‘Unforgivable:’ Arizona Veterans Call out Republicans for Voting to Cut Their Benefits

AP Photo/Ralph Freso

By Keya Vakil

May 1, 2023

An analysis suggests the GOP bill would force a 22% reduction in veterans benefits, which would eliminate thousands of staffing positions at the VA and cause Arizona veterans to lose 127,000 outpatient doctors visits.

A group of Arizona veterans are speaking out against their Republican representatives in Congress who voted to pass a bill that would make severe cuts to veterans’ benefits, reduce their access to care, and potentially take away access to food and housing benefits. 

The “Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023,” which passed the GOP-controlled House in a 217-215 vote last week, seeks $4.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade and to limit future spending on dozens of programs, including funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

An analysis from the VA suggests the GOP bill would force a 22% reduction in veterans benefits, which would eliminate thousands of staffing positions at the VA and cause Arizona veterans to lose 127,000 outpatient doctors visits, including for issues like mental health, substance disorder treatment, and suicide prevention. Such cuts could also lead to longer wait times for benefits and make it harder for veterans to obtain their pensions and get other assistance. 

No Democrats voted for the bill, but nearly every Arizona Republican in the House—Reps. David Schweikert, Eli Crane, Juan Ciscomani, Debbie Lesko, and Paul Gosar—voted to pass the bill.

Derek Duba, an Army veteran who lives in Gosar’s district, highlighted the human toll of the proposed cuts on Thursday during a virtual event held by Courage for America, a group working to hold House Republicans accountable for their policy agenda.

“I waited three months this year for a behavioral health care appointment through the Phoenix VA and I had to be hospitalized waiting for that care, because our resources are already spread so thin,” Duba said. “My question to the House GOP is this: Who are you looking to fire? Is it my psychiatrist? Is it my physical therapist? Is it the security guards at the door?”

Frank Thompson, a Vietnam War Air Force veteran and Arizona resident, has experienced first hand what happens when the VA is under-funded. Thompson said he was denied access to the VA health center in Tucson nearly 40 years ago due to budget constraints, and warned that any spending cuts would devastate military families. 

“The VA cannot provide the service needed when funding is restricted and young, active military personnel cannot provide for their families’ needs when support is taken away,” Thompson said. “Why is it you always find the funds to send us to die, but can never find the funds to take care of us when we return?”

Thompson also called out what he views as the hypocrisy of Republicans, who want to extend the Trump tax cuts that mostly benefited the super rich and dramatically increased the national deficit, while simultaneously cutting veterans benefits and healthcare and food assistance for low-income families in the name of reducing the deficit. 

“Why do you feel comfortable raising the debt to give your rich friends a tax break that would allow them to buy a new yacht, but would deny the funding for milk for a young service family to feed their child?” Thompson asked, referring to the bill’s effort to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to federal estimates, roughly 55,000 Arizonans would lose access to SNAP, sometimes known as food stamps. According to the VA, about 1.3 million veterans currently rely on SNAP benefits to help feed themselves and their families. The most recent data from 2019 found 22,000 active duty troops received SNAP benefits.

Ricardo Reyes, a Marine veteran who lives in Schweikert’s district, knows what that’s like. While in the Marine Corps, his family relied on SNAP and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program because he didn’t earn enough money, even though he sometimes worked 17-18 hour days. 

“I had to take WIC when my then-wife became pregnant to be able to cover our food for that time. I had to go on SNAP because we just couldn’t cover basic needs of groceries,” Reyes said.

Reyes doesn’t think Schweikert and his fellow Republicans care about the impact their bill will have on veterans or others who rely on SNAP. 

“They just care that they’re going to stick it to the liberals,” Reyes said. “They think that because they’re cutting programs like SNAP or WIC, they’re just going after lazy, poor people who won’t work.”

In reality, data shows the majority of people on SNAP—61%—do work full or part-time, while 24% of recipients can’t work because they’re family caregivers or suffering from illness or disability. Another 6% are in school, with the remaining 9% being retired, unable to find work, or not working for other reasons. 

The Republican bill would also cause roughly 5,300 Arizona families—including some veterans—to lose access to rental assistance.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix, an Iraq War veteran who also participated in the virtual event, described the bill as a “huge slap in the face” to veterans.

“This will cost thousands of veterans their lives, it will cost tens of thousands of veterans their livelihoods, [and] it will cost hundreds of thousands of veterans a lower standard of living just because these greedy Republicans wanted to cover their tax cuts,” Gallego said. “It’s ridiculous. 

The bill is certain to fail in the Senate and President Biden has pledged to veto it, but Republicans hope they can exploit the upcoming debt ceiling negotiations and have suggested that they will let the US default on the nation’s debt unless Democrats agree to spending cuts. 

Even if it doesn’t become law, veterans are angry their benefits are being threatened at all. 

“Juan Ciscomani was supposed to be elected to represent all of us and instead he wants to just play Santa Claus to the rich and corporations,” said Sylvia Andersh-Gonzales, an Air Force veteran, military spouse, and former VA employee who lives in Ciscomani’s district. “I don’t like the fact that they’re playing political games with our lives – I find that unforgivable.”

Author

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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