ranking Member Burr pointed out, there are many reasons why someone might be judged unable to handle their finances -- it could be a mental issue or a physical issue.  And they have no training, the people in the VA, to determine anything other than the money aspect.

Dona: Meaning?

C.I.: Meaning someone might have a problem with numbers.  There might be some injury that, for example, made simple math difficult.  Let me get specific with an example.

Dona: From the hearing?

C.I.: No.  There's a disorder called dyscalculia.  Now if I have that, I'm not going to have a problem with shooting a gun.  I'm not going to have a problem handling a gun.  I'm not a threat to anyone because I have a gun.  But I may not be able to reconcile my checking account. And I had this all along.  It wasn't an issue until I became a veteran receiving a check and someone decided I needed someone appointed to handle my finances.  Now there's a similar acalculia which results from an injury.  

Dona: Wally, Burr seemed really bothered by this.  Is that what you got from it?

Wally: Yeah.  C.I. covered this.  I almost did but it was a lot to cover and I wasn't up to it.  That's why I grabbed the burial issue.  But, yeah, Burr was bothered.  This is a Second Amendment issue and he was bothered that people were being denied their Constitutional rights.  

Dona: And that many didn't seem to care.

Wally: Right, that many in Congress didn't seem to care, in fact.  

Dona: And are you bothered by it?

Wally: I am.  My grandfather's a veteran.  He has a gun collection.  If the VA tried to make it so he couldn't have that, I'd damn well want to know why and that he couldn't do long division or something else just wouldn't cut it to me as a valid excuse.  

Dona: The VA tried to argue it's not them.

Ava: They don't  -- the VA doesn't -- compile the list.  But they know that anyone they decide can't handle their own finances and needs a fiduciary is going to end up on the list.  So it is them.  And that was one of Burr's points.  The VA people making the decision are strictly looking at the financial issue and that's all they're trained in.

Dona: Okay, Ava, you covered Senator Scott Brown.  What issues was he raising?

Ava: He was talking about  S. 3324 Housing for Families of Ill and Injured Veterans and S. 3308 The Women's Homeless Veterans Act.  He was only in the hearing briefly because there was another hearing going on.  I'd rather talk about Senator Barbara Boxer's remarks.

Dona: Okay, let's move to that.  C.I. reported on that.  Boxer wants the tax payers to voluntarily fork over money.  Ava?

Ava: This would be a veterans fund.  Each year, when you fill out your taxes, you could contribute a dollar or three to a veterans fund.  Boxer thinks this is very important.  I was outraged by it, actually.

Dona: Because?

Ava: I'm like Kat, Kat's discussed this before, I'm all for veterans getting what they've been promised and I will argue and advocate for that.  But this is America, supposed land of the free.  If you're homeless, that's a real issue and I don't give a damn whether or not you've been in the military.  As someone who is from California, I do not feel represented by Barbara Boxer.  I was grossly offended by her proposal.  I'll let Kat grab it now because we talked about this the day of the hearing.

Kat: Right. I can't do it.  I can't say, "Yea!"  I hate the idea Boxer's proposing.  I lived in California my entire life.  We have a serious homeless problem.  And now Boxer wants to solve it -- but just for one segment of the population.  Listening to her bluster about how no veteran should ever go homeless and she's going to fix it, my first thought was, "What the hell about the children, Barbara?"  There are many homeless children in California.  What the hell did they do that made it okay for them to be homeless in Boxer's eyes.  I'm all for a serious solution that addresses the ongoing homeless crisis.  I am not for pandering.

Dona: You felt she was pandering?

Kat: I didn't feel like she was proposing anything to help.

Dona: C.I., are you against it?

C.I.: I am actually and most of the time I'd bow out.  But I am.  I think Kat and Ava stated their case very well.  What I oppose is different though.  Barack Obama, in 2008, destroyed the point of checking off the box on your IRS tax return to donate a buck to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.  Barack destroyed that by becoming the first presidential candidate since the Watergate reform was introduced to opt out of public financing.  Barbara Boxer wants to basically grab that square on the IRS form.  I don't support that at all.  I can't imagine any cause I would support that for.

Dona: Seriously?

C.I.: Seriously.  There was a point to the campaigns.  The point was, the general election of a presidential campaign would be funded by the people, it would keep big money out.  Barack killed that.  I'm not in the mood for the equivalent of setting up jars for your or my favorite pet cause on the IRS tax forms. Not interested one damn bit.  Nor do I believe we should be when it comes to veterans.  They are one of the few groups the US government makes promises to which it can be compelled to keep.  Not every promise and not always but they've faired better than any other group.  If there's some federal veteran's kitty, the government will use that as their excuse for cutting or cutting that.

Dona: Boxer said the funds would go soley to veterans.

Wally: Read her bill, I have, there's nothing in that guarantees that.  She said it.  If she really meant it, she would have written it in.  The fact that she didn't speaks volumes.  Furthermore, we've all heard these promises.  If you're reading this right now, my question is: Does your state have a lottery?  If the answer is 'yes,' go back and read how they passed that.  In most states, they passed it with the lie that the money would go to education, it would help schools.  But I don't know any state in which that promise was actually kept.  I agree with Kat and Ava's reasoning and I agree with C.I.'s.  Let me build on what they've offered.  Al Gore, in election 2000, was known for "the lock box."  What he meant by that was that Social Security would be protected.  Social Security is not going 'bankrupt.'  People lie and say that.  Social Security has markers and those markers are from the federal government which saw all the money in the fund and long ago began borrowing.  The whines that you hear are meant to scare you because the marker's are basically coming up due.  It's going to be the same thing with a veterans' fund.  Boxer has created no "lock box" or any other way to protect it.

Dona: And to those who would argue give her time -- and we're almost out of time, Wally, you would say what?

Wally: I would say, she wrote a bill.  She presented it.  Presumably, anything she wanted in the bill, she could have put in it.  The fact that she didn't protect the money indicates to me that she wasn't worried about protecting it.

Dona: Okay, C.I., last word on this.

C.I.: There were wonderful points there by Wally and Kat and Ava.  If people want to give to help veterans, there are many programs they can give their time or their money too.  What this reminds me of is the office boss that tries to scare everyone in the office into donating to the March of Dimes or whatever so that the company can be mentioned on TV for having donated the most.  That's a commercial for the company.  And it's one that the workers paid for because they're the ones donating.  A similar thing would happen with this proposed fund.  The US government would praised itself and it didn't do a damn thing.  But they'd cite and, again, citing it over and they'd use it as an excuse not to fund this for veterans or that, instead arguing that the veterans' kitty could go towards that.

Dona: Alright that's going to be the last word.

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