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[UPDATED BELOW] Illinois' disabled veterans are at "rock bottom" -- "dead last" -- in benefits and claims processing of applications for disability. But Illinois' veterans take a back seat because their junior senator is running for president.  And that senator, Barack Obama, has missed an astonishing number of hearings and meetings of the Senate Veterans committee.

Obama is nothing if not audacious in touting his veterans committee membership as contributing to his "foreign policy" experience for the presidency, while his own state's veterans suffer.  The Chicago Sun-Times ran a devastating investigative series in 2004-2005 (see Truthout) that showed that Illinois' veterans rank last, or near-last (depends on the graph) in disability awards of the 50 states and Puerto Rico (Illinois average:  $6,961; New Mexico average: $12,004).

The New York Times's 2007 article shows Illinois' disabled soldiers are still waiting over two years later: "Illinois, which has deployed the sixth-highest number of soldiers of any state, has the second-largest backlog."

Update [2007-12-20 16:12:32 by SusanHu]: [PARAGRAPH EXCISED about his site contents because although I know I saw what I saw, I didn't make a screenshot last night, my cached page has been overwritten by today's contents, and therefore I can't prove it to the skeptics.]

Sen. Obama admitted he didn't know anything about problems at Walter Reed before the WaPo's shattering series. And Sen. Obama has missed KEY votes for disabled veterans -- including a measure that would create "common disability ratings."

Obama claimed that veterans committee was "one of my first priorities." He said, “One of my first priorities was obtaining a seat on the Veterans Committee…And the thing that I pledged when I was sworn in as the Senator was that if nothing else in the first couple of years in the Senate, I could make absolutely certain that there would have been a strong advocate in the United States Senate,” at a Veterans Town Hall Meeting, May 23, 2005.

But Obama has skipped 19 of 37 VA committee meetings in the 109th congress. Obama’s attendance record was the second worst of all Democrats on the committee. He attended just 18 of the committee’s 37 meetings in Washington D.C.

On the campaign trail, Obama stresses the importance of providing "the best care" for veterans and their families: “Providing the best care for our service members, veterans and their families is one thing about this war we can still get right.”

  • But Sen. Obama has continually skipped hearings on the veterans budget. Chairman Craig opened a hearing Obama missed and said, “we will consider today … legislation touching on veterans insurance, housing, burial, compensation, and employee benefits.” Obama also missed all four committee hearings in a series that focused on the President’s proposed 2007 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ranking Senator Akaka noted during the hearings that “we must learn a lesson from last year's budget crisis and do everything we can to ensure that veterans and their family members have access to health care and benefits they have earned.”   (From the GPO on 6/23/05, 2/28/06, 3/2/06, 3/7/06, March 9, 2006.)

Obama stresses the importance of veterans health care:  “Long as there are wounded service members receiving substandard medical care, we have failed in our duty to honor the commitment of the brave men and women who chose to serve. We must provide our returning heroes and their families with every resource they need to rebuild their lives,” Obama said in a press release on April 10, 2007.

  • But Obama skipped a hearing about expanding veterans’ health services. Craig opened, “We also have legislation before us to specifically address the demand for long-term care. As the veteran population ages, the demand for long-term care has increased accordingly.” Akaka added that the committee would consider legislation that would encourage “creative ways to help alleviate the burden on caregivers while expanding services to veterans.” (From the GPO, May 11, 2006.)
  • Obama also skipped a hearing to create insurance benefits for veterans in rehabilitation. Craig announced that the committee would “hear testimony about the traumatically injured protection under service members’ group life insurance benefit.” Akaka declared that “this insurance program helps ease the financial burden” on a hospitalized service member’s family. (From the GPO on September 7, 2006.)

In another press release, in May 2007, Obama pledged to provide the "best treatment for our service members": He said, “Providing the best treatment for our service members is one thing about this war we can still get right.”

  • But Obama skipped the hearing on improving veterans’ health care access. “In many cases, VA's facilities are located where veterans used to live, not where they now live,” noted Chairman Craig. The legislation under consideration was “designed in part to address the changes in the demographics of our veterans' population and follows America’s medicine's transformation from hospital-centric to patient-centric delivery of care.”  (From the GPO on April 6, 2006.)
  • Sen. Obama also missed an "exceedingly important" nomination hearing for the VA's Undersecretary for Health. “Dr. Perlin [has been nominated] to serve as VA's Under Secretary for Health,” announced Chairman Craig. “This is an exceedingly important position. The Under Secretary, in effect, serves as CEO of the VA's entire health care system, the largest integrated health care system in the United States. Dr. Perlin, this is a big, big, big job.” (From the GPO on April 7, 2005.)

