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Vets group leader says meeting with Trump ‘a positive first step’

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about veterans affairs, Friday, March 17, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — The proposed budget that President Donald Trump released earlier this week includes deep cuts to most federal agencies, with three exceptions: the departments of defense, homeland security and veteran’s affairs.

The president made support for veterans a key promise during his campaign, and on Friday morning he met with representatives of 10 veterans groups, including Got Your 6, a nonprofit that “believes veterans are leaders, team builders, and problem solvers, who have the unique potential to lead a resurgence of community across the nation.”

The group’s executive director, Bill Rausch, told WTOP Friday afternoon that the meeting was a productive first step.

“He was fully committed to supporting veterans,” he said.

Rausch said he was heartened by the Trump plan’s six percent increase to the Department of Veterans Affairs, but the group’s first concern was about who would lead the VA. He said the group was “proud to support” Dr. David Shulkin, who is, Rausch pointed out, “the first non-veteran to lead the agency, but also the first physician to lead the agency, which we think is very important.”

While the increase in VA spending was welcome, Rausch said that his specific message to the president was to emphasize the need to support not only VA but the 13 million veterans who, Rausch said, aren’t even enrolled the VA — a majority of the nation’s 21.8 million vets.

“That was really our thrust … veterans are as diverse as the country they serve, and the Department of Veterans Affairs in and of itself isn’t addressing [all] veterans’ issues.”

 

VA ‘isn’t enough’

Rausch, an Iraq War veteran, added that “Veterans are receiving support through the government, but also through nongovernmental efforts” — therefore, support for the VA “is important, but it isn’t enough.”

Many of the services that would be cut in the president’s proposed budget are used by veterans as well, and Rausch said, “We’re paying close attention to Congress to see if they can strike the right balance” in terms of funding.

Rausch said he asked Trump to establish a White House Office of Veterans’ Empowerment “to truly represent all veterans, again recognizing that the VA … doesn’t incorporate the entire veteran population.” He said Trump was receptive and asked Vice President Mike Pence, whose son is serving in the Marines, to take it on.

Overall, Rausch said, the meeting was a “positive first step.”

“We believe the president supports veterans. We want to work with the administration and educate and inform them on how best to support veterans — at the VA, but then [also] across government and nongovernment sectors.”


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