Friday, August 17, 2007

Dodd: Bush Administration’s Caring Words 'Ring Hollow' with Veterans

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Chris Dodd, D.-Conn., could care less about what a politician has to say, but, he cares about what a politician has done. These words ring especially true when it comes to supporting the troops and taking care of veterans and their families. “I get really upset when I hear the Bush administration talk about how much they care about American veterans and soldiers,” Dodd told a group of veterans Monday at the Iowa Democratic Party Veteran’s Caucus Presidential Extravaganza in Des Moines.

“I’ve spent four different occasions on the Senate floor just to get body armor for those serving in Iraq, only to be defeated every single time by the Republicans, who could not come up with the votes to support the body armor or compensate the families and communities who purchased body armor for their loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Dodd said. “The Don Rumsfeld line, ‘You don’t get the Army you deserve, you get the Army you got’ reflects this administration’s attitude toward our young people, which they placed in difficult situations without even the most basic protection. This is deeply disturbing to me, and when I hear comments about how much they care and compare this with the actions of this administration, these words ring hollow.”

After fulfilling his two-year obligation in the Peace Corps (1966-1968), Dodd served in the U.S. Army Reserves and Army National Guard for the next six years. Dodd, however, confided to the combat veterans at the event that he was by no means claiming any acts of heroism. “I didn’t rise to any great ranks; I was an E-5, but in politics there are a lot more of those than generals,” Dodd joked.

Jokes aside, Dodd took the Bush administration to task regarding its record on funding veterans’ health care. “This uncaring attitude has been reflected toward the Veterans Administration as well, Dodd said. “A couple of years ago, we had to come up with supplemental funds to make sure the Veterans Administration had an adequate budget to provide for the servicemen returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“We want to be sure that those who served in harm’s way aren’t left behind on the battlefield,” Dodd added. “The old line in basic training is that you don’t leave a buddy on the battlefield. The battlefield doesn’t end when you return from the theater of conflict. The battlefield for our 24 million veterans is going on here today.”

One big push Dodd helped make on behalf of the veterans in the Senate recently was authoring an amendment to his signature legislation, the Family and Medical Leave Act. The legislation would provide family members and caregivers of wounded veterans six months paid leave to care for wounded family members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “37 percent of these individuals had to relocate in order to provide help and support for a loved one coming out of a VA hospital, and one of four of these caregivers lost their jobs doing what they did,” Dodd said. Dodd introduced the bill, S. 1894, based on a recommendation from former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., who recently co-chaired President Bush’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and awaits action by the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, Dodd proposed legislation that would take $19 billion out of capital gains taxes and put these funds back into funding for VA hospitals and clinics, but the amendment was rejected by the Bush administration. “We have people willing to support a massive cut in dividend taxes, but wouldn’t come up with a dollar amount needed to put the VA hospitals and clinics on solid footing to accommodate our injured troops returning from the theaters of war,” Dodd said. “These are the kind of choices our leaders are making today.”

Dodd, a longtime champion of legislation supporting families, has also focused on helping support the families of troops. “We recruits soldiers, but we retain families in the military,” Dodd said. “We need to make sure the family is well taken care of, especially during a time of conflict. Child care in the military used to be the worst in the nation, and we stood up for an investigation, and now they have one of the best child-care systems in the country.”

Dodd also supports reforming the GI Bill by extending it to four years, dropping the first year’s $100 monthly co-payments, and providing an option that would allow veterans, if they don’t use all of the benefits, to defer the rest of payments to a spouse or child to use to help deflect their costs of higher education. “The family pays a lot to have someone on active duty in the military, and they deserve some of these benefits as well,” Dodd said. “Military leaders know that if you can keep a family together, through good education and child support, when it comes to recruiting or extending service tours, we’ll do a far better job if that family is feeling secure and supported by the military. If the support is not there, I don’t care how good the recruiter is, because we’ll lose those soldiers.”

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