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Opinion: Veterans continue to pile on Sue Lowden over her death tax proposal



ffhrlogo-300x55-6729260-7570399LAS VEGAS–Over the weekend, Sue Lowden continued to receive harsh criticism from members of Nevada’s veterans community that began following a controversial television ad she released two weeks ago. Late Friday, veterans in Reno gathered to express their extreme displeasure with Lowden’s continuing efforts to make vets issues a part of her campaign, given her disgraceful record as a state senator and candidate for U.S. Senate.

According to a report over the weekend on Reno’s KRNV:

“Veterans are saying they have had enough of Lowden’s anti-veteran track record. Her opposition to the Recovery Act that would aid disabled vets during the recession, and her proposal for a ‘Veterans Death Tax’ has those who served angry. . . . The group says regardless of when an individual served, they need a senator like Reid who will honor them in death and not tax their loved ones.”

Lowden’s efforts to cover up her disgraceful public record on vets issues based on a TV ad about volunteering for USO more than 40 years ago–the details of which the Review-Journal described as “dancing in a line of girls wearing go-go boots and miniskirts”– had one veteran in attendance particularly outraged.

“We believe that as combat vets that we are owed an apology. We served–Sue, you did not see enemy fire,” said Andrew Guy, a Gulf War combat veteran.

In the legislature, Lowden personally championed a special burial tax for Nevada veterans. And just a few days after that bill failed, Lowden was the only Senator to vote against an alternative proposal to fund veterans’ cemeteries using specialty license plates. Lowden has also strenuously opposed support for Nevada’s veterans under the stimulus bill–including a $250 payment for disabled veterans to offset the impacts of the recession. The Recovery Act also contained $1.4 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs–more than $5 million of which was directed to the Reno VA Hospital.

“Sen. Reid has long been recognized as a champion for the needs of Nevada’s troops and our veterans and it’s disgraceful that someone who supports a death tax on veterans and opposes millions in funding for VA health care right here in Nevada has chosen to make this a campaign issue,” said Kelly Steele, communications director for Friends for Harry Reid.

See below for a comprehensive comparison of Sen. Reid’s record on support for our troops and our veterans vs. Sue Lowden’s disgraceful public record.

Reid has consistently fought and delivered for Nevada’s troops and our veterans

Harry Reid has been a tireless champion for Nevada’s veterans. As Senate majority leader, Reid has fought for and passed federal budgets that included increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also led the Senate in passing a new GI Bill of Rights, which is going a long way in making a college education more affordable for our troops and veterans. He’s been honored for his work to end the shameful practice of cutting retiree pay for veterans who also happened to be receiving disability pay. And Reid has played a pivotal role in making the new Southern Nevada Veterans Hospital a reality–bringing back more than $540 million in funding for the complex in earmarked appropriations, funding Sue Lowden wouldn’t have even tried to secure for Nevada’s veterans if she were in the U.S. Senate.

Reid was instrumental in delivering more than $540 million in funding for the new Southern Nevada veterans hospital. In 2005, Reid helped secure $199 million in funding for the new Southern Nevada veterans hospital. In 2007, he led the Senate in passing an appropriations bill that contained $341.4 million he secured for the hospital. [Review-Journal, 9/7/07; FY 2008 Military Construction & Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill; Review-Journal, 11/19/05; FY 2006 Military Construction & Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill]

Retired Army general: “[Reid] does everything possible from his leadership position” to make sure veterans get what they need. In an April 2007 Op/Ed, Reno Republican and retired Army Brigadier General Frank Parlow wrote, “While Sen. Reid and I have had some serious defense policy differences, there is no daylight between us regarding veterans. We both believe that veterans should be cared for by the nation they served. He does everything possible from his leadership position to assure that care. Unlike others, Sen. Reid understands real veteran’s issues caused by the ongoing war on terror.” [Gazette-Journal 7/16/07]

Under Reid’s leadership, the Senate passed an expansion of the GI bill that increased benefits for veterans. In June 2008, the Senate passed legislation “[doubling] GI bill college benefits for troops and veterans,” according to the Chicago Tribune. According to the report, “The new GI bill offers troops and veterans free tuition to the equivalent of the most expensive school in their state and a housing stipend. Those who have served three years in the military are eligible.” The bill also contained language allowing veterans to transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouses or children. [Vote 162, 6/26/08; Chicago Tribune, The Swamp, 6/30/08]

