Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Last Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would greatly improve how America treats our veterans. Senate Bill 1982 (the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014) would have allowed better access to health care and educational opportunities for returning veterans.
According to American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger, the bill "aims to help veterans find good jobs, get the health care they need and make in-state tuition rates applicable to all who are using their GI Bill benefits. This legislation is about supporting veterans, pure and simple."
The bill also would have helped fix the unconscionable backlog of 400 thousand benefit claims at the Veterans' Administration. It was supported by more than two dozen veterans' groups.
The bill was blocked in a procedural vote by a 56-41 margin. Under the bizarre Senate rules, a super-majority of 60 votes was required to proceed. Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted for the bill. Sen. Ron Johnson voted against.
After the vote which blocked the bill, primary bill sponsor Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was livid. He said, "I personally, I have to say this honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires, for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don't have the resources to protect our veterans."
Ron Johnson's vote to kill the veterans bill was not the first time that he voted against the interests of those who have served in the defense of our country. His record is one of disdain and outright hostility to veterans' issues.
During his October 2010 Senate election debate, Mr. Johnson was asked a question about the role of government in aiding the plight of homeless veterans. Johnson blew-off the question, saying, "Specifically I can't really -- I haven't been there, I don't have all the details. One thing I will point out: I don't believe this election really is about details."
On a given night, there are an estimated 58,000 veterans without permanent living quarters. Vets make-up about 15% of the total homeless population. Yet, Ron Johnson flippantly believes that our homeless veterans are just "details".
Post- 9/11 veterans have an unemployment rate that is currently almost a full percent higher than that of the general population (7.9% vs 7.0%). In order to resolve this issue, a Senate bill was introduced in September 2012, which would help to provide training and jobs for veterans as conservation workers, EMT's, fire-fighters, and police.
About 3.6 million veterans have some degree of service-connected disability. Last year, our country had an opportunity to improve access for our disabled when they travel abroad. A UN treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was up for Senate confirmation in December. This treaty would guarantee that all countries provide the same rights of access for the disabled that the US enjoys under our Americans With Disabilities Act.
How do the veterans organizations feel about Mr. Johnson? I only found one Congressional scorecard on veteran's affairs that covers Johnson's Senate tenure. The Vietnam Veterans of America gave Johnson a dismal 0% rating for his 2011 votes.
It is ironic that many of the politicians that are willing to send American kids off to war at the drop of a hat do not support them when they come home. This is not how America should treat those who have risked all for their country. Our veterans deserve more than a pat on the back. Ron Johnson owes an explanation to the people of Wisconsin for his callous votes on veterans' issues.
Right after Johnson's Thursday vote to kill Senate Bill 1982, American Legion National Cdr. Dellinger eloquently stated:
"I don’t know how anyone who voted ‘no’ today can look a veteran in the eye and justify that vote. Our veterans deserve more than what they got today."