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Thirteen major military and veterans groups have joined forces to try to force one senator — Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — to release a hold that he has placed on a major veterans benefits bill.
Coburn has been identified by Senate aides as the lawmaker preventing consideration of S 1963, the Veterans’ Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act of 2009, by using an informal but legal practice of putting a hold on a bill.
Coburn’s staff did not respond to questions, but Senate aides said the first-term senator has expressed concern about creating new and unfunded benefits and wants the opportunity to amend the measure.
One of Coburn’s suggestions is to divert money from unspent economic and job stimulus programs to cover costs of new benefits for veterans and their families, according to sources who have discussed the issue with Coburn’s staff.
So far, at least, Senate leaders don’t want to let Coburn offer any amendments because of the precedent that would set to delay other legislation. Actual funding for benefits traditionally is handled separately from the bills that authorize the benefits, Senate aides said.
Earlier this fall, Coburn placed holds on S 252, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2009, and S 728, the Veterans’ Insurance and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2009, which led to the introduction of S 1963, which combines key provisions of the two earlier bills in an effort to get around Coburn’s opposition.
In a letter sent Monday night to the Senate majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the 13 military and veterans groups ask the Senate to get on with it.
“It is essential that Congress act on this comprehensive measure without further delay,” the letter reads. “Thousands of disabled veterans with serious medical conditions and the family members who care for them are counting on this additional support.”
The letter says passing the bill by Veterans Day would be a “fitting way” to honor veterans.
Those signing the letter include the nation’s major veterans groups — The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AmVets, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Jewish War Veterans, plus the Military Officers Association of America, National Military Family Association and Wounded Warrior Project.
Steve Robertson, legislative director for The American Legion, said delaying the bill hurts families caring for severely wounded combat veterans who would benefit from the stipends, health care, counseling and respite care that would be provided to caregivers in the bill.
“For a lot of family caregivers, delay is costing them their jobs and their savings. It’s having a big impact,” he said.
Robertson said he has spoken to Coburn’s staff about the earlier holds on S 252 and S. 728, but the conversation was fairly one-sided, with Coburn’s aides trying to get Robertson to dissuade veterans from flooding the senator’s office with calls.
“They made it clear that Sen. Coburn sees this as using his rights as a senator to place a hold on a bill, and that he was not doing anything illegal or wrong,” Robertson said. “I agree with that, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to hold up a bill that would do a lot of good things for veterans that has cleared a committee and is ready for a vote.”
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate assistant majority leader, mentioned Coburn’s hold in a Tuesday floor speech without citing Coburn by name, saying that the bill was being held up by one senator over cost.
“How much is a veteran’s life worth?” Durbin asked, adding that he hopes the hold is lifted.
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