Budget gamesmanship hurting veterans, says Legion commander

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Legion Command

Cuts to veterans pay and benefits as a bargaining chip in federal budget negotiations shows Congress “just doesn’t get it,” the national commander of the American Legion said Tuesday in Vicksburg.

“Politics is replacing patriotism in this country,” commander Dan Dellinger told about 35 Legionnaires and others at the Tyner-Ford Post 213 on Main Street, which for years has hosted the national commander at luncheons in February. “If we don’t take on Congress, who will?”

 Veterans groups such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars lobbied hard to restore retirement pay cuts for current and former military members. On Saturday, President Barack Obama signed legislation that restored full pay hikes for current troops and retirees. They would drop, however, for future enlistees. Initial versions of the bill had cost-of-living adjustments, or COLA, cut 1 percent across the board for all vets under 62.

“The Democrats and the Republicans years ago, they would fight, they would come to an accord and they would go on about business,” Dellinger said. “Well, that’s not happening today.”

Dellinger told Legionnaires despite the successful efforts of veterans groups, the fight figures to be an annual event, terming the most recent struggle a “shot across the bow.”

“They’ll continue to try to balance the budget on the backs of the veterans,” Dellinger said. “Two years ago, the president came to our national convention and said he wouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of veterans. He didn’t, but he allowed Congress to.”

Dellinger, of Vienna, Va., was elected national commander of the 2.4 million-member organization in August. He served at Fort Benning, Ga., during the Vietnam War and entered the U.S. Army Reserve in 1972, separating from the service in 1984 at the rank of captain.

He cited tepid support for Legion activities within its own ranks nationwide as a reason for veteran causes to require such hue and cry. The national organization raised more than $22 million to support efforts such as Boys State, Boys Nation and other scholastic activities, according to consolidated post reports, Dellinger said, but the total came from 57 percent of posts nationwide. The other 43 percent, Dellinger said, “failed to submit the report.”

“Unfortunately, in Mississippi, you all only sent in 26 percent of reports per year in your state,” Dellinger said. “I’ve tasked your department commander, your district commander to please make sure you take that form to your department and fill it out so it can be added. And when I or the next commander goes to Congress, we can tell them who we are and what we do.”

The lunch, which was organized by members of the Main Street post and Post 3, on Monroe Street, also featured a brief tribute to Charles Scott Sr., the former Post 213 chief and Mississippi’s first elected black state Legion commander, read by Scott’s widow, Lillie.