National and Washington State News
Veterans’ Voting Bloc
Washington State Chapter
The moment of decision for H.R. 303 is getting closer. The discharge petition that would bring the concurrent receipt bill to a vote on the floor of the House requires only 16 more signatures. To date, 202 representatives have signed it. To obtain the required 218 signatures, we must keep up the pressure on those congressmen who have not yet signed.
The following letter was sent to Representative Doc Hastings, and similar letters were sent to Representatives Jennifer Dunn and George Nethercutt. To date, the petition has been signed by six Washington Congressmen: Rick Larsen, Brian Baird, Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee, Norm Dicks, and Adam Smith. That leaves only three Congressmen in the state who place partisan politics ahead of justice for those who saved the country during the Cold War. It is time for veterans and their friends who live in a district of one of these recalcitrant congressmen to get on the phone or send letters by FAX letting them know that the voters are keeping track of who is signing the petition and who is not. Their local FAX numbers are
Doc hastings Junnifer Dunn George Nethercutt
(509) 543-9396 (206) 275-3437 (509) 353-2412
While signing the petition does not guarantee a member of Congress the support of the Veterans’ Voting Bloc in the next election, refusing to sign the petition will certainly prejudice their chances of getting our votes. It seems almost certain that if an unrestricted concurrent receipt bill is not passed before the 2004 election, the Veterans’ Voting Bloc will not support any congressman who has refused to sign the discharge petition. Our representatives should know this. The bill has about 390 co-sponsors. If all of the co-sponsors vote for the bill on the House floor, a veto by President Bush can easily be overridden. If the bill does not make it to the House floor, the fault will lie exclusively with those who have failed to sign the discharge petition.
Honorable Doc Hastings
United States Congress
House of Representatives
Honorable Representative Hastings:
This letter is a reminder from the Washington Chapter of the Veterans’ Voting Bloc that you have not yet signed the discharge petition for H.R. 303, which will authorize concurrent receipt of military retirement and disability payments. This is a vital bill for the survival of those veterans who served more than 20 years and are now disabled.
This is a non-partisan issue, and there are enough co-sponsors of the House bill to override a presidential veto, if necessary. Clearly, the maneuvers in committee are machinations designed to thwart the democratic process, under which this bill would long ago have been passed. This session of Congress has ignored the many critical problems faced by veterans, which urgently require action. H.R. 303 is a bill that will better the lives of relatively few of America’s 26,000,000 veterans, but it will eliminate a particularly blatant injustice that is symbolic of the unequal treatment received by those who defended this country in uniform. I am sure you agree that veterans and their dependents deserve more than a few kind words on Independence Day. As you should know, the total cost of this bill to the government each year will be less than 5% of the amount that the lost through theft and fraud by civil servants and their accomplices and a minuscule percentage of the amount spent on pork barrel projects.
The Veterans’ Voting Bloc is growing rapidly because veterans have long been aware of the discriminatory treatment meted out to veterans by those in government who seem to have preferred the communist side during the Cold War. We assure you that we will reward those members of Congress who are active in promoting justice for veterans with our votes in the election of 2004. Those members of Congress who place partisan loyalties above justice and fair treatment of veterans will also be remembered and will receive none of our votes. In addition, we promise to work for those candidates who have supported our issues in deed as well as in word and to let other voters know which candidates have failed to do the right thing at critical times. We fought for our democratic form of government, and we will do our civic duty by voting for those candidates who best serve the people, regardless of party affiliation or professed ideologies. We hope to see your name on the discharge petition for H.R. 303 and that we will be able to keep you off our “do not vote” list, on which all members of Congress who do not sign the petition or vote for the bill will be placed.
You have our confidence that you will find the courage to do the right thing, and we would appreciate hearing from you.
Charles W. Heckman
Dr. Sci., habil.
Washington State Coordinator
Veterans Voting Bloc
Not understanding or not wanting to understand
It has become a common practice for politicians to respond to veterans with answers that do not address their questions. If they do not want to promise support for legislation that would help veterans, they may raise false objections, misstate the case, or pretend not to understand what the veteran is asking. Responses are often formulated by a new kind of professional that has been taking over Washington D.C. during the past half century, the spin doctor.
