ORLANDO, Fla. — President Obama is expected Saturday to reaffirm the White House’s commitment to ratifying the U.N Disabilities Treaty when he addresses the Disabled American Veterans national convention here, according to a senior administration official.
Advocates claim the treaty will make it easier for disabled U.S. veterans to travel and live abroad by requiring signatory nations to meet certain standards that have been set by the U.S. It was backed by the DAV and other veterans groups last year, but was killed in the Senate.
The ratifying legislation failed Dec. 4, 2012, by a handful of votes when it was unable to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to pass. Opponents said the treaty impinges on American sovereignty.
In a statement after the vote, the White House lamented the defeat saying ratification would have put the U.S. in position to support extending the kind of rights that Americans with disabilities enjoy all across the globe
"This in turn would improve the lives of Americans with disabilities, including our wounded service members, who wish to live, work and travel abroad," the statement said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who also championed the bill, said at the time that the issue "is not going away.
"I think there are too many Americans and too many veterans’ organizations and too many people who are too many people who are committed to this cause, that over time we may have every chance and every opportunity to succeed," he said.
Opposition is not going away, either.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, just last month called the treaty — officially named the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — a threat to American sovereignty and self-government.
"The CRPD is not a treaty with other nations, but a treaty with the United Nations itself," Hatch said in a Senate floor statement. "Ratifying it would create a wide range of obligations for the United States and authorize the United Nations to determine whether we are meeting those obligations. "
Twenty other veterans organizations supported ratification of the treaty, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, the Blinded Veterans of America and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Obama is expected to make several announcements related to mental health research into traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicides among servicemembers and veterans, as well as note advances the Department of Veterans Affairs is making in shrinking the backlog of disability claims.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed to eliminate it even as he grew the backlog in 2010 by making hundreds of thousands more Vietnam veterans eligible for Agent Orange-related claims.
The White House has also made the backlog a priority, though it has resisted calls by some veterans groups and others to organize a commission to tackle the problem.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, released a statement on Thursday saying he hoped that Obama would bring up the backlog during his speech to the DAV, and also address what Miller calls leadership failures by top VA officials
"There is near universal agreement that a joint electronic health record integrated across all Department of Defense and VA components would help shrink the backlog, yet DoD and VA have sputtered and failed in achieving this goal, wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the process," Miller said.
The committee chairman was referencing a plan that has since been abandoned to develop a single computerized healthcare record across both departments. DoD and VA agreed to abandon that project last year and work out a system that would permit the departments to share information.
Miller has regularly criticized the VA for awarding bonuses to senior executives at a time when money is so tight. In particular, he has slammed the department for awarding a $63,000 bonus to the head of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System a short time before five patients died of Legionnaires’ disease.
"As commander-in-chief, President Obama is the only person in a position to hold DoD and VA leaders directly accountable, and his leadership and personal involvement is essential to solving these problems," Miller said.