Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin blasted a group of Republican colleagues after they threatened to vote down her veterans support bill.
In a blistering address from the House floor Wednesday night, Slotkin (D-Lansing) directed her ire at Republicans who wanted to scuttle her bipartisan Solid Start Act, a bill to connect veterans with the Department of Veterans Affairs as they transition to civilian life.
The bill would make permanent the Solid Start pilot program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), through which the VA contacts veterans multiple times by phone in the first year after they leave service to check in and help connect them to programs and benefits.
In 2017, among veterans who died by suicide, 62% had not been in contact with the Veterans Health Administration in the preceding two years, and 40% of veterans responding to a recent survey by the American Legion were not sure whether they were eligible for VA mental health services
Although the Senate passed Slotkin’s bill by unanimous consent earlier this month, a group of House Republicans on Wednesday threatened to vote the bill down over a single 16-word provision of the bill: ensuring the VA is “Providing women veterans with information that is tailored to their specific health care and benefit needs.”
Slotkin said their last-minute opposition was entirely due to abortion – and specifically their position that women veterans should have no access to abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.
“The 16 words here that they apparently now object to, they address essential women’s health care that’s already covered by the VA – things like mammograms, maternity care, and medications for conditions like PTSD, depression, diabetes and heart conditions,” said Slotkin. “None of this is controversial. None of this is objectionable … It should be the most bipartisan issue in the world, and you’re making it political. Shame on you.”
On social media, Slotkin that as a stepmother to a female Army officer, this is personal.
“They refuse to accept abortions for veterans who have been raped, those who have been the victim of incest, or when a medical professional deems the pregnancy dangerous,” she said. “They’ve made themselves clear: they are more than willing to put politics over our veterans. They think politicians, not doctors, should decide if a veteran having a miscarriage gets life-saving care, and that any issue is worth politicizing for the sake of a world with a total ban on abortion — no exceptions.”
Congressional Republicans, led by Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill), claim that VA funding of women’s health procedures includes abortion and thus would violate the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion.
Democrats in Congress counter that the VA has authority to cover abortions under the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, which says the VA secretary “shall furnish hospital care and medical services … which the secretary determines to be needed.”
According to The Military Times, researchers estimate that 96,200 female VA patients live in states that have banned or severely restrict abortion.
In addition, Shereef Elnahal, the VA’s undersecretary for health, said that the VA has had to send an average of 10 to 20 veterans to outside doctors for “life saving” abortion care annually.
A survey of veterans by Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee indicated 90% believe the VA should provide abortion counseling, whike 73% said it should “always” or “sometimes” provide abortion care.
However, none of that is related to the Solid Start Act, and Slotkin’s anger was directed at attempts to derail the bill for that purpose.
Slotkin said she is continuing to work to pass the Solid Start Act this week and get it to President Biden for his signature.
The bill has been endorsed by Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).