Daschle receives ‘unsung hero’ award

Daschle receives 'unsung hero' award Sen. Tom Daschle received the American Legion's "Unsung Hero" Award March 9 for service in Congress to America's veterans. The award was presented to Sen. Daschle by a coalition of South Dakota veterans and American Legion National Commander John Brieden.

"It is truly an honor to receive this award from the American Legion," said Sen. Daschle. "The men and women of the American Legion care deeply about this country, its values, and its veterans.."

The award presented to Daschle reads in part, "For commendable leadership on the issue of concurrent receipt of military retired pay and Department of Veterans Affairs disability compensation for thousands of disabled military retirees. In addition, was in the forefront of legislators who sought increases in VA's discretionary budget, to allow the department to adequately meet the needs of this nation's veterans, their spouses and dependents. This effort continues to demonstrate a commitment to America's veterans and their families."

In 2003, Daschle pressed to eliminate new fees and copayments proposed for veterans by President Bush and to boost VA health care funding $1.56 billion higher than the President's budget. As a result of Daschle's advocacy, regional VA officials say the current fiscal year is one of the best they have seen.

According to new figures from the VA, South Dakota health care facilities are to receive a $10 million budget increase in the current fiscal year. This is double the increase under the president's proposed budget.

The 6 percent funding increase will allow the South Dakota facilities to treat more veterans and keep pace with rising costs for health care services and supplies.

In 2003, Daschle sponsored legislation to repeal the disabled veterans tax and allow veterans to receive full disability and retirement benefits. The Bush Administration proposed a veto, then backed off and offered to trade massive cuts in current disability benefits. Daschle vowed to stop any legislation cutting disability compensation, and the Bush Administration ultimately agreed to compromise.

The compromise slowly phases in full concurrent receipt for military retirees with a disability rating of 50 percent or above, expands combat-related compensation to cover all disabled retirees, extends combat-related compensation to Guard and Reserve retirees for the first time, and establishes a commission to review existing disability programs.

"While our legislation ensured full benefits for thousands of disabled veterans, it was only a first step," said Daschle. "In the coming months, I will continue my efforts to completely repeal the disabled veterans tax and provide all veterans the benefits they have earned," Daschle added.

Daschle has also joined a broad coalition of veterans' organizations calling for mandatory funding for VA health care in the federal budget. The critical change would ensure reliable funding for VA health care, rather than discretionary funding that has the potential to decrease each year.

In 2003, Daschle successfully secured additional funding for the VA, including funding for clinics in South Dakota. The 2003 Omnibus Appropriations bill included an additional $2 million for the Sioux Falls and $3 million for the Black Hills VA clinics.

"Our veterans should not be forced to wait for months simply to see a doctor," Daschle added. "It is incumbent upon the Bush administration and Congress to fund VA health and end the long waits our veterans must endure to receive the basic health care they have been promised."

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