A good spin doctor can produce an answer to a question that leaves everyone in shock and requires them to think for a few hours before they can even figure out how the respond. In the meantime, the public forum is over and the spin doctor is long gone. One of the best examples of a debate-ending response was made by a California environmental specialist, whose agency had been accused of negligence for permitting a landowner to cut down a forest on a hillside. A year of two after the forest was cut, the hillside came crashing down on a hotel at the bottom of the hill killing some people and burying the hotel. The hotel owner asked the environmental agency why it had failed to predict that removing a forest eliminated the erosion control and caused the landslide. The agency spin doctor answered that the landslide was not caused by the deforestation but rather by the rain.
In promoting veterans’ demands, we run into the work of government spin doctors more and more and wind up getting sidetracked in discussions. An excellent example of government spin is referring to concurrent receipt as “double-dipping.” This has mislead many people into thinking that veterans are demanding a double pension, one for retirement and the other for a disability. If this is “double-dipping," then why is the government permitting postal workers, bureaucrats, factory workers, truck drivers, salesmen, journalists, hospital workers, and members of every other imaginable group of employees permitted to “double-dip,” while retired members of the armed forces are not? Another example is the gross overstatement of the amount of money concurrent receipt will cost.
Recently, veterans in Washington have been confronted by another example of a jaw-dropping response from a congressman. A veteran wrote a letter to Congressman Brian Baird asking him to support the House bill for reform of the law that presently gives a large percentage of a veteran’s pay to a divorced spouse, even after the spouse remarries.
June 16, 2003
Mr. David L. Bjork
1109 E. St.
Washougal, Washington 98671
Dear Mr. Bjork:
Thank you for contacting my office to express your views on H.R. 1111, the
Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act. I appreciate hearing
from you and apologize for the delay in my reply.
H.R. 1111, introduced by Rep. Cass Ballenger of North Carolina, will amend
the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) that was
first enacted in 1982. The intent of the USFSPA was to ensure that former
spouses of retired military members would receive an equitable share of
retired pay upon divorce.
Current law permits payments of retired pay to continue after the former
spouse remarries. H.R. 1111 provides that payments to former spouses
would terminate upon their remarriage. This would make the USFSPA
consistent with laws applying to former spouses in the pension plans of
other federal agencies such as the Foreign Service and the CIA.
I understand your frustration that divorced, retired military persons do
not receive the same treatment as former spouses in other federal
agencies. However, I believe the sacrifices made by military spouses, such
as months of loneliness and potentially frequent relocation, justify the
current benefits structure. When a couple makes a commitment to share the
rest of their lives together, not only do they share the challenges and
hardships, but they should share the benefits as well.
H.R. 1111 is currently in the House Armed Services Committee and the House
Ways and Means Committee where it awaits further consideration. Although
we may disagree on this particular matter, I hope and trust that there are
many other issues upon which we do agree.
Thank you again for writing to express your views on this issue. In the
future, you may find it helpful to visit my Congressional website at
www.house.gov/baird for more information about my activities in the
District and issues of importance to you. Please also be aware that all
incoming postal mail to my Washington, DC office may encounter delays of
eight to eleven business days because of increased security precautions.
As a result, contacting me by email on my website may help to expedite my
response to your concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me again if
I may be of further assistance.
Member of Congress
It seems to have escaped the attention of whichever staff member wrote this letter that the benefits are not going to the spouses who stuck it out through thick and thin but rather to the spouses who bailed out and went right to a divorce lawyer when the disadvantages of a service marriage became apparent. It is also notable that there were women, and today probably men as well, who use marriage to a member of the armed forces as a kind of permanent meal ticket. Some of them have managed to marry three or four servicemen or women and collect half of the pay of each of them for life.
How much money are homeless and unemployed veterans worth?
