A comprehensive bill targeting the needs of veterans introduced by Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders was defeated in a procedural move Thursday. Sanders and veterans organizations are outraged.
Sanders, the chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act” in January. The 350-page bill targets health care, education and retirement benefits. It sought to eliminate backlogs at the VA claims system, expand education and dental benefits and restore the full Cost of Living Adjustment for military retirees.
Republicans complained that the bill was too expensive. They wanted an amendment to cut the bill and to add sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program. That was not allowed. On Thursday, Republicans countered and blocked passage in a procedural move by invoking a rule of order that 60 votes would be need to proceed. The vote was 56 to 41.
The failure outraged Vermont’s junior Independent senator. At a press conference following the loss, Sanders’ exploded in frustration. “My hope had been that maybe, just maybe, when you deal with the needs of people who have sacrificed so much for this country and understand what war has done to tens and hundreds of thousands of young men and women in this country, I thought that maybe, maybe just on this issue, this Senate could come together and do the right thing for our veterans. If we had won today with strong Republican support, frankly, both parties could have gone out and said we finally overcame all of the partisanship we see here, and we did something meaningful, in this case for our veterans. Twenty-six separate provisions in this bill came from Republicans.”
State of Washington Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat and previous Veterans’ Committee chair, joined Sanders in vilifying Republicans for blocking the legislation. “It’s really quite sad that politicians who claim out on the campaign trail that we should do anything and everything to help our veterans, they kill bills like this one with procedural votes. There was no excuse for bringing the completely separate issue like Iran sanctions into a debate which is about veterans, their health and their well being .”
Sanders’ omnibus bill is supported by numerous veterans groups, including the American Legion. In a press release, National Commander Daniel Dellinger called the blockage of the legislation inexcusable. American Legion Deputy Director for National Security Joe Grassi says it would have done a lot of good in the wake of challenges during the drawdown and transition to civilian life. “The bill really would have helped in terms of health care, education, and job training. The American Legion really thought it was a terriffic effort to help veterans. We’re quite disappointed that it was blocked. I think what Congress should remember is that when you have less than 1 percent of the population responsible for protecting the entire nation, a little consideration, a tip of the cap, and maybe a helping hand would be a great sign of appreciation to our veterans who have borne this burden for many years now.”
Vietnam Veterans of America Region One Director John Miner sees it as another example of Congressional one-upmanship. “They just can’t seem to get it in their heads that the veterans preserve this country and we can’t expect them to keep preserving this country and not take care of them. I fight every day with even state government and what they do to veterans and disabled veterans is just ridiculous. But they don’t seem to get it. They just feel that we get enough now. The wounded warriors need to be taken care of and we’re not doing it. Even at the state level.”
Senator Sanders said he would continue his efforts to get the bill passed.