June 8, 2001

Commentary

Honoring Our Commitment to Our Nation's Veterans

Our veterans deserve deeds as well as words!

By Congressman Bob Filner

The new movie "Pearl Harbor" is breaking box office records as millions of Ameri-cans of all generations are filling theaters around the country to see a story that depicts one of the most traffic wartime events in our nation's history. Plans for a World War II Memorial on the National Mall are under way. There seems to be a renewed interest in remembering and honoring our nation's veterans.

The brave men and women who have served our nation —whether during times of war or peace— have earned the respect of a grateful nation. That is the purpose of the Veterans Administration, to ensure that the promises this nation has made to our veterans are honored.

As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee the past eight years and now the Senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Health, I have been committed to seeing to it that our veterans receive all the benefits they deserve.

Honoring our veterans is not a partisan issue. No one asks a member of the Armed Forces whether they are Democrat or Republican —and their service to our nation benefits us all. Recently, I had the privilege of hosting our new Secretary for Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, in my Congressional District in San Diego. Secretary Principi is a fellow San Diegan and a Republican. He an I, a Democrat, agree that improving the lives of our veterans is the purpose of the VA.

While he was in my district, Secretary Principi attended a Town Hall meeting at the new Veterans Home of California in Chula Vista. It is a beautiful —and much needed— facility in the San Diego region, which is home to more veterans than any other area of the country.

I hear from veterans every day who face long waits for their Veterans Affairs claims to be processed, or who have encountered an error in their files which has resulted in their benefits being incorrectly reduced or, worse yet, denied altogether, or who, for whatever reason, are unhappy with the service they have received from the VA. Secretary Principi is aware of these problems and he heard them first-hand.

I am convinced that he is committed to finding a solution to many of the concerns raised by veterans about the VA. And much of what I've heard is not so much criticism of the good men and women who work in the VA, but, as I see it, a lack of adequate resources to support the VA.

The fact is, that while Congress has consistently inadequately funded the VA, the number of claims continues to grow. Out nations' veterans are aging and as they do, their claims for benefits become more frequent and more costly.

In mid-May, the Congress approved a budget for 2002 that I believe will cause serious damage to veterans programs. This was after the House of Representatives had already expressed its support earlier this year for a budget that would have allowed the VA to shore up its aging health care facilities and maintain health care services for veterans. And after the Senate had agreed to a VA budget that would have allowed disabled veterans to receive the full benefits they have earned— known as concurrent receipt. Unfortunately, gains from both the House and Senate resolutions were lost in the quest by the leadership in Congress for a tax cut that will primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee worked hard to approve $1.5 billion in new spending for veterans programs over what President Bush had sought. Among the programs on which our committee agreed were to enhance the VA's seriously eroded mental health programs, its long-term care programs, and its programs for homeless veterans.

The Senate also added more to the inadequate Bush request. Through two separate amendments, Senators agree to add another $2.7 billion to the Bush request for veterans' programs.

If either the House or the Senate resolution had been honored by Congress's leadership, America's veterans would have been better served. Instead, Congress decided to fund a huge tax cut that will greatly benefit only the wealthiest of Americans—and was forced to drop the gains made in both the House and Senate. This is no way to pay tribute to our veterans!

Monuments on the National Mall and blockbuster movies are important in helping to remind our Nation to honor her proud past and strong future. But our most important tribute should be making a difference in the lives of those who survived where others have perished— and that would mean passing a budget sufficient to meet the needs of our veterans.

The fight is not yet over —and I encourage all veterans to join forces, work as one, and contact your Representatives, Senators, and the White House and encourage them to fully fund veterans' benefit and services

Veterans deserve deeds — not just words.

Congressman Bob Filner represents California's 50th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health.

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