Failure of Kline Championed Bill Illustrates Congress InAction (and Priorities)

Ponder this as you read this entry, Torii Hunter, who has never earned a World Series Championship ring, has agreed to play for the Minnesota Twins at a cost of $10,500,000 … that’s over ten million dollars for one year.

“Champion” ? ? ?

It’s a word that John Kline likes to use … it was the “key” theme in the Selling of Chairman John Kline’s re-election campaign … as he reminded voters that John Kline “championed” the Job Training Bill (which was after the Senate rejected his House version); John Kline has been a “champion “of a comprehensive “all of the above” approach to Energy Independence (which means he favors Keystone and opposes wind energy); John Kline has been a “champion” for Minnesota law enforcement (which means that he, like most incumbents, was endorsed); John Kline is the recipient of the Champion of Small Business (which means he will work tirelessly to support business tax cuts); etc.

Most recently, John Kline issued another press release
John Kline Champions Bipartisan Legislation to Address Military, Veteran Suicides

The December 9th press release words of praise

Minnesota Congressman John Kline championed bipartisan legislation, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, H.R. 5059,

No one bill will ever solve veteran suicide, but I was pleased to have championed this important bipartisan legislation which recognizes the importance of a community approach, and takes steps to help our servicemen and women through increased mental health services and greater accountability.

H.R. 5059 was approved by a voice vote … the debate featured a handful of Members … which wasn’t a debate but Members praising the bills prime authors — Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-08), Jeff Miller (R-FL-01), and Tim Walz (D-MN-01) … John Kline was not mentioned and did not speak … but his press release tells us that he is a “champion”.

Representative Walz introduced the bill on July 10th … and has been pushing for a vote since then … but the Republican-controlled House has been too busy on “election recess” to schedule a vote.
Finally, the bill was allowed to go forward and on December 9th, it was approved by a Voice Vote.

Military veterans and their families have been waiting … especially since they report that on every day, 22 veterans commit suicide.

All it takes for this bill to become law is for the Senate to approve it … and they already have a companion bill S. 2930 which had the bipartisan support of 22 Senators … but it does not have the support of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).

Congress should be holding the VA accountable rather than adding to its list of poorly managed programs. The VA has proven that questions need to be asked before it is entrusted with the lives of veterans or the money of taxpayers,” Senator Coburn said. In a statement on the Chamber’s floor, Senator Coburn said (highlights) :

as a physician, I know suicide all too well. I have failed patients in the past even though I did everything I knew to do. Yet they still took their lives.
I have also experienced it personally in my own family. I know this issue. I also know what we did 3 1/2 months ago–we passed the Veterans Choice Act, which I ultimately voted against because it didn’t do what we promised the veterans we would do.
To this day Secretary McDonald has fired one person out of hundreds who should have been fired because we didn’t give him the right authority on that day to hold the VA accountable.
I have treated patients with the demons that these young men and women have when they come back from war–the night terrors and the conflict that happens when they turn a corner and get a flashback of where they were versus seeing their wife and daughter. On top of that, they have the guilt that has built up, and they wonder to themselves, what is wrong with me?
I am going to be objecting to this bill because it throws money out there and doesn’t solve the real problem. I know most of my colleagues disagree with me on that, but I actually did the work.
I started a year before all the VA scandals started, and I documented nearly 1,000 deaths at the hands of lack of our oversight and the lack of us holding the VA accountable. People are going to make mistakes all the time, but we are the ones who have no excuse for not holding the VA accountable.
Our veterans deserve the very best. We cannot eliminate all of the tragedies that occur with war.
So I believe in all my heart–I prayed all weekend. How do I answer this question? And the answer to the question is to do the hard work over the next year. Don’t pass another bill. Hold the VA accountable. There should be a hearing every week on every aspect of every aspect of everything the VA does for the whole next 2 years so that they, in fact, will treat the people who put their lives on the line with the very respect, the very service that they so richly earned and we have spoiled because we undervalue it.
We have great employees at most of the VA facilities, but we have some stinkers. Until we change the attitude, until we hold the administration of the Veterans’ Administration accountable, we will never change the attitude that our veterans aren’t getting the very best. And they deserve the very best.
My heart breaks for the people who commit suicide. Do we know what it is? They find no relief anywhere else except death. There is no answer for them. We don’t give it to them. We have failed them. I personally have failed them in my own medical practice. So they look at the only option that gives them relief from the tremendous pressure and tension they are experiencing.
They are searching for the support and the nurturing and the love that needs to be there to say: I am going to mentor you and get you through this. That is where the VA has failed. That is where the military has failed. That is where we have failed.
Even the Veterans’ Administration says everything in this bill has already been authorized. So what is it really about? It is about addressing an issue without addressing the issue. The real, hard work will come when, on C-SPAN, with me sitting in Oklahoma, I get to see Dick Blumenthal and Johnny Isakson grilling every aspect of the VA to make sure they are top notch, they are putting their sacrifice on the line the same way our soldiers do. That is when we start changing things.
So, regrettably, I object to this bill, not because I don’t want to help save suicides but because I don’t think this bill is going to do the first thing to change what is happening. What is going to change what is happening is when we as Members of the Senate and the Congress start bearing down and creating the transparency that is necessary so that Americans can see that our veterans are getting everything they deserve and a “yes, sir” and a “no, sir,” a “no ma’am,” a “yes ma’am,” a smile, and a greeting, and when they interact with the VA, they leave there fulfilled and proud that they are a veteran.

