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As a veteran, my eyes and ears tend to perk up whenever the military is mentioned, whether in the media or even just in casual conversation. I can't help it. And if a politician claims to be "looking out for" or "representing" veterans' interests, I pay even closer attention, because that's one of those things that voters love to hear, but seldom follow up on. Richard Burr has developed a reputation as being "big" on veterans' issues, and I think it's about time we followed up on that.

Before I begin, I want to make sure that everybody understands that our senior Senator from North Carolina has been well-informed on these issues. He's been privy to countless briefings exposing the needs of veterans over the years, so any mistakes he's made can't be attributed to a lack of knowledge. Also, although I usually refrain from linking to (other) blogs because I don't want readers to have to struggle to find primary sources, I'm going to post a few here, because they are concerned voices that deserve to be heard.

The first issue I want to talk about is related to some previous diaries I've written about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Burr sponsored a bill called the "Veterans Mental Health Treatment First Act":

To amend title 38, United States Code, to require a program of mental health care and rehabilitation for veterans for service-related post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, or a related substance use disorder, and for other purposes.

This blog article by Larry Scott of VA is really about an American Enterprise Institute piece in support of Burr's bill, so I'll let Larry shoot them both down:

Dr. Sally Satel is a psychiatrist, paid mouthpiece and think-tanker for the American Enterprise Institute.  And, she's back in the news pushing her agenda to marginalize PTSD veterans.

This time she's joined by two old friends, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID).  Burr is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.  Craig was the Ranking Member until the Republican party removed him after he got caught playing tappy-toes with an undercover cop in an airport men's room.

Burr has introduced a bill (S. 2573) titled Veterans Mental Health Treatment First Act.  Craig is the only cosponsor of the bill.

Lol! Tappy-toes! Sorry...

The "Treatment First Act" will give a small allowance to vets with mental health problems who forego filing a VA disability compensation claim and enter treatment.

The "Treatment First Act" is just a way for the VA to save money by conning veterans into delaying filing a claim.  Even if the veteran goes into treatment, and then a year later files a claim, a lot of money has been saved.

Also, this program would cause a shift in attitude at the Veterans' Benefits Administration (VBA) that handles claims.  If a vet does not go into the program and just files a claim, it would be easy for a claims person at VBA to feel that the vet doesn't want to "get better" and then deliberately mishandle the claim, causing delays in compensation.

Here's the thing: Burr's legislation would only award a maximum "stipend" of $11,000 for that year that the veteran was undergoing treatment, and the veteran would have to meet all kinds of requirements just to get that much. If you ain't already depressed, trying to live on $11,000 a year will damned sure get you there.

Another "bright idea" Burr had to help veterans was "America's Wounded Warrior Act", which was touted as a needed revamping of the VA disability system. But as you are probably already aware, when Republicans "revamp" something, that usually means they're taking benefits away from somebody. From Abel Quinones of the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees:

As a disabled veteran with my fellow California Comrades are most concerned with the provisions of Senator Burr's America's Wounded Warrior Act (S 2674) and Representative Buyer's Nobel Warrior Act (HR 5509). I’m asking veterans to review the proposed drastically changes for disability compensation system for America's veterans. Then ask your Senators and Congress Representative to oppose this legislation.

Let me explain these bills are loosely based on the recommendations of the President's Commission on Care for America's Wounded Warriors (Dole/Shalala Commission), but the specifics of these bills would do great harm to most veterans in the following ways:

* Offset VA Disability Compensation by Social Security when the veteran ages 65.

* Apply to all currently discharging veterans AND any veteran under VA's current compensation system who files a subsequent claim for additional benefits.

* Once under the new system the veteran cannot return to the current system.

* Protection for ratings in effect for 10 or more years would no longer apply.

* Would require the VA Secretary to examine or consider: (a) "the extent to which disability compensation may be used as an incentive to undergo treatment" (b) "the appropriate injuries to be covered under the new disability rating system" (c) "age" as a determining factor when considering average loss of earnings capacity

* Amends the law to provide the Secretary with authority to adopt and apply a rating schedule for "specific injuries." This provision would expressly limit VA authority over the Rating Schedule and places the authority in the hands of Congress. If the Congress cannot correct the Sustained Growth Rate formula of Medicare Law how can we expect the Congress to do any better with the much more complex Disability Rating Schedule?

* Provides for a quality of life payment, but only for those enrolled in the "new" compensation system.

* Allows or suggests: That VA "may take into account the effect on potential future earnings caused by the age of the veteran at the time a disability rating is assigned." This provision would allow VA to compensate an older veteran at a lower percentage of disability than a younger veteran for the exact same disease or injury. Is this not age discrimination? * Provides that (a) "as frequently as [the VA] considers it appropriate, [the VA] must reevaluate and ... adjust the disability rating for any veteran receiving compensation;" (b) the VA "must ... take into account any adjustments in the rating schedule that occurred since the last assignment of a rating;" (c) The frequency of reevaluations would be determined by an examining physician.

Okay, did you notice the part about Social Security? That's right, if you are a disabled veteran drawing a disability check (because of your service), when you reached the age that your Social Security benefits (that you paid into) kick in, your disability check would be reduced by the amount of your Social Security. In other words, you get one but not both, even though they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Senator Burr, you are an idiot.

As you may know, the Montgomery GI Bill was enhanced last year, to make sure that our returning veterans would be able to afford earning a college degree. Richard Burr voted against this version, because he and Lindsay Graham and John McCain thought it was too good for soldiers, and might entice them into not reenlisting. From the Paralyzed Veterans of America:

Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Richard Burr (R-NC), and John McCain (R-AZ) have introduced a competing bill, S. 2938, the "Enhancement of Recruitment, Retention, and Readjustment Through
Education Act." PVA opposes this legislation because we fundamentally disagree with the notion inherent in
this legislation that realigning the GI Bill with the post-World War II benefit would negatively impact retention. It is a shame that honorable service establishing eligibility for GI Bill benefits is no longer sufficient under this legislation. Furthermore, this legislation implies that if a service member is not willing to consider
extended service or a career in the military, then the federal government should have less of an obligation to
provide him or her with an education.

Frankly, this is the kind of attitude towards veterans that I see in a lot of what Richard Burr does. As long as you're an able-bodied soldier ready to go off on numerous combat tours, you Serve A Purpose. Once you're used up, banged up, or, God forbid, have the audacity to decide you don't want a career in the military, then you represent a cost that needs to be trimmed.

Here's another glimpse into the mind of a man who sees veterans as either a viable tool or a financial drain. During an American Legion conference last year, while other panelists like Nancy Pelosi discussed a variety of veterans' needs:

Pelosi said the federal government, regardless of opposition or support for the war, has an obligation to those who have been sent to fight. "What is mostly unspoken is the cost to America's families of our men and women in uniform, whether it's the breakup of families, the mental challenges that some of our troops are bringing home, the issues that have some stigma to them, that people don't want to talk about so much. We have to face the reality," she said. "We have to face reality in public policy, funding and in making those concerns a priority, because when those troops ask me, ‘What is going to happen to me?' I don't want to have to tell them, ‘Well, you have an enrollment fee ... What you have sacrificed is not enough.'"

Here's what Burr decided to focus on:

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told of a soldier who had two choices: repair his severely wounded leg and walk with a limp, or have it amputated. Burr said the soldier wanted to know which choice would leave him most likely to pass his physical and return to the war. He had the leg removed, was fitted for a prosthetic limb and returned to duty. "Their expectations are so drastically different from the past, from what the system was set up to produce," said Burr, ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "I am committed to make sure we change it in ways to recognize the needs of the future."

So...what are you trying to say? The "needs of the future" will require that we develop a Cyborg Army, where critically injured soldiers are fitted with replacement parts so they can march back into combat like we hired them to do?

Folks, our veterans, from both current conflicts and past ones, not to mention the thousands injured during peacetime training mishaps, face a myriad of problems they shouldn't have to. Instead of working to solve those problems, Senator Burr actively works to create even more. He needs to be off the Veterans Affairs Committee, where he is (inexplicably) the Ranking Member. The only way that is going to happen is to remove him from the Senate entirely.

We Democrats in North Carolina have yet to settle on a specific challenger, and the list of those who've said, "No" is pretty long. There is a former State Senator and Iraq veteran named Cal Cunningham that I would dearly love to see take on Burr, but he has yet to commit. If anyone from the DSCC is reading this, take a look at Cal, and take a look at his (unauthorized) Facebook page:

For those of you in other states that helped contribute to Kay Hagan's victory over Liddy Dole, my thanks can't quite convey our appreciation for that. But thank you anyway. When we finally figure out this candidate thingie, we'll be back sniffing around for some more help, so, you know. Set aside a finnski or two for the cause. :)

Originally posted on BlueNC

Originally posted to scharrison on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 11:54 AM PDT.

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