As an Army veteran, I'm dismayed with the way Sen. Patrick Toomey has used the recent Veterans Administration (VA) scandal to gain headlines for himself. During his last eight years in public office as a congressman and a senator, Toomey voted against every — every — funding bill that supported veterans.
And now he is holding himself up as a leader for demanding accountability from a VA system he did not back? What about his own lack of accountability for not supporting the veterans he voted to send to war in Afghanistan and Iraq?
His "no" votes included more than a dozen VA appropriation bills that provide the annual funding to run our VA hospitals, provide shelter for the homeless veteran, develop prosthetics for the missing limbs of wounded warriors, and treat the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental challenges with which our veterans returned home.
Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, once claimed he voted against these VA appropriations bills because they were tied to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) bills. Then why did he also vote against a veteran standalone bill that would have provided an additional $2 billion to treat the traumatic brain injuries and PTSD of our returning war veterans? And why did he vote against the recent $21 billion stand-alone bill to do the same?
Those VA bills are crucial to our veterans, and it pains me to know a senator would attempt to block them for political reasons. It pains me more to see such a politician claiming he now wants to hold accountable the VA system he voted to defund.
Toomey has talked about how he is searching for how to fix the backlog of veteran claims. But the bills he voted against were the ones that actually funded caseworkers who can fix this backlog of disability claims. When Toomey left Congress in January 2005, the VA claims backlog had jumped to almost 500,000 because of a lack of resources as he voted against each VA funding bill. By the end of 2013, that figure nearly doubled to 900,000.
One in four of our homeless are veterans, and the VA bills that Toomey voted against provided funding to help these veterans with rental assistance. These are the bills that support our veterans in so many ways, such as supportive services for veteran families, including health care services, financial planning and child care for those that have low income.
When Toomey voted against this year's VA bill, he was voting against a bill to expand inpatient, residential and outpatient care for our veterans who are suffering from PTSD, as well as treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. Twenty percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from a mental health condition like PTSD, and one in six veterans of wars have a substance abuse problem. Yet Toomey voted against funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration program that helps veterans suffering from prescription drug abuse.
Sadly, Toomey's votes against veterans don't stop there. He also filibustered a bipartisan Veterans Jobs Act even after Senate leaders included a provision he requested that called for a new jobs website. Toomey voted to send our troops into harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq and yet he didn't support a bill that would have helped them find work in their hometowns.
Of immense disappointment was Toomey's recent filibuster of the $21 billion health and jobs bill, which would have expanded job training, education and health benefits for our warriors. This bill was nearly identical to another one that Toomey supported — except Toomey's bill included no funding. The bill that Toomey blocked would have ensured 15,000 unemployed veterans got jobs and it would have expanded prosthetic care for veterans who need artificial limbs after being injured on the battlefield. It's discouraging to see that Toomey ignores the hardships veterans go through and denies them the support they need.
Toomey says he now wants to hold the VA accountable; sounds good, but who is holding the senator accountable for voting to deny our veterans every program in the VA system?
— George H. Fleming is a resident of Jackson Township.