Thursday, August 15, 2013

Broken promise to veterans on sequestration

Homeless remains a problem in the United States.  IANS reports:

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there were 633,782 people, or 20 in every 10,000 people, experiencing homelessness on any given night in January 2012, largely unchanged from the year before. About a quarter of them were children, one-eighth military veterans and some four in 10 disabled unable to work, in the richest nation on the planet, according to its latest report on “The State of Homelessness in America 2013”.

Homeless veterans are not confined to one state or one region.  It's a national issue.  Amy M.E. Fischer (Daily News) reports on Senator Patty Murray visiting a facility in Washington state:

Murray (D-Wash.), a longtime advocate for veterans, was instrumental in landing $490,000 in federal money toward the first phase of renovating the 1925-era brick building at 1312 Hemlock St. into 20 apartments for homeless veterans. Performed by the Longview Housing Authority, which owns the historic four-story building, the $975,000, two-year renovation included fire safety improvements, adding a lobby and an elevator, installing a solar hot water system, remodeling some of the apartments, making the building more wheelchair accessible and reinforcing the roof to withstand earthquakes.
A second phase of renovations costing another $1 million will begin in September. That work will include replacing windows, plumbing and sewer lines, adding a laundry room, upgrading the fire escape, installing ventilation systems and completing electrical and room finishes.

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  Prior to that she was the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  She continue to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and continues to address veterans issues.  As Chair of the VA Committee in 2012, she repeatedly attempted to pin down what effects sequestration might have on veterans. (Sequestration is a program Barack Obama promoted.  If the Congress can't make certain cuts to the budget, automatic, across the board cuts are implemented.)  Murray and the Committee were repeatedly told that if sequestration kicked in, it would not effect veterans.

 From the March 21, 2012 snapshot:

Chair Murray had noted that in her statement, that she's repeatedly asked for an answer on this issue.  Sequestration will most likely kick in due to budget issues.  If it does, it will be automatic.  (Automatic cuts to federal programs to lower the budget for the Fiscal Year 2013.)  Is VA effected or not?  This is a question that's been asked and asked again, over and over.  Murray even asked Secretary Shinseki in a February 29th hearing (see the March 1st snapshot):
Chair Patty Murray: [. . .] let me begin the questions by getting this one off the table.  It's on the issue of sequestration and cuts to spending.  Like I said in my opening remarks I believe that all VA programs including medical care are exempt from cuts but there is some ambiguity between the budget act and the existing law. And when I asked the acting OMB director to adress this issue in a budget hearing two weeks ago, he said OMB had yet to make a final determination.  So I am concerned that by not settling this issue now, we are failing to provide our veterans with the clarity they really deserve to have.  And so while you're here, I wanted to ask you: Do you believe that all VA programs -- including medical care -- are exempt from any future cuts?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I think, Madame Chairman, the answer that the OMB director provided you was the same one that I understand.  They are still addressing the issue. For my purposes, I would tell you I'm not planning on sequestration.  I'mI  addressing my requirements and presenting my budget as  you would expect me to do.  I think sequestration in part or in whole is not necessarily good policy.  And I think the President would argue the best approach here is a balanced deficit reduction and that the budget he has presented does that and I would ask that the Congress look at that budget and favorably consider it.
Chair Patty Murray:  I think we all hope that is the outcome but we want to provide clarity to our veterans. They are very concerned about this issue. 
That was 21 days ago.  Murray, Miller, Filner and Burr (among others) had been asking repeatedly for an answer prior to the above exchange.  However, when the Secretary is asked in an open session, with press present, and he doesn't know the answer, you think he would get on the ball to find out.  It's very basic, or should be, for Eric Shinseki: Would sequestration effect my department or not?

The Congress was told sequestration would not effect veterans by various VA officials but, more importantly, President Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that if sequestration kicked in, it would not effect veterans.

Here's Barack speaking to the VFW on July 23, 2012:

And by the way, given all the rhetoric lately -- it is political season -- let’s also set the record straight on the budget.  Those big, across-the-board cuts, including defense, that Congress said would occur next year if they couldn’t reach a deal to reduce the deficit?  Let’s understand, first of all, there’s no reason that should happen, because people in Congress ought to be able to come together and agree on a plan, a balanced approach that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong. It should be done.  (Applause.)
And there are a number of Republicans in Congress who don’t want you to know that most of them voted for these cuts.  Now they’re trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to.  Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military.  And I’ve got to tell you, VFW, I disagree.  If the choice is between tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need and funding our troops that they definitely need to keep our country strong, I will stand with our troops every single time.  (Applause.)

