Monday, June 18, 2012

The IAVA's Flawed and Outdated Congressional Report Card

Recently, an extreme socialist debated the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans' Association (IAVA)'s 2010 report card (published in 2011) regarding congressional votes on veterans' bills. Upon some level of scrutiny, it seems to be a rather shallow and poorly researched argument based upon how well elected legislators voted on bills supported by the IAVA.

First of all, the report card presents itself as one-dimensional. It graded the legislators on how well they bowed to IAVA demands and not how they stacked up on all veterans' and warfighter issues. The ironic factor is that most OIF and OEF combat veterans are not members of the IAVA, or are, like me, cursory members who are more actively engaged in VFW or American Legion activities. IAVA comprises a minority of OIF and OEF veterans' views. So, the report card reflects only if the legislators took the IAVA's side. It is not an accurate reflection of the graded legislators' stance on Veterans' Issues. It also does not address any appropriate reasons why those legislators may have voted against those bills. It covers the surface issue without looking deeper.

Some individuals will argue that veterans' issues are intertwined with the Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution mandate for congress to budget for national defense and determine the laws and regulations applicable to ground and naval forces. In reality, the Veterans' Administration is a completely separate entity from the Department of Defense. While the two are both concerned with issues relating to the brave men and women who defend our great republic, they are separate and concerned with very different issues. The two cannot be tied together.

In that, the IAVA cannot grade "veterans' issues" and include votes on setting the guidelines for so-called "combat pay". Combat Pay is a DoD issue, not a VA issue. Let's examine "combat pay". Combat pay was extended, a few years ago, to include service members in Italy who never flew over or set foot in Iraq. They are not in imminent danger. So, they have no right to the "imminent danger pay" that was extended to them by the democratic majorities in both houses prior to 2010. The same applies to "Hostile Fire Pay". They are not in a situation on a regular basis where the enemy is shooting at them (or detonating IEDs, or lobbing grenades, or driving VBIEDs into checkpoints, etc.). Cutting those pays in those situations makes sense. It is not just an Air Force or Navy issue either. Soldiers in Kuwait or Qatar in rear area support roles are far enough away from the fight that they are not earning those pays. Considering congress has not passed a budget (the Senate most specifically) since Obama took office and the fact our country is broke, cutting these pays from those who didn't earn them makes sense.

The IAVA also counted in "Family Separation Allowances" in their report card. They obviously failed to see deeper into the issue. Many members of BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) and its variations in the other branches have long fought against special pays for those who are married. The argument is that single soldiers are also separated form parents and siblings. So either every service member deployed should get that same stipend or nobody should. That is just common sense. Progressives complain about "fairness" and "equality". They should be against these special family pays. I oppose them because they are not incentives for increased merit or taking additional risks like language pay, airborne pay, sea pay, hostile fire pay, and imminent danger pay reward.

As far as pay and benefits, Service Members should  all get paid more, if our federal revenue and budget can support those raises. They should not have to pay for their own military-provided health care. If the Soldier (etc.) decided to go to a private health-care provider outside of the military system, then sure, a co-pay is not completely out of the question. That should be only when it is the option sought by the service member when the military system is available. Those still in service (and retirees) earn (have earned) on a daily basis those health care benefits as an integral part of their service.

That brings us to the subjects of riders and amendments to the bills. IAVA may support the published or demagogued surface intentions of these bills. However, it brings into question whether the IAVA bothered to search the Library of Congress THOMAS database and read the applicable bills in their entirety. Some of the conservative legislators who voted against the IAVA's wishes did so because of such amendments and riders. Some of the riders have nothing to do with the core bills. Some of the amendments detract from the good the core bills intended. One such bill was the 2012 NDAA that included amendments many conservatives (and some left-wingers) oppose, such as the provisions that allow the military to detain personnel without writs of Habeas Corpus. Another amendment to that bill was the repeal of the article of the UCMJ that prohibited consensual sodomy and bestiality rather than rewriting the article to just prohibit bestiality (to support the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell Don't Pursue" in order to allow openly homosexual personnel to serve in the military).

In addition, many times there are multiple versions of the same bill introduced. IAVA will support one sponsored by Sheila Jackson-Lee, for example. However, the wording of the bill may not actually meet the intentions of the title or may not accurately address the issue. Legislators who vote down these bills in lieu of ones better written that better meet the intentions received negative ratings by IAVA, though they voted for the better bill. This appears to demonstrate a level of partisan bias from an organization that claims to be non-partisan.

Some of the "VA" bills called for increases in bureaucracy rather than increasing personnel who actually provide services to veterans. For example, one bill for TBI screening called for increasing clerks and monitoring personnel but not increasing actual healthcare providers and technicians. Putting more people in to look over and accept or deny requests for service does nothing to increase the services actually provided. A bill allowing for the VA to contract out to private-sector providers passed instead, However, the IAVA report card appeared to rate the votes on the poor legislation, ignoring the votes on the better legislation. 

The IAVA also gave poor grades to legislators who voted to send a bill back to committee for revision. Some bills needed to be routed through multiple committees. If a legislator voted to send the bill back to committee rather than passing it without those reviews, the IAVA graded that as a vote against Veterans Issues. IAVA appears to have only supported the bills sponsored by Democrats, making the grading biased. In searching veterans-related bills on the THOMAS database, it seems as though ignored, in their grading, the bills sponsored and introduced by Republican members of Congress.

Furthermore, the last "report card" was for the 111th Congress (FY09-10) and does not include any legislation introduced since Republicans took the majority of the House of Representatives. They have not yet released a "report card" for the 2011 sessions. So that "report card" is not an appropriate information source for the 2012 elections.Veterans and voters would be much better served utilizing the THOMAS Database on the Library of Congress website to see legislation that was proposed, passed, or stuck in committee.