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Sen. Richard Burr and Republicans Voted For the $160 Billion F-22 and Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Yet Bemoan VA Budget

05/29/2014 08:06 am ET | Updated Jul 29, 2014
Bill Clark via Getty Images

After veterans organizations failed to display his fervor in condemning the VA, Sen. Burr issued an open letter stating they were "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. But to what end?" During the Memorial Day weekend, the Paralyzed Veterans of America issued a response letter stating, "You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country." The PVA highlighted several reasons why Sen. Burr "should be ashamed" for his actions. The Veterans of Foreign Wars also issued their own letter highlighting their dismay at the "monumental cheap-shot and posturing you've engaged in by enlisting in an absolutely disgusting ambush style of politics." Rather than apologize for offending the PVA and VFW, the North Carolina Senator (who never served in the military) stated, "Clearly I hit a nerve. I think they've shown more outrage toward my open letter than outrage toward the current crisis at the V.A."

Therefore, if he feels that the VA Budget of $163.9 billion will suffer from systemic and cultural mismanagement, then it's only fair to analyze his voting record on costly weapons programs and trillion-dollar wars. According to Project Vote Smart, Sen. Burr's record illustrates a penchant to vote for costly military expenditures while at the same time voting against veteran's causes:

Sept. 14, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force-Yea
Oct. 10, 2002 Use of Military Force Against Iraq Joint Resolution-Yea
Oct. 5, 2005 Health Care for Veterans Amendment-Nay
Oct. 7, 2005 Defense Department FY2006 Appropriations Bill-Yea
Nov. 17, 2005 Additional Funding For Veterans Amendment-Nay
Sept. 19, 2007 Time Between Troop Deployments Amendment-Nay
Sept. 21, 2007 Iraq Troop Reduction Amendment-Nay
Dec. 18, 2007 Iraq Withdrawal Amendment -Nay
May 22, 2008 Funding for Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan-Yea
May 22, 2008 Iraq Provisions Including a Troop Withdrawal Amendment-Nay
July 21, 2009 Repealing Funding for F-22 Aircraft Procurement-Nay
Nov. 29, 2012 Expands TRICARE Coverage of Autism Amendment-Nay
Nov. 29, 2012 Accelerated Transition of US Military Operations to the Government of Afghanistan Amendment Adopted-Nay

When evaluating Sen. Burr's voting record, it's important to note that his votes correlate directly to the issues faced by the VA in 2014. He voted against mandatory and ideal minimum rest periods for soldiers fighting in multiple tours of duty; undoubtedly leading to greater cases of PTSD. He continually voted to fund the wars, but failed to fund separate laws backing veteran's health care, additional funding for veterans, or TRICARE coverage of autism. As for the timeline of both wars, Sen. Burr prohibited any law ensuring that we could bring our soldiers home sooner, rather than later. When it came to an expedited transfer of U.S. military operations to the Government of Afghanistan, he also voted "Nay."

One of Sen. Burr's most striking votes, considering he's a fiscal conservative, is voting against ending funding for the F-22 fighter jet. It's odd that he would stick by the F-22 since according to the Federation of American Scientists, the aircraft will cost as much as the 2015 VA budget:

On average, about two-thirds of the total life cycle cost of a major defense system lies in post-production--in its operation and sustainment over its useful life. If that rule were to hold true, with a charge of roughly $79.0 billion to buy the F-22A, the Air Force could be facing a demand for roughly $160.0 billion in F-22A sustainment costs. Moreover, under its `structures retrofit program', over the next few years the Air Force will need more than $100.0 million to retrofit the F-22A fleet just to ensure these aircraft can fly for the full 8,000 hours for which they were designed.

Furthermore, mismanagement and wasted money with this aircraft is exemplified by its problems with providing pilots sufficient oxygen. According to USA Today, "Coughing among pilots and fears that contaminants were leaking into their breathing apparatus led the experts to suspect flaws in the oxygen-supply system of the F-22 Raptor." This might very well have led to the death of one pilot, Captain Jeff Haney in 2010 (although the Air Force blamed the pilot who couldn't breathe for the crash). According to Fox News, the Air Force has also discarded over 4,400 planes at a cost of $35 billion. Some of these aircraft were sent literally from the assembly line to the junk yard. The Boston Globe recently reported:

"The US Navy's newest aircraft carrier, a multibillion-dollar behemoth that is the first in a next generation of carriers, is beset with a number of performance problems, even failing tests of its ability to launch and recover combat jets, according to an internal assessment by the Pentagon."

Sen. Burr has yet to expresses outrage over the enormous waste and cost within our defense budget. He's yet to pontificate about the culture of mismanagement when it comes to money burning weapons programs; expenditures that almost always run into the hundreds of billions. Also, his record in Congress correlates directly to the $2.2 trillion price tag of the wars he chose to fund with his vote. As for the debt he and other Republicans complain about, one-quarter of U.S. government debt since 2001 is due to our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

America's newest jet fighter, the F-35, costs $392 billion; more than two years of the VA budget. As stated within the Independent Budget (developed by AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Disabled American Veterans), "Without additional funding and resources, VA may encounter difficulties in becoming a resource in a time of national crisis." Rather than picking a fight with veterans, Sen. Burr should pretend the VA is a weapons program or war and fund it accordingly.