Those remarks in that speech was a response to Mitt Romney's assertion that the VA would be effected by sequestration.  In 2012, Romney was the head of the Republican ticket.  The Office of Management and Budget had previously stated in writing to the Government Accountability Office, "The conclusion that we have reached is that all programs administered by the VA, including Veterans' Medical Care, are exempt from the sequestration."

The presidential campaigns are over and, with them, apparently so are the promises.  Amy M.E. Fischer (Daily News) reports:

Murray, in Longview to visit the housing authority’s Stratford Arms apartments for homeless veterans, said she’s been hearing, “Don’t worry, sequestration isn’t affecting veterans.”
Housing authority staff members, who provide services to homeless veterans over a 5,000-square-mile area, told her a different story. Sequestration — budget cuts mandated because Congress could not agree on a spending plan — forced the housing authority to slash 111 families from its rental assistance programs by the end of this year due to lack of money, Executive Director Chris Pegg said. The agency hopes to make the cuts through normal attrition and by not issuing any more Section 8 “Housing Choice” vouchers this year, she said.
Those housing vouchers, however, are vital for the transition of veterans to permanent supportive housing. Meanwhile, the housing authority’s transitional housing programs for veterans are usually limited to 24 months. Without vouchers to move them into permanent housing, as many as six veterans could wind up on the streets again this year, Pegg stated in a letter to Murray. The vast majority of veterans in the housing authority’s programs are disabled and require some type of long-term rental help to remain stably housed, she said.

Leo Shane III (Stars and Stripes) explained earlier this year:

Despite assurances that veterans benefits and services will be exempt from the budget cuts, veterans and their families will share the suffering along with military counterparts. The result could mean more homeless veterans, less help for those looking for work, and tens of thousands of furloughed veteran struggling to make ends meet.

"Despite assurances" is a polite way to say that the administration lied -- and lied repeatedly.  Where's the accountability?

While the White House falters again, others attempt to pick up the slack. Keith Rogers (Las Vegas Review-Journal) reports on Nevada's new Green Zone website:

During the Iraq War, the Green Zone in Baghdad was designed as a safe place for soldiers to be inside the wire.
On Wednesday, its namesake website got off the ground with a promise to carry on the safe-haven tradition for Nevada’s 300,000 veterans by providing a cyberspace place for them to find jobs by connecting with employers and tap education and health care benefits.
The debut of the one-stop-shop website was held at Las Vegas City Hall before a few hundred veteran group representatives, community leaders and business representatives from around Nevada and neighboring states who registered to see the launch of the networking portal. It allows the public and private sectors to connect directly with the veteran community.

And, of course, a program  to aid with employment has been taking place.  To assist veterans and their spouses in finding jobs, the Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes job fairs are taking place across the country. 

Hiring Our Heroes is proud to announce employment workshops are now available in conjunction with hundreds of our hiring fairs. These workshops are designed to help veterans and military spouses and include resume writing, interview skills, and one-on-one mentoring.
To participate, please sign up for the workshop in addition to registering for the fair.

Upcoming Hiring Fairs

* Event date may be subject to change.
August 16, 2013Helena, MT
August 16, 2013Honolulu, HI
August 20, 2013Nashville, TN
August 20, 2013Cedar Rapids, IA
August 21, 2013Sioux Falls, SD
August 22, 2013Devens, MA
August 27, 2013Houston, TX
August 27, 2013Lafayette, LA
September 4, 2013Beaufort, SC
September 10, 2013Charlotte, NC
September 10, 2013Tucson, AZ
September 10, 2013Peekskill (Camp Smith), NY
September 12, 2013Trenton, NJ
September 12, 2013JBLM, WA Military Spouse Hiring Fair
September 12, 2013Boise, ID
September 12, 2013Provo, UT
September 17, 2013Portsmouth, NH
September 17, 2013Baton Rouge, LA
September 19, 2013Richmond, VA
September 19, 2013Lewiston, ME
September 19, 2013Camp Pendleton, CA
September 20, 2013Spokane, WA

For a listing of more events, you can visit their website.

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