2009: Reid led the Senate in passing a budget that included an 11.7 percent increase in veterans funding. In April 2009, Reid led the Senate in passing a budget that, according to the Senate Budget Committee, “honors our veterans by providing a $5.6 billion, 11.7 percent, increase over the 2009 level in veterans’ health care and other services. It follows the President’s budget in ending the Bush administration’s ban on enrolling modest-income veterans for Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) health care. It provides more funding than 2009 for VA to research and treat mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury. It also assumes VA’s current policy of paying for the treatment of veterans’ service-connected conditions and billing private insurance companies only for treatment of non-service-connected conditions.” [Senate Budget Committee, Overview of Budget Conference Report; Vote 173, 4/29/09]

Reid worked with other Nevada leaders to bring a USO lounge to McCarran Airport. In January 2010, the Review-Journal reported, “McCarran International Airport will get a USO lounge for military personnel after years of stalled attempts. USO leaders announced plans today to open a $1.5 million airport ‘hospitality center’ where members of the military can congregate, wash up and rest. They said their goal was to finish it by summer. … USO chief executive Sloan Gibson and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., trumpeted the future lounge at a news conference today in Washington D.C. … Sisolak brought together veterans’ advocates and politicians in November to make a concerted effort at developing the lounge. He agreed it didn’t hurt that Reid is in an election year. ‘It shows you how much the majority leader of the Senate can get done,’ Sisolak said.” [Review-Journal, 1/28/10]

As majority leader, Reid made sure troops received pay increases. In January 2008, Reid voted for a defense authorization bill containing a 3.5 percent pay increase for all uniformed personnel for fiscal year 2008. In September 2008, Reid voted for a defense authorization bill containing a 3.9 percent across-the-board pay increase for fiscal year 2009. In October 2009, Reid led the Senate in passing a defense authorization bill that gave our men and women in uniform a 3.4 percent pay increase, which is an even larger increase than President Obama originally proposed. [Vote 1, 1/22/08; Vote 201, 9/17/08; Vote 327, 10/22/09; Washington Post, 10/26/09]

Reid-led Senate passed defense authorization bill that also made it easier for our troops to vote. In October 2009, the Washington Post reported, “The defense authorization bill, which funds Pentagon operations but historically includes several other unrelated provisions, passed by a vote of 68 to 29.” For members of the military, “voting will get easier for them, thanks to a provision requiring states to provide military voters with ballots no later than 45 days before an election. States must also provide ballots electronically.” [Washington Post, 10/26/09]

Lowden championed legislation to tax veterans buried in veterans cemeteries unless they served active duty during wartime

Lowden sponsored legislation to charge a fee for veterans’ burials. In 1995, Sue Lowden sponsored Senate Bill 162, which would have charged a burial fee at veterans’ cemeteries for veterans who were not on active duty during times of conflict. [NV Senate Human Resources and Facilities Committee minutes, 6/12/1995]

Lowden was the only vote against special license plate program to help fund veterans’ cemeteries. In 1995, Sue Lowden was the only senator to vote against Assembly Bill 258, which would require the DMV to offer special license plates to help fund veterans’ cemeteries. [Assembly Bill 258 floor vote, 6/28/1995]

Lowden strongly opposed stimulus bill that provided key aid to vets

Opposed one-time $250 payment for disabled veterans under the Recovery Act. According to the Internal Revenue Service, under the Recovery Act, “A one-time payment of $250 [was] made in 2009 to a) retirees, disabled individuals and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration b) disabled veterans receiving benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and c) Railroad Retirement beneficiaries.” [Internal Revenue Service, Economic Recovery Payment]

Opposed $1.4 billion in Recovery Act funding for veterans affairs, including more than $5 million for Reno Veterans Hospital. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, “In putting Americans back to work through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Department of Veterans Affairs has been allocated $1.4 billion. That money is set to target programs across the country which are of most interest to Veterans.” More than $5 million of that funding is headed to the Reno Veterans Administration Hospital to fund important improvements that increase patient safety and improve the quality of care for Northern Nevada veterans. [Department of Veterans Affairs Website; Reid Release, 2/22/10; Reid Release, 3/20/09]

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Service, heroes and sacrifice

The annual Vietnam War Veterans Remembrance Day on Saturday, March 23 at Truckee Meadows Community College not only honored the military for their service a half-century ago in Vietnam but also recognized those who fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan.