This past Sunday (April 23, 2006) the United Veterans Organization of Nassau County ("UVO") held its Annual Legislative Breakfast. For over a decade now, these breakfasts (UVO and other organization sponsored similar events) have afforded the veteran the opportunity to meet with their federal, state, county, town, and local elected and appointed representatives and talk veteran issues. Attending this breakfast were veterans representing the officers of all of the major veteran service organizations ("VSOs") along with general VSO membership and other interested veterans. While only so much can be discussed in a morning, many issues receive follow-up actions that do achieve results - even if it is only to move an issue along, however slightly. The issues this Sunday totaled over two-dozen with impact across all levels. By the way, there are over two-dozen VSOs that are members of the UVO and make their presence know in Nassau County.
Some of What Was Discussed
In no particular order... although one particular item I've saved for last.
Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)
- increase the MGIB benefits for National Guard and Reservists and to allow an open season for service members who initially declined enrollment so they can reconsider.
Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) Concurrent Receipt
- repeal the offset for (certain) disabled retirees with disabilities and veterans who are medically retired. To receive VA disability compensation, (certain) disabled military retirees still have to offset, dollar for dollar, their military retirement pay.
Veteran Partial Property Tax Exemption
- include school taxes as a real property tax eligible for a partial Veteran's exemption.
Financial Assistance When a Key Employee Is Called to Active Duty
- provide financial assistance to small and medium size businesses when the owner / manager / key employee is called to active duty service.
Restore Veteran Services Cutbacks
- restore cutbacks in funding to County Veteran Service Agencies and the NYS Division of Veteran Affairs. The benefit counselors that work for theses agencies provide the most direct services to veterans.
Create a NYS Long-Term Health Care Authority
- have the Governor and the Legislature enact legislation to create this Authority, empowered to serve as a focal point within State government for the VA in the planning and delivery of vitally needed veteran health care and related services.
One Particular Item - Mandatory versus Discretionary Funding
Unlike Social Security which is a mandatory budget item, all our VA benefits are funded and budgeted on a discretionary basis. That is, as a discretionary spending item, the amount to spend for VA benefits is set on a yearly basis by decision of Congress and as part of fiscal policy. Had VA benefits been "classified" as a mandatory item, the amount to be initially budgeted and funded would have been set based on existing requirements and then the "only" change to that funding on an ongoing basis would be adjustments such as for inflation and for any changes to the original requirements. Over the recent years, many experts suggest (with veteran services organizations in agreement) that it is the discretionary nature of our VA benefits that have allowed the well-publicized budget shortfalls to happen. Yet, as recent as March 16, 2006 the Senate voted 54 to 46 to maintain the current use of discretionary funding.
What Can We Do
As in the title of this article - Let your voice be heard. At all levels of government, federal, state, county, town, local, for those Veteran issues that you believe - you know - need to be acted upon, take a moment to write your elected officials. As was mentioned and echoed by many of the attending officials - it is the squeaky wheel that does get the grease.
So go, make some noise.
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt