House Republicans voted Wednesday to cut veterans’ services significantly and limit their health care. That’s just one aspect of Barely Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s debt ceiling and budget cuts extortion package that passed 217-215, with all but four Republicans voting for it. Those four didn’t think the cuts were deep enough.
The bill would roll back spending for the 2024 fiscal year to 2022 levels, except for defense spending. Because it’s exempted, everything else would be cut by much more. That’s an estimated 22% cut, which the Veterans Administration says would mean the immediate loss of $2 billion in funding for veterans services, and 30 million fewer veteran outpatient visits. The VA would lose 81,000 jobs. That would mean fewer employees to answer veterans’ phone calls, schedule health visits, process their disability claims, and provide other critical services.
The cuts would hurt rural veterans in particular, cutting necessary technology infrastructure and support for telehealth programs for vets who live far from the VA facilities they rely upon. The cuts would also limit the availability of medical equipment and technology provided to vets so they can have telehealth appointments from home.
A frequent complaint about the VA from veterans is the backlog of benefits claims. This Republican budget would slash 6,000 jobs from the Veterans Benefits Administration, meaning an estimated 134,000 pending benefits claims would be added to the current backlog. That would mean longer wait for pensions, life insurance, GI Bill educational support, and employment counseling and services.
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“It’s cruel and it hurts our heroes,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi in a press conference with veterans groups after the vote. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio, a former Navy officer and Iraq war veteran blasted Republicans for betraying vets.
“They're doing these cuts against the backdrop of holding our economy hostage. They're telling us, ‘If you don't want to put the economy into default and wreck this country, well, you have to cut veterans care,’” he said. “It's the same guys who I see all the time wrapping themselves in the flag, using my fellow veterans and me as props in their ads and on their websites. No more. They should be hearing from all of us.”
The defense Republicans put up against these cuts is that they aren’t real, that the word “veteran” doesn’t appear in the bill. It’s true that no specific cuts are actually spelled out in the bill, but the bill rolls back the budgets and caps the growth of all discretionary spending–again, everything but defense. They pretend like chopping off nearly a quarter of the VA won’t hurt veterans. Or maybe they are just hoping the public won’t notice or care.
Take, for instance, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Bost, who said on the House floor, “We’re not cutting veterans’ benefits” [emphasis added]. No, they’re not cutting benefits directly, they’re cutting the VA’s ability to provide those benefits. A neat deflection from the truth of the matter. Democrats, he said, “with no regard for the impact of their words, … continue to speak lies about how House Republicans are cutting veterans' benefits and it's false.”
What’s false is the idea that the cuts wouldn’t hurt veterans and their families. When Republicans are reduced to rhetorical games about what is and isn’t a cut, you know they’re losing the argument. For a party that represents a big chunk of rural veterans and likes to wave the flag as much as they do, you’d think these would be the last cuts on the table, not the first.
The past week seems to have packed in a month’s worth of news. Markos and Kerry tackle it all, from Joe Biden’s big announcement to Tucker Carlson’s early retirement from Fox News.