Democrats final approval of Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida as Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee confirms the age old principle of seniority for Democratic leadership positions; where she has steadfastly served for more than twenty-years, knows the issues, and is committed to the work, including her 5th Congressional district (formerly the 3rd) which has a high number of veterans and family members as constituents.
As a result, Rep. Brown the senior member on the committee that has oversight and investigative authority for the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) shouldn’t warrant a wait-and-see attitude, or approach by opponents of the Democratic Party and the White House as they go about the task of implementing the new VA reform law.
Rep. Brown the most senior Democrat on the committees’ strong support for both Congressionally chartered and non-chartered veterans groups, or veterans stakeholders such as the Montford Point Marines (Congressional Gold Medal, 2007), Tuskegee Airmen (Congressional Gold Medal, 2005), and the Veterans Brain trust (Congressional Black Caucus Foundation), etc. or more specifically those who have earned their rights and benefits on the battlefield, only to return home and have to fight for their own equal rights (i.e. Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Fair Housing and Equal Employment Opportunity) and still don’t have a voice in Congress and the Administration; and organizational recognition by the entire Congressional Black Caucus, would suggest she is a fierce fighter for ‘equity and justice for all.’
Thus, this historic moment that has propelled Rep. Brown to become the first woman since the 60’s, and the first African American woman in the committees history really offers an alternative to the long standing and existing status-quo (white and male) of the committee’s members and will hopefully be a game-changer for the whole Committee hearing dynamic, as well as testimonies way beyond the Department of Veterans Affairs, in terms of gender inclusiveness and racial diversity.
Dan Caldwell, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and others who strongly opposed Rep. Brown makes me wonder how committed they are to veterans issues of fairness, equality, inclusion and diversity (or culture) given the current demographics of the modern-day military on the one hand, and on the other hand, issues of racism, discrimination and bias which frequently effect the VA’s – utilization rates, effective treatment, mental health diagnosis, disability awards and senior management positions – which somehow didn’t quite make it onto the national radar screen earlier this year.
As the veterans affairs scandal chose to focus solely on issues of access, or long wait-care lists – with no mention of race, gender, quality of care, the VA service delivery system, or diversity of VA senior management – not specifically-related to deaths but definitively noted over decades of disenfranchisement starting as far back as the Tuskegee VA Hospital in 1923.
Further, the fact that the Democratic Party has passed the largest VA budget, and the biggest GI Bill increase in history, and tried to insure veterans against a Republican government shutdown by providing advanced appropriations for health care programs. Says, volumes about preparation, prevention, planning and action regarding veterans services and benefits in the future; and now appointing Rep. Corrine Brown shows the House Democratic leadership is more serious than ever about veterans, as well as seniority, fairness and particularly diversity while reforming, or fixing the VA for the 21st century.” For example: “If the Minority Veterans 2011 Report prepared by the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics which came out on May 2, 2013, is any indication of future trends, or veterans population projections they couldn’t have put a stronger member in a leadership position on that committee, because heretofore addressing women, Blacks, or ethnic minority veterans estimated to become 30% of the entire veterans population by 2040 hasn’t been a priority.”
Lastly, Congresswoman Brown says, “I pledge to work in a bi-partisan manner, but will always provide a strong voice and stand-up for Democratic core values that protect the most vulnerable,” which is certainly refreshing for a die-hard Democrat, who is also a Vietnam theater veteran. Hoorah!
Ron E. Armstead serves as Executive Director for the Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust, and is a past consultant to the late Secretary Jesse Brown’s Veterans Administration’s Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans. To reach him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the web site at http://vetransbraintrustonline.snappages.com, or like the organization on Facebook. •