2014 Patriot Award recipient Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., received the Patriot Award during the general session at The American Legion 96th National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 27. (Photo by Tom Strattman)

Sanders, Miller receive Legion's Patriot Award

When the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal broke last spring – and grew as the summer progressed – two members of Congress acted in a way to both preserve VA and provide immediate care for America’s veterans. Their efforts earned them The American Legion’s Patriot Award Aug. 27 during the Legion’s 96th Annual National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., both were presented the award, given to recognize great deeds and exemplary acts of service. Sanders earned the award because his “dedication to those who have borne the battle and their families is unquestionable. When systemic problems plaguing the Veterans Health Administration were brought to your attention, you immediately ordered hearings and introduced legislation to improve the lives of patients and those trying to access care. While supportive of the temporary use of vouchers for veterans who live in remote areas or have waited too long to receive a VA medical appointment, you are a true champion of the need for a strong Veterans Affairs health-care system and have been a powerful critic of attempts to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs and its essential services.”

The Vermont senator thanked the Legion for the award and praised the Legion for its work. “Your staff and volunteers do an extraordinary job assisting veterans all across this nation with disability claims, job searches and educational needs,” he said. “In Washington, The American Legion does outstanding work with the Senate and House (Committees on Veterans’ Affairs) on legislation and in helping us understand the needs and priorities facing millions of veterans.”

Sanders said it’s critical to figure into any conflict involving the U.S. military the funding necessary to care for those who fight in it. “The cost of war is much greater than most Americans perceive and … does not end when the last shots are fired or the last missiles are launched,” he said. “Let us all be very, very clear: The cost of war continues until the last veterans – and that could be 70 years after his or her services – the cost of war continues until that veteran receives all of the care and all of the benefits that he or she has earned.”

Miller’s citation praised the Florida representative for a “commitment to a strong national defense and your support for a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag from desecration have earned you the appreciation and respect of many military veterans and their families. By calling for greater accountability, transparency and accessibility throughout the Veterans Health Administration during a time that VA faces unprecedented challenges, you are providing needed oversight and attention to make it a system truly worth saving.”

After receiving the award, Miller spoke briefly about the past and current situation at VA. He praised the Legion for stepping up when the crisis began and making its voice heard.

“Your organization, along with your commander, played a leading role in helping us to expose the problem that exists in (VA),” he said. “You leaned forward at a time when people did not want to step out, make comments, make recommendations – but that’s exactly what needed to happen in order to bring the problem to the forefront.”

Miller also said the selection of Bob McDonald as new VA secretary is a positive step for the department. “In conversations with the new secretary, I believe the curtain has been pulled back, transparency will be a cornerstone and accountability will be critical to saving the system that serves so many of you today,” he said. “(McDonald)understands what it means to be a veteran in this country, but he also understands, from being in business in the outside for 33 years, that business as usual will no longer be the watchword. People have to be held accountable, and there has to be transparency at the Department of Veterans Affairs."