Friday, October 18, 2013

Law of the Land

Is government really back on the job?

By Eric Stradford and Stephanie Walker Stradford

AMWS, October 17, 2013, Cleveland, OH – In a nutshell, any threat to a veteran of the United States Armed Forces threatens America’s national security. The 16-day shutdown of the United States government, compounded by the possibility of economic default evoked uncertainty among Americans concerning their economic security.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11), an advocate for economic security, particularly for historically disadvantaged Americans, has set out to prove that national government is back on the job. Staff members returned to work in Fudge’s district to face allegations of fraud and depraved indifference to Public Law 112-260.

In the midst of uncertainty about the nation’s future, Arthur L. Stradford, one veteran of the U.S. Army, died as elected officials bickered over the law of the land. An autopsy, requested by the Department of Veterans Affairs, is likely to find no fault concerning Stradford’s all but peaceful transition from “Heroes Harbor” at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center.

However, a failure by Congress to provide oversight in veterans’ affairs and the failure of Veterans Administration officials to ensure compliance with the law of the land has left one bereaved family in limbo with no plot to place their hero.

clip_image002Ironically, the problem stems from a “fill-in-the-blanks” mindset among some of the 800,000 folks sent home from government jobs this month. The National Cemetery would not provide a gravesite because a 77-year old widow didn’t have a DD Form 214.

Congresswoman Fudge’s district office has been working with Stradford’s family to ensure the “expressed wishes of the next of kin or other agent of the deceased veteran are respected and given appropriate deference…” However, neither Fudge nor the Veterans Administration could explain how VA admitted, treated and autopsied Mr. Stradford with no record of a DD Form 214 proving his veteran status.

Back in the 20th century, military service members received the infamous DD Form 214 "Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.” The United States Department of Defense issued the form upon retirement, separation or discharged from active-duty military service. Today, we celebrate paperwork reduction as the law of the land. Along with that law comes increased reliance on a digitized government.

In theory, before the Paperwork Reduction Act (Public Law 104-13), a veteran would hold on to the paper DD Form 214 forever. The veteran would need to show proof of service to apply for a VA loan for housing or business, educational assistance, or medical treatment at a VA Hospital. When the form was lost, you just log on to the right website and ask for a replacement.

The process was simple enough for the time. But, what happens during change from what was to what should be? What happens when government leaders are in conflict over what laws should be respected and what laws can be ignored? And, what happens when elected leaders disagree and vehemently fight over funding that affect “WE THE PEOPLE?” Far too many Americans slip through a crack in the foundation we believe to be democracy.

As Arthur’s elected representative, The Honorable Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH) serves a local constituency and chairs a body of national leaders giving voice to African American concerns for more than 140 years. Fudge ascended to chair The Congressional Black Caucus after her constituents helped to re-elect President Barack Obama.

Since the election, the term “law of the land” has been muddled in the midst of mayhem around Public Law 111-148. Most folks recognize the handle “Obamacare” or the Affordable Healthcare Act. But, opponents seeking to repeal the law, have counted on ignorance and distrust to rewrite history.

Turmoil within the nation’s capital calls for a combination of legislative tactics and grassroots, community-based initiatives to bring attention and positive change to issues of social and economic injustice. In the 21st Century, African Americans and other communities of color continue to be disproportionately and disparately impacted by poverty, environmental, justice and healthcare challenges.

President Barack Obama pointed to healthcare as a necessary step toward achieving economic security. The overwhelming necessity to inform and engage citizens creates a critical need for increased cooperation in Washington, on Main Street, Back Street, and Cross-the-Tracks, USA.

We have all heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The 112th Congress of the United States acted on a national security need that is slowly repairing the fabric of society. The Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012 establishes a spirit of law by which Americans can begin to heal.

Public Law 112–260 charges the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure that, “the expressed wishes of the next of kin or other agent of the deceased veteran are respected and given appropriate deference…” Properly executed, the federal agency serves the need of the veteran’s next of kin. No bereaved family expects to hear “I can’t” from an “ICAN” government.

If anything lesson is learned from government shutdowns, fiscal cliffs, potential defaults and healthcare debates, it probably points to common sense and a renewed commitment to serve. A 77 year-old widow with a need to access VA Forms on the Internet is likely to be challenged. Like a tree, falling in the forest with no government at work, is that 77 year-old widow heard?

President Barack Obama signed Public Law 111-148 on March 23, 2010. It represents a measurable, tangible outcome of change that a majority of Americans once hoped for. This hope was reflected not once, but twice in the election of the first African American president in U.S. History.

Whether you are for or against Public Law 111-148 “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” whether you are for or against Public Law 112-260 “The Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act,” neither WE THE PEOPLE or our government can choose which laws to obey.  But, at some point every every citizen will need to make a choice about America’s future.  “Where do we go from here: CHAOS or COMMUNITY?”

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