On the first page of an attractively printed newsletter from the Washington State Department of Veterans’ Affairs called Veteran Voices, there is a picture of Governor Gary Locke receiving a check three feet long from Anthony Principi, the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. The $31,107,000 check was given to the State of Washington to construct a replacement building for the veterans’ nursing home in Retsil, Washington. In analyzing any problem, it is a good idea to “follow the bucks,” that is, see how money is changing hands. This often gives some surprising answers to the question of why certain problems exist.
If all veterans were reasonably prosperous, there would by no $31 million check, no picture on the newsletter, and very probably no Washington Department of Veterans’ Affairs. A charity nursing home is for poor people, and there are so many poor veterans, that demands for free medical care, veterans homes, homeless shelters, outreach centers, and public welfare agencies to meet the needs of veterans are constantly heard by legislators.
Because the miserable conditions under which many veterans must live are well known, Congress is forced to appropriate money to “solve the problem,” which has become recognized over the years as a national disgrace. Congress cannot be criticized for failing to appropriate money to alleviate the problems of veterans. In fact, most reasonable people would conclude that far more money has been appropriated than it would take to solve nearly all of the routine problems faced by veterans. It is clear that the money has not been used to better the life of veterans because it was put in the hands people who have no interest in doing so. In fact, this money is probably the root of the problem.
The government of the State of Washington receives much more than $31,107,000 because it is the home of about 670,000 veterans. For example, the Washington State Department of Employment Security receives almost $4,000,000 each year to provide special employment services to veterans. State colleges and universities have received a considerable amount of the veterans’ education assistance allowances from their veteran students. Federal civil servants employed to provide essential services to veterans pay Washington taxes, and the more of them there are, the more the state prospers.
As early as 1974, Congress recognized the fact that Vietnam Era veterans, especially disabled veterans, were not finding jobs. Since then, vast amounts of Federal tax money have been pumped into the Department of Labor for distribution to the state employment agencies so that special efforts could be made to place veterans in jobs. In the year 2000, when employment prospects in Washington were still good, more than 80% of the veterans coming to the Employment Security Department seeking employment were not placed in a job. The percentage of veterans placed in employment was no better than the percentage for everybody else. Why then was it necessary for the Department of Labor to pay out the $4 million. At the same time, Attorney General Christine Gregoire was in the process of spending about $200,000 to have the courts declare the Washington veterans’ preference laws unconstitutional. The money came from the “revolving fund,” meaning that some of it could well have been taken from the Department of Employment Security grants.
Congress recently considered a bill permitting payment to states for veterans’ employment services only when the veterans were actually placed in jobs. Suppose you brought your car to a mechanic to fix, and he demanded $2,000 in advance. After receiving the payment, he kept the car for six weeks and then announced that he was not able to fix it. Would you pay him another $2000 with the same result, and then another $2000, and another, and another for 30 years without seeing any results? This is exactly what the Department of Labor has been doing since 1974, permitting most states to finance their employment services at the cost of Federal veterans’ funds. The Veterans Employment and Training Service has an annual budget of about $179,000,000, most of which goes to finance state employment agencies. If the bill had become law, all of this money flow would stop. Before a state could receive any money, it would actually be required to place veterans in jobs. This explains why the recipient state agencies and their patrons in the United States Department of Labor rushed to block the bill.
If we follow the bucks, we can see that unemployed, sick, homeless, and destitute veterans are like money in the bank for many state agencies. This gives the states a strong motive for discriminating against veterans in employment. Veterans’ organizations continually lobby Congress to provide effective employment services for veterans, and Congress is willing to grant the money. State agencies have grown accustomed to taking this money for themselves and using it in a way that keeps veterans unemployed. This, in turn, gives the veterans organizations grounds for demanding even more money. The end effect is Congress providing hundreds of millions of dollars to state politicians and bureaucrats, who have a financial interest in keeping veterans from finding jobs. Thus, employees of the Department of Labor and various state agencies can guarantee themselves a flow of Federal money by promoting employment discrimination against veterans. As long as they keep veterans unemployed, they keep getting plenty of money.
