Larry Scott (former E-5) served four-plus years in the U.S. Army with overseas tours as a Broadcast Journalist at AFKN HQ, Seoul, Korea and AFN Lajes Field, The Azores, Portugal and a stateside tour as a Broadcast Journalism Instructor at the Defense Information School (DINFOS). Larry was decorated four times including the Joint Service Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. He was awarded DOD's First Place Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Journalism. After the Army, Larry went back to radio news, working in Indianapolis as a News Anchor on WIFE Radio and then in New York City as a News Anchor on WNBC Radio. He receives VA compensation for a service-connected disability and uses the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington VA facilities for healthcare. Today, Larry resides in Southwest Washington and operates the veteran's help website YourVABenefits.org. To contact Larry Scott email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you really a veteran? Better check it fast. I did. I've got my DD-214 that says "honorable discharge." I've got the red-white-and-blue VA identification card complete with lousy picture and the "service-connected" rating. So, I must be a veteran. Right? Not if Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, has his way.
Buyer is trying to rewrite the definition of "veteran" in a cold and calculated manner that could cost millions of veterans their benefits. Buyer recently won a political tug-of-war and replaced Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) as chairman of HVAC. Smith was known as a true friend of veterans and often broke ranks with his party to forward legislation favorable to the veteran community.
Not so with Buyer. In a recent interview with journalist Tom Philpott, Buyer stated, "While some veterans' organizations like to create a theme, that 'A veteran is a veteran [and] there is no difference,' I disagree."
Shortly after winning the chair at HVAC, Buyer said, "Some of the veterans service organizations, they are having this belief that everyone should have open access to the VA system, when in fact I believe that the VA system should follow its core constituency and the intent of Congress when we laid out our priorities, and that was in fact to take care of our disabled and indigent veterans first." (This subject was covered in my Military.com article on "Welfarizing the VA.")
So, what is happening here? Buyer is trying to redefine "veteran," and in so doing, reshape benefit programs to meet his new definition. In short, this means fewer benefits for fewer veterans.
The two keys here are Buyer's references to "intent of Congress" and "core constituency." By rejecting the "intent of Congress" when they passed legislation defining benefits and eligibility, Buyer is telling us Congress was wrong and he is going to change it. By referring to the VA's "core constituency" as "disabled and indigent veterans," he is eliminating veterans who do not fall into those categories.
This is just plain absurd! And it is wrong! As Buyer continues to redefine who is really a veteran, here is some of what's at stake.
The bipartisan Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission will hold its first meeting soon. The Commission will review whether Congress went too far by allowing concurrent receipt of military retirement and VA disability payments. Also on the table is a change in the way disability ratings are determined, and a restructuring of the definition of "service-connected." Buyer says he cannot guarantee veterans who currently have disability ratings that they will be exempt from Commission findings.
Buyer also wants the Commission to consider offering lump-sum payments to veterans with current disability ratings of 20 percent or less. These "cash now" settlements would deny veterans the right to pursue any compensation claims in the future. A veteran with a progressive condition, one that causes degenerative disability with age, would have no right to further compensation.