Now You See It, Now You Don’t

By Karen St. John

“Ensuring that our veterans receive the first-rate benefits they have earned and deserve remains one of my top priorities.”  — New Hampshire Senator John E. Sununu

This sentiment from Senator Sununu’s 2007 Veterans’ Day speech gives every indication that the senator respects and understands the needs of our noble military veterans.

Yet in 2006, the Disabled American Veterans gave Sununu only a 40% rating; Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American gave him a D.  The Retired Enlisted Association felt Sununu supported them in legislative matters only 29% of the time.

I don’t know about you, but when veterans rate a legislator this low, I sit up and pay attention, particularly if I was under the impression that a legislator was a real champion for veterans.

Could the veterans’ groups be wrong?  Turns out that no, they are not.

Sununu has one of the best sleight of hand tricks going.  While shouting the opposite, Sununu consistently votes against the expansion of health care for veterans.  His nonstop praise of how supportive he is of veterans’ issues did not prevent the veterans’ groups from noticing his hands behind his back with his fingers crossed.

In a June 6, 2008 press release of a speech to the New Hampshire Disabled American Veterans convention, Sununu stated, “These brave men and woman selflessly put themselves in harm’s way and deserve nothing less than the full support of a grateful nation.  To this regard, I have worked to improve the access to, and quality of, services for veterans…”   Several additional press releases from June 2008 through August 2008 state how hard Sununu has lobbied Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) James Peake for the expansion of facilities, particularly a VA center in Keene, NH.

Here’s the reality:

On March 14, 2008, S Con Res 70 (Concurrent Budget Resolution, Record Vote Number 85) allowed the Senate Committee on the Budget to provide for medical care and other benefits and programs for veterans and to fund traumatic brain injury programs.

Sununu voted against funding veterans’ health care.

In February, March and April of 2006, respectively:

  • HR 4297 Tax Relief Act of 2005, allowed $6.9 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs for heath needs of veterans’ and military personnel; provided $14 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration for compensation and pension and $1 billion for the establishment of the Veterans Hospital Improvement Fund.
  • S Con Res 83 Fiscal 2007 Budget Resolution, increased the discretionary spending limit by $1.5 billion to allow an increase in funding for veterans’ medical services, offset by ending certain corporate tax breaks.  And,
  • HR 4939 Fiscal 2006 Supplemental Appropriations supplemental Appropriations would add $430 million for outpatient and inpatient health care and treatment for veterans.

Sununu voted against funding veterans’ health care all three times.

Sununu’s flowery praise of veterans on Veterans Day and when speaking in front of veterans organizations belies his actions.  In his message of November 11, 2005, Sununu stated, “…veterans will remain the most important voice…” Sununu also heaps lavish praise on veterans on his web site.  In one column he acknowledges, “Not all wounds are visible, and there exists a significant need for improvement in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and related mental health issues.”

Less than a week later (November 17, 2005), S Amdt 2634 to S 202 came up for a vote.  This bill provided an additional $500,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2006 through 2010, to be used for readjustment counseling, related mental health services, and treatment and rehabilitative services for veterans with mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorder.

Sununu voted against funding veterans’ health care and specifically against programs for post-traumatic stress disorders.

March and June of 2004:

  • S Con Res 95/Fiscal 2005 Budget Resolution would increase veterans’ health care by $2.7 billion by reducing tax breaks for the wealthy. And,
  • S 2400 Fiscal 2005 Defense Authorization/TRICARE Expansion would expand eligibility for the military’s TRICARE health program to National Guard and Army reserve forces and their families while on inactive status.

Sununu voted against funding veterans’ health care both times.

In March of 2003:

  • S Con Res 23/Fiscal 2004 Budget Resolution/Military Health Care would grant greater access to health care programs for the National Guard and Reserves and their families.  And,
  • S Con Res 23/Fiscal 2004 Budget Resolution/Veterans’ Benefits would increase funding for the discretionary programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ by over $1 billion.

Sununu voted against funding veterans’ health care both times.

Independent studies confirm that taking care of our veterans’ health is of paramount importance.  In one 2007 study[1] predicts that our nation will soon be facing caring for nearly 30,000 physically injured veterans in various geographic locations in the country. Another 2008 study[2] states it isn’t just the soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who will suffer the negative long-term consequences of war.  Our nation’s families, neighborhoods and economies will be severely impacted if steps are not taken now to provide adequate and effective mental health care for our returning soldiers.  Dr. Richard McCormick, in presenting to the Disabled American Veterans his 2007 study that addressed this issue, stressed, “Immediate action is critical.”

It isn’t as if taking care of our veterans’ physical and mental health cannot be done.  In  testimony presented before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on June 11, 2008,the RAND Corporation concluded that “Delivery of such care to all veterans with PTSD or major depression would pay for itself within two years, or even save money, by improving productivity and reducing medical and mortality costs. Such care may also be a cost-effective way to retain a ready and healthy military force for the future. However, to ensure that this care is delivered requires system-level changes across the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. health care system.”

So, what about that 2008 GI Bill and the Defense Authorization Act in 2008 Sununu voted in favor of this year?  Neither one was about funding health care for veterans, expanding facilities and making health care more accessible. Let’s look at those ratings again.

Disabled American Veterans gave Sununu 40%; Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American gave him a D.  The Retired Enlisted Association felt Sununu supported them in legislative matters only 29% of the time.

Funding health care for our worthy veterans is not discussed in the legislative houses very often.  With few opportunities to vote in support of our veterans, one would think voting yes to fund their health care would be a no-brainer for Sununu, especially when that is all he talks about doing.  Veterans’ organizations know it is absolutely essential that veterans elect legislators who will vote for funding their physical and mental health care.

And actions speak louder than words.

[1] Demographic Distribution of U.S. Population, Military and Estimated Injuries study, presented to Stand Up for Veterans, an affiliation of the Disabled American Veterans organization.

[2] Conducted by RAND, an independent, non-profit research company

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One Response to “Now You See It, Now You Don’t”

  1. Amazement barely describes what I feel when I see the votes versus hear the rhetoric.  My dad, his brothers, my mother’s brothers, my cousins and now the sons and daughters of family and friends have spent a chunk of their lives protecting and defending.  Through each succeeding generation of American heroes the level of support for health care has just lessened.  And we know who’s to blame.  Shame on you, John Sununu and every other elected official who turns their back on expanded and necessary health access for veterans!

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