Are these civil servants motivated to help veterans? The Annual Report to Congress on Veterans’ Employment in the Federal Government for fiscal year 1998 showed that four out of five Department of Labor employees never served in the armed forces. Among the employees of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, three out of four never wore the uniform of their country. Needless to say, those veterans who are employed are not likely to hold very high positions in these departments.
It is therefore not a lack of funds causing veterans to suffer unemployment and homelessness, it is rather how these funds are used. If veterans were given jobs, there would be no need for paying large sums of money to the state employment services. Similarly, if there were no homeless veterans, there would be no need for Federally funded homeless shelters and outreach centers. Hence, states can make large sums of money by keeping veterans unemployed and homeless, and if the problems of unemployment and homelessness were solved, the funds would dry up. This would explain why the Washington Attorney General is doing everything possible to eliminate veterans’ preference and keep veterans out of jobs.
Anytime politicians receive Federal money for a construction project, there are unlimited opportunities for placing public funds in private pockets. Building a state nursing home enables those in charge to receive payoffs from contractors, give high-paying jobs to friends, solicit campaign contributions, and do a wide variety of favors for people with the understanding that some payback will be necessary in the future. Will Washington politicians rise above the temptation to benefit personally from the construction of the nursing home and use the funds exclusively for the benefit of veterans?
In any case, if veterans had been treated fairly in Washington since they received their discharges, there would be little need for a publicly-funded nursing home and no opportunity for profiting from the suffering of veterans.
The Washington legislature eliminates a kick in the teeth for Vietnam vets, but is it too late?
At long last, the Washington legislature has eliminated a kick in the teeth directed at veterans of the Vietnam War. For about four years, preference points for civil service examinations have been given to veterans for a period of only 15 years after the most recent discharge. This limitation neatly excluded almost all veterans of the Vietnam Era from receiving preference points for their service. The 15 year limitation replaced an 8 year limitation that had also excluded Vietnam Era veterans from preference points. Under the old law, a veteran who has served from 1973 to 1975 would not have received preference points after 1982. Under the next version of the law, that veteran would not have been entitled to additional points after 1990. Washington State was certainly not living up to the Federal contract, which focuses on the special needs of Vietnam Era and disabled veterans, who have long been discriminated against in employment.
On April 17, 2003, the law was changed to eliminate the 15 year limit on receiving veterans’ preference points on state examinations. This would seem like good news if it were not for the fact that the reform took so long. During the past 25 years, hundreds of thousands of veterans have slept on the streets or in homeless shelters, mainly because of employment discrimination. Furthermore, the reform comes at a time that the State of Washington is broke, and its civil service is doing almost no hiring.
Did this improvement come too late? Until 2002, the judicial interpretation of Washington’s veterans’ preference law has been that a veteran qualified for a job must be hired ahead of a qualified non-veteran. This interpretation was based on a court decision rendered in 1955 and not challenged for about 45 years. In 2002, the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division I, in Seattle declared veterans preference to be unconstitutional unless the veteran is at least “substantially equally” qualified to the best qualified non-veteran. Unfortunately, the judges failed to establish any test of qualifications, permitting a state agency to simply declare the veteran to be less qualified and hire a non-veteran its employees personally know. To most reasonable people, appointing an applicant to a position in the competitive civil service at the whim of another public servant represents a form of corruption. If civil service jobs can be handed out capriciously without any reasonable form of objective examination or standards for comparing applicants, the appointment of unqualified “friends” of agency employees in return for bribes, special favors, or other gratuities of various forms can become commonplace.
However, Attorney General Gregoire has gone further along the road to creating a corrupt, self-serving civil service. She has attacked the principle of civil service examinations for determining qualifications. In a civil lawsuit to which I am a party, the State of Washington has argued that a search committee can declare one applicant more qualified than another at whim, thereby circumventing all forms of veterans’ preference. For example, in one selection, a veteran received the highest score of 88% but was passed over in favor of a non-veteran with the lowest score of all six applicants, 70%, on the grounds that interviewers had found the successful applicant to have shown “enthusiasm.” The fact that this enthusiastic applicant already worked for the agency in the same office as the people doing the selecting was ignored, although this was the obvious ground for her selection.
