In the new 113th Congress, change is coming to the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee. Next month, Democrat Patty Murray of Washington (the current panel chairman) will leave the group to lead the Senate Budget Committee. Next in line is Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a man who in the past protested against the Vietnam War but who, in recent years, has been a fervent supporter of veterans’ rights and disabled veterans.
The 71-year-old Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, was elected to the Senate in 2007 after three-term Republican Jim Jeffords retired from the post–and was re-elected this year. Before his Senate involvement, he spent 16 years serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and a number of years as the mayor of Burlington.
Veterans’ advocates are applauding the new leader of the Veterans Affairs Committee. His track record supporting veterans’ issues is strong: he has supported the expansion of veterans’ healthcare, opposed cuts to military retirement funds, fought for VA disability benefits for those exposed to Agent Orange, supported programs to assist homeless veterans, and fought for this year’s veterans’ disability cost-of-living adjustment. He also supported a measure to more fully reimburse veterans who have to pay to travel long distances for medical support. Finally, he has raised awareness for the “invisible injuries” suffered by veterans of recent wars, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries.
His appointment to panel leader of the veterans’ committee will likely be announced officially in the coming weeks, as the Senate prepares to shift leadership in the New Year.