National Press Club

VFW commander urges military budget reforms, end of sequestration

November 10, 2016 | By Ken Dalecki |

VFW National Commander Brian Duffy making a point at National Press Club Newsmaker press conference Nov. 10.

VFW National Commander Brian Duffy making a point at National Press Club Newsmaker press conference Nov. 10.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Brian Duffy, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), called on the incoming president and Congress to end the use of sequestration, a spending cap procedure that he said is "destroying our military," at a National Press Club Newsmaker event Nov. 10.

The head of the nation's oldest veterans' organization also called for greater stability in leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Duffy, a former Air Force flight engineer and Desert Storm veteran, said the 115th Congress and a President Donald Trump should scrap the 2011 Budget Control Act that forces military and other discretionary spending sectors to hold spending under a cap regardless of changing conditions.

Although the military budget has been increased, Duffy said talks with active-duty military personnel convinces him that sequestration "is having a real impact on mission" and morale by limiting training, equipment maintenance and amenities.

He also called on the lame-duck 114th Congress to "finish the job they were elected to do" by passing a 2017 defense spending bill.

The head of the 1.7-million member organization said the VFW is "overall happy with progress" being made at the VA to reduce the time it takes to deliver care to the nation's aging veteran population. But he said gains could come faster if leadership at the VA was more stable and if Congress gave it tools needed to improve personnel.

Although the VFW will oppose any effort to privatize VA hospitals, he said it does support using outside health care facilities so long as they are "under control of the VA system" because veterans often have unique service-connected health care needs that VA caregivers recognize. He also urged an end to an arbitrary limits on eligibility for outside care, such as being more than 30 miles from a VA facility or facing a 40-day waiting period for VA care.

Asked to grade President Obama's performance on veterans' affairs, Duffy said Obama has "done a good job" even though more needs to be done. He credited "a vigilant press" for helping expose VA shortcoming in delivering care. And he was critical of Congress for not passing legislation that would let the VA act more quickly in hiring and firing personnel.

Duffy, who is serving a one-year term as VFW commander, has made the open discussion of mental health issues as his priority. "The brain is like any other organ in the body," he said. "It can get sick and it can be made well." He said more open discussion of mental problems and an awareness of mental health resources can lead to live-saving treatment.

Duffy said the VFW is working to build alliances with such mental health initiatives as The Campaign to Change Direction, a citizens' initiative begun after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and the 2013 White House Conference on Mental Health.

Asked if he could foresee a day when the VFW and the somewhat larger American Legion would combine to form one veterans organization, Duffy said "not in my lifetime." He said both work effectively to advocate for veterans and have unique qualities.

The VFW's Congressional charter restricts membership to those who have served in combat zones while the American Legion, whose historic D.C. Post 20 is based at the National Press Club, opens membership to all veterans who have served during times of conflict even if they were not in combat.