In another selection, the grading of the examinations was extremely suspect. The applicant selected had five years of work experience for the agency and no other qualifications for the job. He had already been given the job on a temporary basis, and the examiners gave his application a grade of 97%, while every other applicant was given the minimum passing score of 70%. No interview was given. When challenged, the agency could not cogently explain how the scores had been given.
With so many tricks available for selecting less qualified non-veterans ahead of veterans, the extra examination points for veterans become meaningless. If a veteran with an examination score of 88% can be declared less qualified than a non-veteran with a score of 70%, there is no reason why the same cannot be done if the veteran has 95% or even 105%. Now that the examination scores can be doctored or discarded, what good would it do a veteran to receive 100 or 1000 preference points? Whether all objective methods of determining qualifications will be discarded in Washington will depend upon how the judges decide the ongoing appeal. In any case, 5 or 10 preference points will be much less important for getting a job than they would have been before Attorney General Gregoire’s lawyers went to work on veterans’ preference in Washington.
Avoiding the trap of partisan politics
The power of the Veterans’ Voting Bloc is the ability to influence elections in favor of politicians who are willing to treat veterans justly. Just treatment of veterans does not mean throwing money at problems. It means rather passing laws that will positively help veterans find their places in civilian society. An examination of actions by Congress show that members of both parties have established voting records favorable to veterans, while other members of both parties have turned out to be enemies of veterans.
Similarly, certain “liberals” and “conservatives” have proven to be enemies of veterans, while other “liberals” and “conservatives” have voting records showing strong support for veterans. This shows that we cannot recognize our friends and enemies according to labels, professed philosophies, or their opinions on other issues.
If either party had really tried to solve the worst problems that have plagued veterans since the Vietnam War, those problems would no longer exist. Similarly, if veterans had joined together as soon as it became apparent that employers were being influenced by a veteran-hating media, resentful members of the anti-war movement, and people more interested in fighting post-war inflation than permitting veterans to reintegrate into society, they could have elected reasonable persons to public office, including veterans, and prevented the government from getting into the shape it is in today.
In some European countries, voters pick a party in an election, and the party decides who sits in the parliament. In America, we can vote for a person. The voters and not the parties pick representatives in Congress and in state legislatures. For this reason, we must start with the primary and see to it that each major party nominates reasonable candidates. We must then pick our representatives according to how they stand on vital issues affecting our own survival and the survival of other veterans. To survive, everyone needs food, clothing, shelter, and some amount of health care. To get these things, a veteran needs either a pension or a job, affordable housing, and health insurance. If the pension or job does not pay enough, if the housing is too expensive, or if some catastrophic event causes a grave financial loss, the survival of the veteran in threatened.
Our legislators have the most serious moral and legal obligation to see to it that no veteran suffers a threat to his or her survival due to service in the armed forces. This is an obligation over and above that owed to other citizens who did not serve in the armed forces. For example, a veteran who becomes homeless because too many local employers have been led to believe that all veterans are “baby killers” is a victim of grave moral turpitude by our politicians. The veteran is owed protection against unjust consequences resulting from lawful service to this country. Similarly, a veteran who dies because of refusal of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to treat a disease resulting from exposure to agent orange or radiation to which he or she was exposed during military service has been wrongfully killed by the government he served. Our legislators failed in their obligation to protect veterans from unjust consequences for their service. This is a call for all veterans to come together and use the democratic system that we fought for to substantially improve our government. It may be important to consider issues like foreign aid, tax reductions, and education, but all of these must take second place to the survival of ourselves, our families, and our former comrades-in-arms. I reject the argument that Veterans’ Voting bloc is a one-issue organization. It is a “vital issue organization” that places the physical survival of its members and their families above secondary issues that do not mean life or death for anyone.