Veterans groups continue to criticize U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) for objecting to a bill intended to reduce a suicide among military veterans.
Coburn defended his actions on the floor of the chamber, saying the bill would not accomplish its stated goal and duplicates programs that already exist.
“Almost everything that’s in this bill has already been authorized and approved with the $10 billion that we send to the VA,” Coburn said.
Instead of passing the $22 million measure, Coburn wants lawmakers to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for failing to serve veterans.
“What’s going to change what’s happening is when we, as members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress, start bearing down, and creating the transparency that’s necessary so that Americans can see that our veterans are getting everything they deserve,” Coburn said. “And a ‘Yes sir,’ a ‘No sir,’ a ‘No ma’am,’ a ‘Yes ma’am,’ a smile and a greeting that when they interact with the VA, they leave there fulfilled, and proud that they’re a veteran."
The founder of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told the Associated Press Coburn is single-handedly blocking a bill that could save the lives of thousands of veterans, and said Coburn's action is "why people hate Washington."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the bill a targeted measure that would help ensure that programs to prevent veterans' suicide work as expected.
The bill would require the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department to submit to independent reviews of their suicide prevention programs. It also would establish a website to provide information on mental health services available to veterans, offer financial incentives to psychiatrists who agree to work for the VA and create a pilot program to assist veterans transitioning from active duty to veteran status.
Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., supported the measure in personal terms, noting that his father committed suicide. "I know firsthand of the heartbreak caused by the needless, preventable death of a loved one," Reid said.
The House unanimously approved the measure last week.
Read Coburn's specific concerns about the bill: