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U.S. Veterans’ Benefits Cut to Pay for Afghan Immigrant Visas

Posted on May 25, 2016 by creeping

Source: Legislative Update: 5/24/2016

In last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, Congress cut benefits to veterans by increasing co-pays for prescriptions. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the increased co-pays saved the federal government approximately $1.5 billion. (See CBO Estimate FY2016 NDAA) However, it now appears that $336 million generated from the veterans’ cuts was used to pay for 3,000 additional Afghan interpreters to be resettled in the United States.  (The Daily Caller News Foundation, May 16, 2016)

Known as the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), this program was created by Congress in 2009 for Afghan employees and contractors who were employed by the U.S. government in Afghanistan any time after October 6, 2001, and who experienced an ongoing serious threat as a result of that employment. (See P.L. 111-8; 8 U.S.C. § 1101 note 26) Initially, the annual cap on SIVs issued was 1,500 but it was increased to 4,000 in the Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA before being increased again in the Fiscal Year 2016 NDAA to 7,000. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Dec. 9, 2014;Department of State SIV Guidelines)

While Afghan translators serve an important function in the ongoing war on terror, it is poor public policy to cut benefits to American citizen veterans to pay for these visas. “Military families shouldn’t be paying for the SIV program. The program should be funded outright because of the service our interpreters rendered,” said former Army combat veteran Alex Plitsas. (The Daily Caller News Foundation, May 16, 2016) There’s no reason to put veterans’ benefits on the chopping block, especially since there is overlap in jurisdiction with the State Department’s control of visa programs. (Id.)

Outrageously, it appears that several Senators want to cut veterans’ benefits again in the Fiscal Year 2017 NDAA to pay for even more SIV. An unnamed GOP Senate aide told the Daily Caller, “I’ve been told by multiple sources that they’re trying to use the co-pay hike to pay for the visa increase again this year.” (Id.) “With so much wasteful government spending that should be cut, it is befuddling how some in Congress are so eager to put military and veteran benefits on the chopping block.” (Id.)

The Senate is working on the Fiscal Year 2017 NDAA this week. Both Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have expressed a desire to increase the SIV cap but neither has explained how it would be paid for. (Id.)

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