The head of the nation’s largest veterans’ group says the decision by a House committee chairman to move forward by several months the traditional date such organizations give budget testimony will likely lead to less, not more, influence in the process.

Thomas Bock, the national commander of the American Legion, says a recent decision by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer, R-Ind., to eliminate September joint-session testimony for VSOs – veteran service organizations – and instead have them appear in February or March, when the president normally submits his budget, “actually moves us back” in the budget process.

“We testify in September, very early on, because we want to be ahead of any deals cut or any presidential budget, so we can influence the president, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) as well as the House and Senate,” Bock told WND, adding the Legion has testified every fall before a joint veterans’ affairs session since 1950.

As WorldNetDaily reported, Buyer – at an Army War College “Veterans Summit” at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., Nov. 8 – announced the new schedule, saying VSOs in attendance supported the plan. The Legion, along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, did not attend the summit.

Brooke Adams, a spokeswoman for Buyer’s committee, told WND Wednesday 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 Buyer – an active-duty Army veteran who remains a colonel in the Army Reserve – attempting to cut the VSOs out of the hearing process.

“There was no intent to upset them,” she said.

Timing is everything

The Legion’s national commander doesn’t see it that way. And he maintains the reason why the fall House-Senate session is vital to his organization is “because we give a very detailed and very comprehensive presentation” of the organization’s member needs, so both the president and lawmakers have a clear understanding of veterans’ priorities.

“It’s not just budget,” he said.

The 2.7 million member Legion prefers the timing of the process not change, Bock said, “one, to influence [the budget process] on the front end, and two, to inform our members and unite them so they have all their knowledge when they come to Washington” to discuss Legion issues.

Bock said the Legion does send representatives to Capitol Hill around February or March every year, but that is to give follow-up testimony and gauge the progress of their issues.

In a letter to Buyer, the 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, representing 2.4 million members, 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.”

Bock said he talked over the issue with Buyer a few days before Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11, “and I explained to him what he’s doing is not moving us up earlier in the process, it’s backing us up.” But, he said, “he was intent on moving everyone up – he kept talking about that.”

When asked to respond, Adams told WND, “The chairman is taking into consideration the constructive conversation he had with Commander Bock, for whom he has great respect.”

Steve Robertson, the Legion’s legislative director, told WND he has met with the committee’s staff director, “and we’re trying to reach some kind of consensus.”

But, Robertson said, “it appears [Buyer] is steadfast in his decision to no longer hold the joint hearings.”

“He wants to try to do hearings where [VSOs’ input] will be more relevant,” Robertson said, adding the current schedule is ideal because not only is the Legion “trying to influence the president’s budget, but [we’re] giving Congress a look ahead and saying, ‘Here’s what we’re going to be asking for in the next session.'”

For Bock, the issue of moving testimony dates isn’t political. “This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” he said. “This is an American issue. We want to work together to resolve this.”

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