WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), a leading Republican congressman overseeing veterans issues, is warning that President Obama's decision on birth control will have far-reaching effects even on the seemingly unrelated issue of combating homelessness amongst veterans.
Miller is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. On Monday, he sent out a press release on the president's FY '13 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying that upon "first glance," it "appears positive given today's constrained fiscal environment, which is a good step forward."
But, he added, Obama's decision not to exempt all religiously affiliated organizations from covering the cost of birth control for their employees may cause problems for veterans. It's not completely clear how the two are related, although he may be worried about what would happen to religiously affiliated groups that help homeless veterans and receive VA funding if they fail to comply with the new birth control rule.
"There are also obvious elephants in the VA budget, however," Miller said in his release. "VA's goal to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015, while laudable, is now squarely in the sights of the administration's new contraceptive policy, pitting numerous faith-based institutions that provide shelter for our nation's veterans against their own moral beliefs. Without these institutions, our veterans will suffer the consequences of bad policy."
Miller's office declined to comment for this article.
Richard Allen Smith is vice chairman of VoteVets and an Afghanistan war veteran. He grew up in what is now Miller's district and criticized the congressman's attempts to tie contraception to the issue of homeless veterans.
"Chairman Miller is truly trying to shove a square peg into a round hole," said Smith. "How the White House compromise on contraception affects homeless veterans is beyond me. Whether or not any organization provides contraception coverage to female employees wouldn't affect their work for veterans. Chairman Miller can take whatever position he wants on the compromise, but to try to charge that the policy has any affect on veterans is pretty crass and clumsy politics."
The new rule on birth control stems from the Affordable Care Act. Most women employed in the U.S. will have the cost of their birth control covered with no co-pay, effective Aug. 1.
The rule exempted employers, including churches and other places of worship, whose primary purpose is imparting religious beliefs from covering contraception for their employees. But many religious groups argued the exemption was too narrow and should also apply to other religiously affiliated organizations. The Obama administration disagreed, but gave these employers an extra year to comply with the new law.
On Friday, the White House announced that it will be rolling out an "accommodation" to address the concerns of some religious groups. According to White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, religious institutions would still be required to cover contraception as part of any health care plan they offer to their employees. But they also will be offered a veritable opt-out clause. If they determine that the requirement violates their religious sensibilities, the burden would then fall on the insurance company to cover the cost.