Two of the nation’s largest veteran’s groups have lashed out at the chairman of a House committee that focuses on their issues after he moved up the annual date on which they customarily testify in advance of federal budget approval, though a committee spokeswoman says the intent was to offer the groups greater influence.

In a letter to Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Thomas Bock, national commander of the 2.7 million member American Foreign Legion, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the panel’s “latest effort to ignore the Veterans Service Organizations,” or VSOs, by “eliminating annual hearings” before a joint House-Senate session of the committee, a decision he believes “will lead to continued budgetary shortfalls for the VA [Veterans Administration] resulting in veterans being underserved.”

In a separate rebuke, the 2.4 million member Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, called Buyer’s proposal “an absolutely abhorrent idea” and described it as especially inappropriate “during a time of war.”

“Joint hearings were initiated decades ago to allow America’s veterans organizations an opportunity to be heard by the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs,” the VFW said in a statement. “The joint hearings also afford members of Congress an important opportunity to convey their views on veterans and a host of other issues.”

But Brooke Adams, a spokeswoman for the committee, told WND the new date was implemented as a means to better facilitate the groups’ interest in being a part of the budget process. And she says in no way was Chairman Buyer – an active-duty Army veteran who remains a colonel in the Army Reserve – attempting to cut the VSOs out of the hearing process.

In fact, she said, the committee is working to craft a reformed budget hearing schedule – something she hopes will come about “in the next 24 hours.”

Nevertheless, both veterans groups say they are also upset that Buyer announced the new schedule at an Army War College “Veterans Summit” at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., Nov. 8. – an event which neither organization attended. And at least one of the groups disputes Buyer’s claim that his plan was “received favorably” by other veterans’ organizations.

“We would never have agreed to that,” Bock wrote.

Bock also criticized Buyer for taking “the opportunity at our Washington conference last March to point out that our members were not well served by our senior staff or any leadership that disagreed with your point of view on several issues.”

“We have worked with chairmen on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers for many, many years. At times there has been acrimony over certain issues and disagreement over certain proposed courses of action, but at no time until recently have the disagreements been reduced to a personal level,” Bock wrote. “At no time has the competence of the parties involved or the sincerity of any been questioned.”

Adams refuted Bock’s assertions and suggested the budget hearing schedule issue has been blown out of proportion. She said Buyer’s intention has always been to “bring the VSOs deeper into the fold, bring them in earlier, so they could more greatly influence the budget process.”

Noted Adams: “There was no intent to upset them.”

In a statement, Buyer added, “Moving these hearings forward will bring more accountability to the budget process and ensure that veterans have greater input in the process. Now, veterans organizations are more relevant and material to the budget fight.”

The committee also noted moving the date to February coincided with the president’s usual budget submission schedule.

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