- The Washington Times
Saturday, May 24, 2014

War broke out Saturday between the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a U.S. senator who accused it of kowtowing to the Department of Veterans Affairs to gain access to Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The VFW shot back Saturday that Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, was “dishonorable.”

Mr. Burr on Friday posted an open letter to veterans in which he praised the American Legion for calling for Mr. Shinseki to resign.

Then he lowered the boom against the other veteran service organizations — read the VFW — who did not.

“Regrettably, the Legion was alone among the VSOs that testified in taking such a stand,” Mr. Burr said. “It became clear at the hearing that most of the other VSOs attending appear to be more interested in defending the status quo within VA, protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the Secretary and his inner circle.”

Mr. Burr said such a strategy is pointless.

“What use is their access to senior VA staff, up to and including the Secretary, if they do not use their unprecedented access to a Cabinet Secretary to secure timely access to care for their membership?” he wrote. “What hope is there for change within the VA if those closest to the agency don’t use that proximity for the good of veterans across our country?”

As the nation prepared to remember its fallen defenders on Memorial Day, the VFW’s high command returned the fire Saturday evening. A letter from the top brass called Mr. Burr’s open letter a “monumental cheap-shot” and accused him of “enlisting in an absolutely disgusting ambush style of politics.”

“Senator, this is clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than 40 years of involvement with the veteran community and breaches the standards of the United States Senate,” said the letter signed by William Thien, VFW commander in chief, and John E. Hamilton, adjutant general.

“We will not stand by and let our members be distracted by rhetoric or finger-pointing and we certainly won’t abide our veterans being used as political footballs,” they said. “And you can be sure that we will let our membership know the low-regard you hold for their organization.”

The two said the VFW had been warning Congress for years about long waiting lines at VA health facilities, a now in-the-open political scandal that veterans advocates say is the responsible for the deaths of ex-service members.

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