Vallarta Living | Veteran Affairs | November 2008
|A Message from VAWatchDog.org and Larry Scott|
David Lord - PVNN
Veterans have been accepting the constantly-changing hodge-podge of laws and regulations that, sometimes, provide disability compensation and care. And, "sometimes" is the operative word...
A check of federal regulations covering veterans' benefits shows an abundant use of the phrase "the Secretary may." The "Secretary" is the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs who "may," or may NOT, provide the benefit listed in the specific regulation.
But, could there be a promise to veterans buried somewhere in mountains of laws or hidden deep in the recesses of the Federal Code? The Herculean effort to see if such a promise existed was undertaken by David F. Burelli, a National Defense Specialist for the Congressional Research Service.
Burelli's research paper is titled Military Health Care: The Issue of "Promised" Benefits. The 23-page paper makes this determination: "Many ... military retirees ... state that they were promised 'free health care for life at military facilities' as part of their 'contractual agreement' when they entered the armed forces.
Efforts to locate authoritative documentation of such promises have not been successful. Congressional report language and recent court decisions have rejected retiree claims [of] "a right or entitlement." While Burelli's paper deals with military retirees, it can be extrapolated to include non-retiree veterans, as well.
Others, realizing Burelli's findings to be accurate, have tried to reframe the language of a promise to veterans. Dave Autry of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) likes to use the concept of a "moral obligation" to veterans. That high-minded verbiage has been used thousands of times by politicians, authors and veterans' advocates. But, it still doesn't equate to a promise. And, it assumes that Congress, who supplies funding for veterans' care and disability compensation, understands what is "moral" and has the fortitude to commit to an "obligation." Those are two dangerous assumptions.
But, this verbal posturing leaves us where we began. There is no promise to veterans. The government can't keep a promise that was never made. And, it's not realistic to assume that they are breaking a promise they never made.
Will there ever be a promise to veterans? A real promise that is codified? A document that positively states what veterans will receive for their service to country? Not unless we, as veterans, force the issue. No politician is brave enough to step forward and say, "We lied to you," so it's up to us. We must raise hell about the issue.
I, for one, am tired of the hand-in-glove relationships our veterans' service organizations (VSOs) have established with Congress and the VA. Every year the VSOs go to Capitol Hill and grovel for next year's VA budget handout. When the budget is passed and doesn't meet their expectations, the VSOs politely thank the politicians for doing a good job and then politely urge them to do better.
Whatever happened to in-your-face, do-it-or-else political lobbying? We pay our VSO dues so they can represent us on Capitol Hill. They are failing in their mission. They allow politicians to ramble on about a promise to veterans and never ask the questions: What promise is that, politician? The one you never keep? And, the politicians keep playing us for fools. As long as veterans buy into the myth of a promise, the politicians win.
We, as veterans will continue to scrap and fight for our justly-deserved benefits. But, it's time we adopt a new attitude. It's time to stop accepting piecemeal legislation that gives a few budget dollars to slap a Band-Aid on a chronically-underfunded VA healthcare and benefits system.
It's time we stop accepting the nonsense of politicians who openly view VA benefits as charity, to be handed out only to those who fit their warped definition of the deserving. We owe it to all of our Brother and Sister veterans. And, let's be honest, we owe it to ourselves. This is not the time to be humble.
It's time for the in-your-face type of confrontation that our VSOs are incapable of providing. We must take our elected representatives to task and demand that they stop talking about a promise and actually give us one. We must tell Congress what we want. We must tell the American people what we want and that we earned our benefits through our service.
Most "civilians" live under the assumption that "the VA takes care of it" when it comes to veterans' benefits. It's time they were educated. It's time to stop asking and start telling. No more "Yes sir" and "No ma'am" and "Thank you very much" for what little we get.
If we don't force this issue, we can only blame ourselves. I'll be wearing a T-shirt with this slogan printed in large letters: WE ARE U.S. MILITARY VETERANS - YOU OWE US!
David Lord has been a National Veterans Service Officer doing veteran's benefits in Mexico for over a decade. David is a combat veteran, wounded by gunshot in Viet Nam 1968 and is a retired Marine. The Veterans Administration has played a critical role in his life, by his having both medical and compensation benefits. He uses his personal experience in the claims process along with having legal and credentialed Accreditation by the Department of Veterans Affairs. His use of Congressional approved Veterans Organizations, to steer veterans and dependants through the maze of regulations and entitlements due them from military service is outstanding. For more information, email him at david.lord(at)yahoo.com.
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