Veterans Groups: We Are Being Silenced
Here's my latest piece from Alternet. I'll post Q&As later today:
President Bush is scheduled to submit his budget request for the 2007 fiscal year to Congress on Feb. 6, and the country's largest, most influential veterans groups are already on the offensive, saying they are being shortchanged again.
Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Steve Buyer, R-Ind., has implemented new rules: Veterans groups must submit their written testimony for budget requests and policy initiatives to the committee by noon on Feb. 6. Two days later, veterans groups will present their testimony to the committee -- but, for the first time in 60 years, they'll be constrained by a three-minute limit.
"The revised schedule for hearings and the change in format amount to a slap in the face to individual veterans as well as the groups that represent them in the public policy arena. Chairman Buyer has slammed the door in the face of America's veterans," says Paul Jackson, National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a 1.3 million-member group that works to improve the lives of disabled veterans.
"Buyer should not silence the voice of American veterans in the very committee that's charged with ensuring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has what it needs to care for American veterans," adds Peter Gaytan, director of the veterans affairs and rehabilitation division for the American Legion, a 2.7 million-member veterans organization.
Joe Violante, national legislative director with DAV, says veterans groups are traditionally given 10 minutes to convey their budget needs, and the time constraints have never been strictly enforced. "What we do is give Congress a perspective on what's actually happening out there because we hear from our members about the problems they face on a day-to-day basis," he says.
During wartime, it only seems appropriate to give veterans groups even more time to articulate their needs. What can be accomplished in three minutes? "It just seems so different now," says Violante. "During past wars, Congress has been more liberal with veterans' benefits. Now we're seeing the exact opposite. They're looking at ways to cut our programs and limit spending levels on veterans programs. It's an entirely different atmosphere."