Senator Bernie Sanders ( I-VT), the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told a press conference on Friday that legislation opposed by Senator Coburn “does not go as far as I would have liked.”
“In my view the goal is to make sure that every veteran in this country who is having problems is able to get access to the medical help they need and get that mental health care immediately without bureaucratic or financial impediments,” Senator Sanders said.

Senator Coburn has put a hold on the $22 million bill (to be spent over FIVE years) … remember the Twins are giddy that they will pay Torii Hunter $10.5 million for one summer’s work.

Where is “Champion” John Kline response to Senators Coburn and Sanders — does he agree that the bill does not go far enough … that more oversight is needed … and more dollars ? Or, as he is also known “Silent” John Kline, satisfied with the self-praising press releases and minimal dollars as the best we can do ?

Bonnie Carroll, president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, complains that “The price we’ve already paid in lives waiting for this bill is already too high.”

Which is something that John Kline should know … after all, on March 21, 2007, Congressman John Kline endorsed H.R. 327, the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act, who tragically took his own life.

I wish that I could stand here today and say that Joshua was the last soldier, sailor, airman, or marine to fall through the cracks, the last young life to end prematurely because the system was unwilling or unable to assist them. But if that were true, the gentleman would not have had to introduce this bill, and we would not be here today discussing it.
In January of this year, this tragedy repeated itself when Jonathan Schulze, a young marine from my district who had served honorably in Iraq, took his life after seeking assistance from two VA medical facilities in Minnesota. The loss of such a promising young life has sparked both sadness and outrage throughout Minnesota and the Nation; outrage not only at the loss of a young life, but because the VA system in which he was enrolled had apparently and tragically failed him.
In the months since Jonathan’s unnecessary death, the VA has launched two investigations to find out why this marine did not receive the care he so desperately needed. An initial medical inspector’s investigation was inconclusive, but it is my sincere hope that the ongoing VA Inspector General’s investigation will fully explain the circumstances that led to his death.
Along with the full accounting of the VA’s action in Jonathan Schulze’s case, I am hopeful the passage of this bill today will provide the professionals of the VA medical system with the tools necessary to prevent the tragic deaths of young veterans like Joshua and Jonathan.

Nice speech … but the harsh reality is that some of John Kline constituents were not fooled … as Jane Miles blogged in 2007

In the last two weeks the Army secretary has been fired, a two-star general relieved of command, and two special commissions appointed over inadequate services to our veterans in the last several years under Congressman John Kline and the GOP controlled legislative and administration’s lack of leadership and oversight. There are numerous examples that while Kline is voting for tax breaks to wealthy Americans, he’s voting against veterans services. Over a hundred times while in office Kline has voted to cut veteran benefits, slash veterans services and deny veteran funding.

Kline’s record in the last four years has sharply ‘deklined’ the services provided to America’s veterans to it’s current substandard level. Even his recently endorsement of the “Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act” (HR 327) which dictates how the Department of Veteran’s Affairs should treat soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is just window dressing. It provides no additional funding to address PTSD nor does it address some of the causes of PTSD. Causes that Kline’s leadership has institutionalized such as forcing repeated Iraq tours; prohibiting soldiers from leaving service when their enlistment ends; insufficient body armor; inadequate equipment and being forced to kill or be killed in an unnecessary war.

Kline is now asking for an investigation into the gross neglect of wounded U.S. veterans only following the recent tragic death of a local soldier who took his life after being placed on a VA waiting list. But showing his usual arrogance, Kline is not willing to accept responsibility for the major roll he’s played in how veterans services have been slashed and bashed in the last several years to the point they are now inadequate or the complete lack of oversight for any of these programs.

Sounding a lot like a replay of what happened with Katrina, Linda J. Bilmes, a professor of public finance at Harvard, recently completed a study of the long-term costs of providing medical care and benefits to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs, she said, “is overwhelmed in every area.”

Supporting our troops is more than sending them off to war, it’s also paying for programs needed by thousands of returning soldiers with traumatic mental and physical injuries. Tell John Kline it’s time for him to support all our troops, even those unfortunate ones that can’t advocate for themselves due to injuries. They were good enough to go fight for their country, now wounded veterans deserve to have the best treatment American can offer.

The press releases ring hollow … we’ve heard the self-promoting John Kline mantra … the veterans have heard it … it is “window dressing” for campaign commercials and mailers … yet with more and more lives lost, it seems that some are more too busy patting themselves on the back as a “Champion” then to “bearing down and creating the transparency that is necessary so that Americans can see that our veterans are getting everything they deserve.”

It didn’t have to happen. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, H.R. 5059, has lingered in the House for months … and now in the mad rush of the end of the session, the House has acted … and gone home while the Senate has failed to act.
This inaction will result in the bill dying in session … having to be re-started in January when the new Congress convenes.

A true “Champion” would have pushed this legislation in July having recognized that Congress has still have not recognized the anguish felt by Joshua Omvig, Jonathan Schulze, or Clay Hunt.

As the 113th session of Congress comes to a close with the memory of the GOPshutdown, it is apparent that the only “success” that John Kline can claim is that he is the “Champion” of getting nothing done (except press releases.)
The failure to enact the minimal funding in the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act is really a statement of priorities … and the 114th Congress is not shaping up as one that is setting the right priorities.

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