Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Burr promises VA "one hell of a fight"
Richard Burr is the Ranking Member on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. What does that mean? It means the Democrats control the Senate so they are Chairs of Committees. The Ranking Member is from the minority party and he or she is sort of like a minority chair. So Richard Burr is a Republican and he's from North Carolina and I generally cover him because he's rarely boring. (I've never seen him be boring in a hearing but I'm sure he can be as boring as any of us when the mood strikes him.)
I'm a Democrat so I don't usually share his political view, but I always enjoy him. (And there are more than a few times when his presentation has not only made me think but also made me say "I see his point" and, in one case, think "He's right.") (The one case? He placed a hold on Navy nominations in an attempt to force some answers on the contamination at Camp Lejeune -- the contamination is a very serious issue.)
Today, I was interested in what sort of questions he'd ask the first panel -- Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki? He put them into the record.
And, Mr. Secretary, I'm going to spend my time now talking about the caregivers. I didn't intend to do this and there won't be questions but I'd like to tell you a story this morning.
A bio-detection went off in Congress, everyone had to go to the Russell Garage. That's when Burris met Ted Wade . No one thought he would make it out of Iraq alive after he was injured. He was discharged on the plane because they thought he would die en route to the US. Instead, he lived "because of an unbelievable spouse and family support" (Sarah Wade is his wife). He said, "It was Ted Wade and Sarah Wade that I think played the biggest factor in the Caregivers Act."
The Caregivers Act was supposed to pay the debt to wounded veterans and their families. It was supposed to note how family members and spouses and others put everything on hold to take care of their wounded loved one. "We were trying to make sure that wasn't the only option left for kids, to institutionalize them," Burr explained. Because now a caregiver does not receive any financial support unless the veteran is institutionalized.
Burr noted, "When we wrote the legislation, we wrote in a way that it was pretty clear. Now I gotta' tell you, if I were you, I'd pull it back from OMB."
The VA has ignored the law. They can't explain why they did that. Apparently things just happen in the VA. And they've made changes to the point that Ted and Sarah Wade wouldn't even qualify for the program. Richard Burr talked about all the work Sarah Wade did with the Senate Committee to help with this legislation and now they don't even qualify. He said that was never the intention of the Congress.
I think it's really sad that the White House has gone along with this, has refused to be responsive on this. I feel sorry for Shinseki to a degree because he's following the orders from the White House. But only to a point. After the point, I think, "Shinseki knows better." And he does.
Richard Burr wanted Shineseki and the VA that if they don't stop trying to push through their weakend version and go back to what the Congress passed, "it will be one hell of a fight."
And if there's anything I've learned in the five or so years now that I've been attending Congressional hearings, it would be you do not want a fight with Richard Burr if you can at all avoid it.
Hopefully the White House realizes that.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"