Tags: veterans | affairs | scandal | probe | issues | distract | groups

Veterans' Advocates Fear VA Scandal Will Overshadow Other Issues

Monday, 26 May 2014 02:41 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

Veterans advocacy groups are expressing concern that the Veterans Affairs scandal will overshadow other vital issues confronting former members of the U.S. military.

The Hill reports these groups are fully supportive of calls for a widespread investigation into the deaths of veterans who passed away while they were on bogus waiting lists to cover up long delays at VA hospitals across the country.

But the organizations are now worried that the current controversy will prevent progress on such problems as the high rate of veteran suicides, helping vets get work, and making sure the VA is properly financed to help with the needs of all ex-servicemen and -women.

Several veterans groups are calling for more funding for the VA, and are urging Congress to earmark money to fund the department beyond the next fiscal year, reports The Hill.

But Joe Violante, national legislative director at Disabled American Veterans, says the VA's current situation makes it increasingly unlikely the measure will be approved.

"With what's going on at VA right now, the chances are very steep to make it happen," said Violante.

The House and Senate recently had legislation introduced to extend advance budget funds for the VA, but veterans' advocates expect they will not be passed in the near future, according to The Hill.

Lawmakers have said the bills may even be held back to punish the VA for mismanaging veterans' healthcare.

"Unfortunately, they think they're punishing the VA by not providing the advanced appropriations, but they're actually punishing the veterans the department serves," said Violante.

He noted the advance funding could speed medical claims and help veterans get faster doctor visits, possibly even life-saving appointments.

The Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Association has listed its top priority as cutting down on the number of suicides by veterans. A recent study by the VA estimated that 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

Lauren Augustine, a legislative associate for the group, hopes the outrage surrounding the VA will help result in more attention being paid to veterans' issues, and in particular help pass a bill focusing on the suicide crisis.

"The suicide issue needs to be addressed, and we haven't come across a lawmaker who opposes that," she said. "There is lots of momentum building up behind this legislation, and we're hoping to get it done before the lame-duck session, when that momentum weakens."

American Veterans has its own cause, pushing legislation called the Veterans and Service Members Employment Rights and Housing Act, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against veterans because of their military service.

The organization pointed out there is a growing concern that employers will be wary of hiring ex-soldiers because of stereotyped fears that they may have a stress disorder or brain injury, The Hill said.

"There is a not-uncommon perception of veterans as 'ticking time bombs', 'unstable and dangerous' or damaged goods,'" Diane Zumatto, national legislative director of the group, wrote in a paper about the issue.

She told The Hill, "As we have more and more veterans coming back looking for jobs, it's going to be more important going forward."

But Zumatto is concerned that the VA scandal may eclipse the legislation, saying, "If it's not a hot-button item, it's probably not going to happen."

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