Raleigh, N.C. — U.S. Sen. Richard Burr fired back Tuesday at veterans groups in the latest salvo in a growing dispute between the politician and groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans.
Burr last Friday issued an open letter to veterans regarding the ongoing controversy over lengthy waiting times for veterans seeking medical help at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. He complimented the American Legion for calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation but then criticized other veteran service organizations for not doing likewise.
"I believe the national and local commanders of every VSO have the interests of their members at heart, and take seriously their commitment to their members and their organization," Burr wrote. "Unfortunately, I no longer believe that to be the case within the Washington executive staff of the VSOs that testified (at a Senate hearing). Last week’s hearing made it clear to me that the staff has ignored the constant VA problems expressed by their members and is more interested in their own livelihoods and Washington connections than they are to the needs of their own members."
Incensed VFW leaders responded over the weekend, calling Burr's letter a cheap shot.
"Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally. Quite frankly Senator, you should be ashamed." Commander-in-Chief William Thien and Adjutant General John Hamilton wrote.
Thien and Hamilton said Congress is to blame for any lack of support for veterans.
"What you should know is this: that there is huge, and growing, sentiment within most of the veteran community regarding the inaction of Congress, because they are keenly aware (if the past is any guide) they will enact no budget, no regular appropriations bills nor other key legislation," they wrote.
Disabled American Veterans commander Joseph Johnston was likewise irked by Burr's letter, especially that it came on Memorial Day weekend.
"History clearly shows that unless VA receives sufficient resources to hire enough doctors and nurses, and has enough physical space to treat veterans, waiting list problems will continue," Johnston wrote. "Rather than be distracted by Senator Burr’s hollow insults, we will continue to reach out to thoughtful Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House, as well as the President and leaders in VA, to join us in taking an honest look at all the facts, discuss with us all possible remedies and reforms and work with us to implement solutions that truly honor the heroism of the men and women we remember this Memorial Day weekend."
On Tuesday, Burr reiterated his stance that the VFW is more interested in maintaining the existing VA structure than seeking changes to improve care for veterans.
"The VSOs' response is a rousing defense of the status quo at VA. It's clear that my open letter to America's veterans has outraged some VSOs more than the scandals at VA," he wrote in an email. "I believe their testimony stands on its own."