Just two weeks after calling for an investigation into the massive delays in federal benefits to combat-injured veterans, Congressman Kucinich secured a victory for veterans. In a December 2007 meeting with Kucinich, the director of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) vowed to require Lockheed Martin, the contractor in charge of processing the claims for DFAS, to more than double its workforce until the immense backlog is eliminated.
On December 3, 2007, Kucinich sent a letter to Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), requesting that the committee investigate the causes for continuing delays in the distribution of federal benefits to disabled retired veterans who were injured in combat or hazardous duty. Lockheed Martin, as the contractor for DFAS, is responsible for determining eligibility and getting payments to veterans.
As of March 1, 2008, more than 60,000 retired veterans were still waiting for a determination of eligibility and payment of benefits for up to five years after their benefit was due them. Congressman Kucinich’s offices received complaints from veterans in Northeast Ohio, prompting him to begin the investigation.
On, July 16, 2008, the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, which is Chaired by Congressman Kucinich, held a hearing entitled “Examining Contractor Performance and Government Management of Retroactive Pay for Retired Veterans with Disabilities.” This hearing examined the reasons for the significant delay in delivering the retroactive pay award to disabled retired veterans and assessed the government’s management of the program. Zack E. Gaddy, the director of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and Joseph Cipriano, President, Lockheed Martin Business Process Solutions, testified at the hearing.
The hearing and report produced significant changes at DFAS and the VA Retro program: DFAS agreed to conduct a comprehensive review of all “No Pay Due” determinations and all payments in excess of $2,500 to determine if errors were made. DFAS recently reported to the Subcommittee that an internal audit had found significant rates of error by Lockheed in both “No Pay Due” determinations and payments made in excess of $2,500.
Gulf War Veterans’ Illness Research
On June 20, 2005, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan amendment championed by Congressman Kucinich to H.R. 2863, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2006. The amendment provides funding for Gulf War veterans’ illnesses research. It had the support of five major veterans groups.
In 2004, the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses concluded that research in this area must be increased. Stress and psychological trauma do not explain the illnesses. But what might explain them are the exposures many servicemen and servicewomen had. This includes chemical weapons, biological weapons, drugs to protect from biological and chemical weapons, infectious agents, oil-well-fire smoke, diesel fuel, jet fuel, pesticides, contaminated water and food, insect repellants, individual or multiple vaccines, antibiotics, and antimalarials.
There are currently no effective treatments for these conditions. Gulf War Veterans suffer from ALS at double the rate of their non-deployed peers. As we consider the sacrifices of young men and women in uniform today, we must not abandon those who have gone before.
Yet the budget presented to Congress eliminated all funding dedicated to the illnesses in either the Department of Defense or the Department of Health and Human Services, for the 2006 fiscal year. Too many veterans of the Gulf War of 1990-1991 continue to suffer from serious and persistent health problems known as Gulf War illnesses. Veterans are still being denied care by the VA because the diseases are difficult to diagnose and even harder to link to battlefield exposures. There is still no effective treatment for those suffering from Gulf War illnesses.
Congressman Kucinich’s amendment dedicates funding to uncovering the physiological mechanisms behind the diseases. It was cosponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Congressman Kucinich again led a bipartisan group of several Members of Congress, in November 2005, to ensure that the research funding stayed in place in the final Conference report, sending a letter to the conferees. The result was $5 million for the research in final Defense bill. This significant victory will form a strong foundation for future efforts to continue to provide adequate funding for research and treatment of all victims of Gulf War veterans’ illnesses.
Congressman Kucinich landed two victories in 2007 for veterans of the first Gulf War who suffer from Gulf War Veterans illnesses. In November 2007, when the Defense Appropriations bill was signed into law, it contained $10 million for research into Gulf War veterans Illnesses, which was the result of a bipartisan request from Congressman Kucinich and Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT). In December 2007, Congressman Kucinich won authorization of that funding, which will help lay the groundwork for next year’s request.
The authorization was supported in a letter spearheaded by Congressman Kucinich, which was cosigned by the bipartisan leadership of the Veterans Affairs Committee as well as the bipartisan leadership of the Health Subcommittee of the Veterans Affairs Committee. The previous request by Congressmen Kucinich, Shays and then-Congressman Bernard Sanders (I-VT) yielded $5 million. That competitively awarded $5 million generated 80 proposals for pilot studies of existing treatments and better diagnosis mechanisms – compared to only two previous treatment studies in the history of GWI research. The new research money ($10 million) will continue and expand those studies, bringing us closer than ever before to identifying a treatment or a cure for Gulf War Veteran’s illnesses and the chronic diseases like ALS that may ensue later in life.
Congressman Kucinich again championed funding for GWI in 2008 by organizing bipartisan leadership of the House Veterans Affairs Committee as well as several other Members of Congress to request authorization and appropriations for the research funding for FY09. In a year with major fiscal cutbacks, Congressman Kucinich again won $8 million in the appropriations bill and $10 million in the authorization bill for FY09.
In July 2009, Congressman Kucinich secured another major victory for veterans of the first Gulf War by garnering $8 million for Gulf War Illness (GWI) research in the Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriations bill that passed the House.
This research will build on previous studies on Gulf War Illness and will fuel giant steps forward in identifying a treatment or a cure for Gulf War Veteran’s illness.
In its landmark 454-page report delivered in November, 2008, the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses at the Department of Veterans Affairs (RAC) reported that “Gulf War illness is real, that it is the result of neurotoxin exposures during Gulf War deployment and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time.”
For the first time, the report identified several suspected causes and two known causes: exposure to pesticides and a drug given to troops to protect them from nerve gas. There are currently no effective treatments for these conditions. With research, we learn the true causes of GWI and the possibilities open up. We must continue to attack GWI and fund the research with an amount commensurate with the scope of the problem.
