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Potential VA cuts concern Legion

T e American Legion is October 20, 2011 • Vol. 21, No. 2 FALL MEETINGS A REPORT FROM D.C.

National Commander Wong briefs NEC on recent meetings with members of Congress.

By Steve B. Brooks American Legion National

Commander Fang A. Wong had just spent several days in Washington, meeting with dozens of members of Congress and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, when he arrived in Indianapolis for the organi- zation's 2011 Fall Meetings. T e previous week's

experience gave him plenty of material to discuss with department commanders, adjutants, members of the National Executive Committee and past national commanders during the Fall Meetings Oct. 10-13 in Indianapolis. Wong shared the Legion's legislative agenda and raised concern about the security of veterans health care and national security as Washington eyes spending cuts to cope with the federal defi cit crisis. Wong told his fellow Legion-

naires about meetings he had in Washington with four of the 12 “supercommittee” members who are tasked with fi nding ways to reduce the federal defi cit. “A lot of them asked ...

‘What are you willing to give up?’” Wong told the NEC. “One senator asked me to draw a line in the sand so that they can protect us to that line.

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disappointed with the “tepid” stand taken by the leaders of the House and Senate Veterans Aff airs’ committees against federal budget cuts that would compromise the welfare of military veterans. On Oct. 18, a letter to the

Joint Select Committee on Defi cit Reduction (better known as the “supercommittee”), signed by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate panels, was released. It contained provisions that disturbed Legion offi cials. While the letter opens with the statement, “Never before in times of fi scal crisis have we balanced the budget on the backs of America’s veterans, and we should not do so now,” attachments to the letter propose a number of budget cuts directed at the Department of Veterans Aff airs, some of which, according to the Legion, contradict that statement. T e cuts proposed in the

National Commander Fang Wong shares information from his meetings with dozens of lawmakers in Washington during the 2011 Fall Meet- ings in Indianapolis. Wong said he received mixed messages on veterans benefi ts being preserved during cost-cutting measures. James V. Carroll

My answer was basically, ‘Senator, we don't even know what the sandbox looks like.’ “I walked away with mixed

feelings. My argument to the senators and congressmen ... is we have 1 percent of Ameri- cans willing to serve, protecting us. We have 99 percent that are not serving. We have about 9 percent of the U.S. population who are veterans. So I asked them, ‘When you consider cutting ... please let the other 91 or 99 percent go fi rst.’ T at 1 percent already paid their

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dues, and they shouldn't pay several times over.” Wong told the NEC that

his meeting with Shinseki went well, although the commander was troubled aſt er Shinseki told him that 50 percent of veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill for educa- tion expenses drop out during the fi rst year. “He said that is totally unacceptable. When they drop out, all of the sudden they are unemployed.” Shinseki explained that

many of the young men and

women who leave the military for college have diffi culty transitioning to a less-struc- tured lifestyle, Wong told the group gathered in Indianapolis. VA has been dedicating more resources, including on-campus counselors, to help reverse the trend. “T e young men and women, when they go back to school, they need someone ... to make sure they stay, at least through the fi rst year,” Wong said. “Aſt er the fi rst year, the

See REPORT on Page 4

joint letter include the elimina- tion or reduction of a number of benefi ts, including pensions, disability compensation and education payments. Under pressure from the Legion and other veterans advocates, many of the measures have been defeated in the past. Others, says the Legion, fail to generate enough savings to be worthwhile. “Everyone appreciates

the fi nancial diffi culties our nation is enduring and the hard economic choices our lawmakers must make,” National Commander Fang Wong said. “However, as I said in congressional testimony on Sept. 21, Congress must also realize that veterans and military benefi ts must not be the fi rst stop in the search for budget cuts. Surely our nation’s defenders deserve a more vigorous defense of the benefi ts they have earned through their hard service and sacrifi ce.

See CUTS on Page 3

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