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6 Arkansas vets join in telling Congress: VA budget falls short

February 29, 2012 at 6:31 a.m.

— While many other federal agencies are facing cuts, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would receive additional funding under President Obama’s budget proposal, which this week is being examined by committees across Capitol Hill.

But on Tuesday, veterans groups, including the Disabled American Veterans, told lawmakers that further increases are necessary to adequately care for thousands of soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

This week, a contingent of six Arkansas DAV members visited Capitol Hill to press their case.

Under Obama’s proposed budget, Veterans Affairs would see its discretionary funding increase from $58.5 billion to $61 billion next year.

Donald Samuels, national commander of the DAV, told a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on Tuesday that Obama’s proposed budget doesn’t include enough of an increase to meet the needs of the more than 610,000 veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001.

“I am not confident that our government is fully prepared to uphold its promises to the nation’s veterans,” Samuels said.

More than 200 DAV members joined Samuels in a large House committee room. Many of the organization’s members bore scars from their combat injuries. Some wore eye patches while others used wheelchairs or crutches.

The DAV would like $1.5 billion added to the budget for veterans next year.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who sits on the Senate panel, called Obama’s proposed increase for Veterans Affairs “encouraging.”

“In a very difficult fiscal time, we’re not seeing cuts,” he said.

However, Boozman and other lawmakers are worried that veterans programs will face automatic cuts under a process called “sequestration.”

In the Budget Control Act of 2011, passed in August when Congress was fighting over raising the federal debt ceiling, lawmakers agreed to acrossthe-board cuts in defense and nondefense programs if a group of 12 lawmakers failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan. Last fall, the so-called supercommittee failed to reach such an agreement.

On Tuesday, lawmakers said Congress didn’t intend to include veterans’ programs in sequestration.

“My understanding is the VA is carved out of that,” Boozman said, “but we don’t have clarity on that.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation to clearly exempt veterans programs from sequestration.

Charles Stake of Heber Springs, a former president of the Arkansas chapter of the DAV, attended the hearing with his wife, Linda, a National Junior Vice Commander of the DAV Auxiliary.

Stake, a disabled Persian Gulf War veteran who has undergone three back surgeries related to his injuries, said the threat of sequestration troubled him.

“That’s a huge concern,” he said. “Benefits might get cut.”

Front Section, Pages 3 on 02/29/2012

Print Headline: 6 Arkansas vets join in telling Congress: VA budget falls short

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