Kucinich’s request for funding received bipartisan support from Reps. Henry Brown, Holt, Filner, Michaud, Baldwin, C. Brown, Conyers, Edwards, Grijalva, Hall, Maloney, McDermott, D. Moore, G. Moore, Pascrell, Pingree, Ross, Sestak, Stark and Yarmuth
Getting Veterans The Care They Deserve
Congressman Kucinich’s office works with veterans in the district and a large number of the homeless veterans to assist in the complex processing of claims. The Administration has mandated that new veterans coming back from Iraq receive priority processing. As a result, older veterans are often left waiting for hearings and determinations even longer than in the past. Claims seem to take 2+ years now – much like social security disability claims. Involvement from Congressman Kucinich’s office helps get records, find lost files, and get errors corrected to assist veterans and their widows collect pension benefits. VA benefits have included assistance with mortgage foreclosure, education, in-home health care (Aid & Attendance Pension), placement in VA Medical Center long-term-care facility, and burial in a military cemetery (burial is delayed until proper veteran documentation is presented and the office has helped get that in less than 24 hours before burial).
Veteran Summit in Lakewood
Every year, Congressman Kucinich hosts a Veterans Summit in his Lakewood District office. He shared recent news from Washington with several veterans groups, as well as personally listens to views from veterans. Click here to read through some of the information that Congressman Kucinich shared in 2003.
Study on the Disabled Veterans Tax
Currently, veterans who are owed disability benefits as well as military retired benefits do not get both. Veterans are not permitted to get “concurrent receipt” of both benefits, even though they are deserving of both. As a result, they are forced to pay the Disabled Veterans Tax. Congressman Kucinich has worked to change this unfairness in the law by cosponsoring H.R. 303 as well as writing to the President about it.
In September 2003, Congressman Kucinich commissioned a study to show what Ohio veterans and Cleveland-area veterans would be receiving if they weren’t forced to pay the Disabled Veterans Tax. Approximately 9,600 veterans in Ohio lose military retirement benefits due to the Disabled Veterans Tax. An estimated one out of every five retired veterans in the 10th Congressional District of Ohio (19%) is subject to the Disabled Veterans Tax. Click here to read the entire study.
Merger of Brecksville and Wade Park VA facilities
On August 12, 2003, the Veterans Administration heard testimony regarding its plans to consolidate the Brecksville and Wade Park healthcare facilities and make renovations. Congressman Kucinich provided testimony on this issue, stressing the importance of including a new veteran’s clinic in Parma for basic medical needs and primary care appointments. Click here to read the entire statement.
Tricare for Life
As a result of Congressional action, more than a million veterans and their families will be getting a new prescription drug benefit this year, called Tricare for Life, which includes a mail-order pharmacy. Starting April 1, 2001, veterans 65 and older who served 20 years or more can enroll in the pharmacy benefit, and on October 1, 2001, enroll in the medical benefit. This means that Tricare will provide Medicare supplemental coverage, so instead of a person paying a 20 percent copayment, Tricare will pay it in most cases. For more information, call Congressman Kucinich’s Lakewood District Office.
In the 106th Congress, the House passed the Veterans' Millennium Health Care Act, H.R. 2116. This bill will allow for the expansion of Veterans’ benefits and long term health care benefits. Congressman Kucinich voted in favor of this bill after significant changes were made from the original legislation. The changes eliminated increasing co-payments on prescription drugs for illnesses not related to military service and assess new co-payments on devices such as hearing aids, eyeglasses, dentures etc. It also eliminated establishing the framework for hospital closures making it easier for the government to close important and necessary veterans health facilities.
Congressman Kucinich supports legislation that provides the necessary services to our nation’s veterans. He is currently a cosponsor of HR 179, the "Keep Our Promise to America’s Military Retirees Act." This legislation, introduced by Representative Ronnie Shows, restores health care benefits to military retirees with more than 20 years of service. He is also a cosponsor of legislation, HR 303, introduced by Representative Michael Bilirakis to permit retired members of the Armed Forces who retired with over 20 years of service and who have service-connected disabilities to receive compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs concurrently with retired pay, without deduction from either. America must keep its promise for adequate health care and retirement benefits to those veterans who have served our country. Congressman Kucinich will continue to support and advocate any legislation that makes this promise a reality.
General Pulaski left his native Poland and fought on the side of the colonists against the British in the American Revolution. George Washington bestowed the rank of brigadier general on Pulaski, who organized a legion of cavalry known as the Pulaski legion. Pulaski is credited with being the “father of the American cavalry.”
Pulaski was a dedicated freedom fighter. Famously, he said, “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.” Indeed, after fighting bravely at Brandywine and ejecting the British occupiers from Charleston, among other battles, General Pulaski was mortally wounded in Savannah, Georgia and was taken aboard the American ship USS Wasp, where he died at sea on October 11, 1779.
Congressman Kucinich has introduced legislation to grant honorary posthumous citizenship to Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, a Revolutionary War hero and Polish-American. The bill, H. J. Res. 26, was reintroduced on Monday, March 2, 2009 in celebration of Casimir Pulaski Day. This legislation is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S, Polish Legion of American Veterans and the Polish American Congress.
On July 23, 2009, H. J. Res. 26 was formally considered by the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law of the Judiciary Committee. Both the Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee made favorable remarks about Casimir Pulaski and Congressman Kucinich’s legislation. The Subcommittee forwarded the bill to the Full committee for further consideration by a vote of 10-1.
Useful Veterans Websites
My office can answer questions and help you with problems you may be experiencing with the Veterans Administration. Visit the Veterans Affairs section of my website. If you would like to be updated about legislation affecting veterans the United States House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs website is a great resource.