VA Proposes End to Obama-Era Policy for Faith-Based Groups

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The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to eliminate a rule requiring faith-based organizations to find secular alternatives for veterans who refuse help because of the groups' religious nature. (Getty image)

The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to eliminate a rule requiring faith-based organizations to find secular alternatives for veterans who refuse help because of the groups' religious nature. The proposed change has been published in the Federal Register.

The public can comment until Feb. 18 on whether the VA should eliminate the rule and its requirement that religious groups post notices about this referral procedure. The VA said in a news release that the current rule "unequally placed impediments on religious organizations and cast unwarranted suspicion on them."

Then-President Barack Obama created the rule for all faith-based organizations to receive social service program funds from 13 departments with an executive order in 2010. President Donald Trump eliminated that directive in 2018, giving the VA the power to change the policy.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called it a "victory for religious freedom" and said it would "end discrimination" against religious organizations in an Inside Source post on Tuesday.

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"They faced burdens that secular groups didn't, including an obligation to offer voluntarily to find veterans secular alternatives -- thereby undermining their own efforts," he wrote. "This rule not only made it harder for veterans to find the holistic healing they seek, it was a hurdle that discouraged some faith organizations from participating in VA programs."

Wilkie also touted a rule change last year that allows veterans to leave bibles and other religious items on display tables meant to celebrate vets.

"Today's culture of fake outrage calls these items 'offensive' and demands their removal," he wrote. "But it is veterans who deserve to take offense -- veterans whose faith compelled them to serve this nation, and in many cases played an important role in their recovery from the wounds they suffered on our behalf."

The proposal to change the rules around faith-based organizations was posted on the Federal Register website Jan. 17. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was one comment.

"I recommend we abolish any faith based Acts designed to protect religious liberties in order to free America to achieve its progressive science based potential and not be hindered by religious extremists," the anonymous commenter wrote.

More information about submitting a comment on the proposed rule change can be found here.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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