Republicans Say 'So Be It' to America's Veterans

More than 75,000 of our nation’s veterans were homeless in January 2009 and over the course of the year nearly twice that many (136,000) spent at least one night in a homeless shelter. The GOP ‘So Be It’ spending bill passed at 4:40 am last Saturday eliminates housing vouchers to homeless veterans. The elimination of this program will impact veterans across the country–WTNH in Connecticut writes how it will impact their state:

Budget cuts not helping homeless vets

The budget-cutting ax on Capitol Hill, could jeopardize a major effort to help homeless veterans in Connecticut.

The Republican-led house of Representatives passed a federal budget cutting, more than 60 billion dollars in spending.

For seven years the American Legion Post in Jewett City has been working to rehab a building into apartments for homeless veterans…

In the early morning hours this weekend, congressional budget cutting has placed the future of the project in doubt.

“If we don’t get the vouchers we’re up the creek,” says Homeless Vet., William Czmyr of Jewett City American Legion.

“We’ve got a number of people making decisions now on some larger gifts of five or ten thousand dollars based on the fact that it’s going to be financially viable, and it’s not going to be without the vouchers,” says Homeless Vet., Avery Tillinghast of American Legion Veterans Housing.

The vouchers are the 875 dollars a month per apartment from the federal Veterans Assisted Support Housing, known as VASH, that would be the cash flow to keep the place running after it’s finished and help homeless veterans get back on their feet.

House Republicans also passed an amendment by Rep. Lummis (R-WY) in the spending bill that will make it harder for veterans to challenge the government for benefits–Politico writes:

Adopted by 232-197, the budget amendment imposes a seven-month moratorium on all legal fees paid under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), a Reagan-era law designed to help the little guy battle Washington by making it easier for him to afford an attorney.

Robert Chisholm, a Rhode Island attorney prominent in veterans’ law, told POLITICO: “We’re in the middle of two wars right now and to make it harder for a veteran — fighting for his benefits — to have an attorney is a horrible thing. That’s not what this country is about.”

The story of EAJA’s impact is told by data compiled in the annual reports posted by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

For a veteran to have any solid chance of success, retaining counsel becomes more important as each case proceeds. And among those appeals which reach a decision on the merits, a very high percentage correspond with EAJA applications and fees paid for attorneys.

For example, about a quarter of all the cases in 2009 were dismissed on procedural grounds, but of the remaining 3270, EAJA-backed attorneys were decisive. As many as 2385 applications for fees were granted: that’s about 73 percent of all the cases decided, and since awards are made truly only in those cases where the citizen wins, EAJA attorneys are a still higher percentage measured against that standard.

“It’s going to adversely affect a lot of veterans” said Ronald Smith, another attorney with long experience before the court. “It would hurt a lot of veterans, that is for sure.”

Now House Republicans are drawing a line in the sand that could lead to a government shutdown, putting further strain on our veterans and their families–from the Army Times:

…a shutdown would close veterans’ benefits offices, including claims processing and people answering questions, and could lead to delays in non-emergency medical appointments.

In the last GOP-forced government shutdown more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed and educational benefits were delayed for 170,000 veterans.

Democrats opposed the GOP spending bill that says ‘so be it’ to our veterans and have offered a responsible path forward to avoid a shutdown that will keep vital services and protections in place while Democrats and Republicans work to pass a bill the President can sign into law for the remainder of 2011.