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AMVETS Pulls Support for UN Treaty on Disabled

A national veteran's service organization has pulled its backing of a UN treaty intended to improve the lives of disabled people, saying nothing in the agreement would benefit veterans living or traveling overseas.

The 230,000 member AMVETS group was among 21 veterans' organization and military associations that backed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 30, 2012. 

But AMVETS committee members who reviewed the treaty in a meeting six weeks later decided that it will not, in fact, assist members with disabilities.

Diane M. Zumatto, AMVETS' national legislative director, informed the Senate Armed Services Committee of the decision in a letter dated July 19 this year. She also said that since the initial endorsement was given without the backing of a member-passed resolution -- as required by AMVETS' bylaws -- it was pulling that support.

She did not detail in the letter any arguments against the treaty beyond the committee's conclusion it would [not] have any measurable, positive effects on veterans with disabilities travelling or serving abroad.

Other veteran and military groups appear to be sticking with the treaty. 

Chris Neiweem, an Iraq War vet and policy director for Vets First, said in an interview with Think Progress on Monday that veterans and military groups backing the treaty will renew their push for it on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.

The American Legion reiterated its support in a Nov. 1 letter to SASC Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and ranking member Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

The Legion and others argue that by signing the treaty the U.S. is merely advocating that other countries do what the United States has been doing since adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990: giving disabled people greater access to places and services. Among this group, they say, are millions of American veterans living or traveling abroad, as well as military family members -- a disabled spouse or child -- living overseas.

"The [treaty] would promote greater accessibility and protecting from disability discrimination in these countries for them," the Legion says in its letter.

AMVETS opposition to the treaty was noted during a Nov. 5 SASC hearing by retired Navy helicopter pilot Susan Yoshihara, who was there representing The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.

Yoshihara said the language of the treaty is open to interpretation. She said the United Nations Children's Fund -- UNICEF -- already has misinterpreted treaty language to say it includes a right to supply sexual information or medical services to children as young as 10 without a parent’s consent.

Retired Navy helicopter pilot Susan Yoshihara said she believes the treaty could be used by some groups to try and amend U.S. law and policy.

Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association and chancellor of Patrick Henry College, said becoming a signatory to the treaty would open the door to the UN dictating what constitutes a disability and stipulating make is in the best interest of children.

American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger acknowledged in his letter to Menendez and Corker that some have "expressed misgivings about the treaty."

"However, we are confident these concerns have been addressed by the adoption of a set of conditions, called reservations, understandings and declarations," he said, "[that] protect U.S. sovereignty, ensure parental rights and recognize the treaty as a nondiscrimination instrument similar to the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act."

According to Dellinger's letter, veterans groups and military associations that back the treaty are among more than 700 American organizations that favor ratification; these groups also include faith-based organizations, disability advocates and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, his letter states.

Other veteran and military oriented groups that signed onto the May 30, 2012, letter supporting the treaty are the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Air Force Association, Air Force Women Officers Associated, the American GI Forum, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Jewish War Veterans, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, the National Association of Black Veterans, the National Guard Association of the United States, the National Military Family Association, Veterans for Common Sense, Veterans of Modern Warfare, VetsFirst, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Though the UN treaty also has the support of the majority in the Senate, the 61-38 vote in favor failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed for ratification last December. The opposition votes, cast by 38 of the chamber's 47 Republican members, came even after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spoke strongly in favor of the treaty and as former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas -- a wounded veteran of World War II -- watched the proceedings from the well of the Senate in his wheelchair.

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