Heller sticks it to veterans

Over the years since the Veterans Administration scandal, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller has made a lot of noise about helping veterans while not doing a lot that was substantive, particularly dealing with staffing shortages.

A statement on the veterans suicide rate, a bill supposedly solving a transplant problem for veterans when the donor is a non-veteran, a statement on Veteran’s Day (he’s for it) were among Heller’s news releases. Four months ago, he touted his support for a bill providing interim funding to keep the VA Choice program alive, which begged the question of why the program needed such stopgap funding mid-year.. The reason was that Republicans keep veteran programs on a short financial leash.

Several years ago, when the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association still published report cards on voting records of congressmembers, we reported that Democrats regularly provide greater support for vets than Republicans. That may have seemed counterintuitive to those who think Democrats are soft on military spending, but we quoted columnist Bob Geiger, who scrutinized the scores: “The worst grade received by a Senate Democrat was higher than the best grade received by a Senate Republican.”

To put it simply, today’s Republicans who have taken over the GOP do not like government. Waiting lines will always be with veterans until a Congress is elected that does not want to see government fail. Heller is a member of a party that takes pleasure in seeing public agencies stumble because of obstacles placed in their path by Congress. That’s why service to veterans often moves at a crawl. And Heller has not himself broken from that belief system to get more assistance for veterans.

This year, though Heller has been quick at every opportunity to portray himself publicly as the veterans’ advocate, he never said a word about the problems posed by the Republican tax cut bill to a troubled Veterans Choice program. Indeed, there is no evidence that Heller even knew about the intersect of the two.

The Choice program gives access to services, surgeries, and treatment for vets that Veterans Administration programs cannot provide, and also assures vets in low-population areas care near their homes

The army newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that the tax bill “muddied debate … on legislation that would significantly change the system that veterans use to receive private health care. … During the past year, disagreements over how to reform the [choice] program have focused on costs, concerns from Democrats over privatization and fears from Republicans about veterans remaining trapped inside the VA system.”

In the end, the House Veteran Affairs Committee capped funding for Veterans Choice at three percent for four years, whereupon Democrats, who had supported reform to that point, voted no.

And why was Veterans Choice even linked to the tax bill in the first place?

It is time for Republicans like Heller to break away from the faction of the GOP that chronically shorts veterans, that wants a programs so restricted by tight financial limits that the VA has trouble functioning. Veterans are not asking for something special. They want what they have earned.