Friday, December 14, 2012

Is an important bill really about to die in the House?

Yesterday a bill sponsored by Senator Patty Murray past in the Senate.  Rick Maze (Marine Corps Times) states the just passed bill is already dead.  Before we get to the bill, let's focus on what it's addressing.  June 27th, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee -- which Murray is the Chair of -- held a hearing  (we covered that hearing in the June 27th and June 28th snapshots).  Tracy Keil was one of the witnesses.  This is from her testimony:

My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade.  Matt instantly because a quadriplegic.  When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury."  He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together.  I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy.  Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation.  Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand.  He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
It was while we were at Craigh hospital that we started talking about having a family.  Craig doctors talked to us about in vitro fertilization and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready to start a family.  We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of. 
My husband is the most amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
We had our whole lives ahead of us.  Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28.  We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today.  It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family.  I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craigh Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops.  We were starting to feel like things were falling into place in our lives.  We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
His injury unfortunately prevents him from having children naturally.  In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility.  I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn.  I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help.  Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true.  The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.
It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless.  I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA.  The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing.  I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.

That's the story of one family.  The Defense Dept estimates that there are nearly 2,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars who have suffered injuries that could impact reproduction.  If you are a service member, you can get coverage via Tricare.  But if you are a veteran, you currently have no coverage.  Yesterday, Tracy Keil and her husband Iraq War veteran Matt Keil and their twins Faith and Matthew were in the Senate.  They were present to hear Senator Patty Murray explain from the floor why her bill, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, was needed.   Murray explained, "This is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything -- every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family.  It says that we are not turning our back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars.  It says to all those brave men and women that didn't ask questions when they were put in harm's way, that we won't let politics get in the way of our commitment to you."

Back to Rick Maze who explained last night that there are no plans in the House to put the bill to a vote.  US House Rep Rick Larsen has been the chief sponsor of the bill in the House.  He has also publicly advocated on its behalf repeatedly.  So it's got a champion in the House, it passed the Senate yesterday, what's the hold up?

Maze reports House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller is the hold up and quotes him stating, "I am anxious to do the same on this issue in the 113th Congress."

Jeff Miller is not stupid.  He's also been a surprisingly effective Chair of the House Committee.  He has grown into the role and has championed some important issues.

One issue he likes to talk about in hearings is the importance of being a good steward of the public's money.  I'm not understanding how, if a bill has passed the Senate, it is to the tax payers' benefit to prolong voting on it until the next Congress is seated.  Surely, the more economical thing to do would be to vote on it right now so that the 113th Congress can address other issues.

Jeff Miller is not stupid.  So surely he realizes that the Committee to beat is the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  That's the one with the gold standard.  Former Chair Daniel Akaka ensured that for years and Chair Murray has continued that.  Both had the tremendous help of Ranking Member Richard Burr and a Committee that was willing to focus on the issues.  They disagreed many times -- and not just disagreements between Democrats and Republicans -- there have been disagreements among Republicans on the Committee and Democrats on the Committee.  But the reason the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is so admired is because it is the Committee where the members will work together and will rise above party differences and personal differences to ensure that veterans issues are addressed.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee is a mess by comparison.

And that's not Chair Miller's fault.  If you were going to be objective and pin the blame right now, you would go to the Democrats unless you wanted to delude yourself.  They've added a new member and hopefully he will have an impact (on the Democratic side).  He's impressive and has an impressive resume.  But most of the past year has been wasted by two Democrats -- yes, it's only two, it doesn't take much to spoil a Committee -- who have refused to put veterans first and have instead used Committee hearings as a forum for the presidential campaign.  That lowers not just the individual member of Congress, it lowers the entire Committee.

And I'm a Democrat but I'm more than willing to say that the mess has not been the fault of Chair Miller. 

Up to this point.

If he's now going to play games with this legislation, he's setting a very poor example.

As the Chair, he needs to be pushing for this needed legislation -- he agrees it's needed -- to be voted on.  He needs to lead by example.

If he doesn't?

Then he's become part of the Committee problem.  And I don't have to waste time calling out the two Democrats on the Committee that waste everyone's time because the Chair has set the example that time can be wasted.

Now he can come out against the bill.  But thus far, Miller has been supporting it.  If he supports it and he means what he says about proper stewardship of the public money, then he needs to be pushing for this bill to go through.

If he supports it and he doesn't push for it to go through, he's not offering the leadership that veterans need or that the Committee needs.

Again, if he's really against this bill and has just been making nice publicly, all he needs to do is state he doesn't support it.  I'll disagree with him but I can respect it.  But if he supports it and he's going to let it drag out instead of doing the smart thing for veterans, the smart thing for his Committee and the smart thing fiscally, he's not showing leadership.

I was not a fan of his when he started as Chair.  I called him out repeatedly in the early days.  About two-thirds in 2011, I noted he had improved.  I had no problem praising him then or since.  Because what veterans need is a strong Committee Chair and a strong Ranking Member in the House and the Senate.  And that matters more to me than party identification.

But if Miller's playing some partisan game, he's not offering leadership.  He needs to clarify where he stands and, if he still supports the bill, he needs to push for a floor vote on it.

The following community sites -- plus Reporters Without Borders, the ACLU, Adam Kokesh, Pacifica Evening News, KPFK, Chocoalte City, the World Can't Wait, Dissident Voice, C-SPAN, The Diane Rehm Show -- updated last night and this morning:

The e-mail address for this site is

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