Sen. Obama Has Skipped Important Votes For Veterans in the U.S. Senate

  • Sen. Obama missed the vote to eliminate requirement that severance pay be deducted from disability compensation: Obama did not vote for the Levin, D-Mich., amendment No. 2019 to the Levin substitute amendment No. 2011.

    (The Levin amendment would establish a Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Interagency Program Office to implement a joint electronic health record system and eliminate the current requirement that severance pay be deducted from disability compensation for disabilities incurred in a combat zone. It would authorize $50 million for the treatment and rehabilitation of service members with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder and create common disability ratings to determine those eligible for care. The substitute would authorize $648.3 billion for defense programs in fiscal 2008, including $127.5 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also would authorize $143.5 billion for operations and maintenance; $109.9 billion for procurement; $122.9 billion for military personnel and $74.7 billion for research development, testing and evaluation.

    (The Senate vote results:  #246, Amdt. 2019 to HR 1585, Passed 94-0: R 48-0; D 44-0 (ND 39-0, SD 5-0); I 2-0; 7/12/07; HRC voted yea while Obama did not vote.)

  • Obama missed a vote to provide $109.3 billion in fiscal 2008 for the Department of Veterans Affairs: Obama did not vote for passage of the bill that would provide $109.3 billion in fiscal 2008 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, military construction and military housing. The bill would provide $87.5 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $37.2 billion for veterans health programs. It would provide $41.2 billion in mandatory spending for veterans' service-connected compensation benefits and pensions. The bill would provide $9.8 billion for military construction, $2.9 billion for military family housing and $8.5 billion for the latest round of base closures. As amended, the bill would provide $100 million in emergency funding for the Homeland Security Department to reimburse state and local law enforcement entities for security and related costs associated with the 2008 presidential candidate nominating conventions. (From Vote 316, HR 2642 (Fiscal 2008 Military Construction-VA Appropriations), Passed 92-1: R 47-1; D 43-0 (ND 39-0, SD 4-0); I 2-0, 9/6/07; HRC voted yea while Obama did not vote.

Walter Reed

  • Obama admitted he did not know of problems at Walter Reed hospital before story was published in Washington Post: "But when asked if he knew, as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, about the problems at Walter Reed Hospital before the story was published in the Washington Post, Obama admitted he didn't. He tried to explain: 'People will acknowledge that the medical facility at Walter Reed does great work. Unfortunately, what it turned out was the outpatient facilities were disastrous.'"  -- in the Chicago Sun-Times, June 4, 2007
  • From Washington Times editorial (Yes, it's the Washington Times, but remember that this is exactly what the GOP would say about Obama in a general election):

    Obama’s Walter Reed bill is 'classic scandal legislation which makes the sponsor look good but does little to solve the issue’ "The remedies much discussed this week, courtesy of Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill and Barack Obama, are laughable if they are intended to solve the systemic problems. They are a bandaid on a gaping wound. The senators' call for simplifying paperwork, hiring more caseworkers and improving their training, requiring more oversight from inspectors general, improved reporting to Congress, establishing facility-repair timelines and increasing psychological counseling. It pains us to cry cynical politics because these measures would be worthy and welcome, but they are too small-bore and reactive to make a significant difference. This is classic scandal legislation which makes the sponsor look good but does little to solve the issue."

By the way: What happened to that "laughable" legislation?  Its useful provisions were incorporated by the Armed Services Committee, on which Sen. Hillary Clinton is a highly proactive member and works with her Republican colleagues, into better legislation that passed the Senate.

From The Buffalo News, October 29, 2007:

Besides, throughout the year, Clinton has chosen to be in Washington for big moments far more often than her rival candidates.

On July 12, for example, she cut short a trip to Detroit to return to D.C. to vote on an amendment boosting aid for wounded veterans — a vote all the other presidential candidates missed.

Sen. Obama hung around at the NAACP convention in Detroit.

However, Sen. Clinton rushed back to Washington, D.C. to vote on the "landmark legislation to improve care for wounded troops and veterans when they return home from battle." (From Sen. Patty Murray's press release, "Murray Lauds Passage Of Senate Wounded Warrior Bill.")

See also: "Obama Talks the Talk, But Where’s the Walk?," which reveals that Obama, as chairman of the Subcommittee on European Affairs for the Senate Foreign Relations committee, has not held a single hearing.

There are people who do the work.  Then there are people who just talk.

Screw hope.  Give me the one who gets it done.

Originally posted to SusanHu on Thu Dec 20, 2007 at 12:27 PM PST.

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