NC’s Washington Delegation Splits on Syria

Prominent members of North Carolina’s Congressional Delegation are expressing opposing views on President Obama’s intention to use military force as a response to the recent deployment of chemical weapons in Syria.

Republican Senator Richard Burr, who also drew criticism from conservatives for opposing efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, expressed support for military action in a statement issued August 28th.

Senator Richard Burr

Civilized people should be outraged by the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians and the many more who have been maimed in this horrible civil war. The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians is morally repugnant and violates long held standards of conduct.  Short of putting troops on the ground, it is time for the United States and our NATO allies to take necessary, punitive military action against the Syrian regime and send a clear signal to its leadership, and others in the region who may be contemplating using weapons of this nature, that there are consequences for these actions.

Last Tuesday, Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (2nd District) came out in opposition to the use of US military force.

Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-2nd District)

For more than two years we have witnessed the inner turmoil taking place in Syria and the horrendous atrocities executed by the Assad regime. Recently, reports have come out showing that chemical weapons have been used in cowardly attacks that have shocked the world in their brutality. These constitute a threat to our allies in Israel and Jordan and therefore warrant additional debate and preparedness.

But as President Obama and his administration begin to beat the drums of war in an area of the world which has witnessed significant bloodshed and turmoil for decades, we must take caution and ask serious questions regarding our interests and the price to be paid with intervention. We have learned so much from our history of involvement in this part of the world and the fog of war which clouds our judgment between friend and foe, perceived goals and collateral damage.

At this time, I see nothing but hardship, danger, and unprovoked sacrifice on the shoulders of our military, our troops, and their families. For these and many other reasons which have been echoed by my constituents, I cannot support military action against Syria at this time. Our focus must be on rebuilding our economy here at home after struggling for nearly five years under the President Obama’s economy.  Unless further evidence shows a clear threat to our national interests and a clearly defined vision of victory, this will remain my position moving forward.

First District Congressman, Walter Jones, also opposes action in Syria.

Congressman Water Jones (R-1st District)

I will vote against  any  proposal to authorize U.S. military intervention in Syria,” said Congressman Jones.  “The reality of America’s dismal fiscal situation is that any money spent to bomb Syria will be borrowed from overseas or will be taken from the Defense Department’s already-shrinking budget – resulting in even fewer resources for Eastern North Carolina military installations.  Neither of these options is acceptable.”

Furthermore, there are serious questions about the credibility of the Obama administration’s claims regarding the use of sarin gas in Syria.  The president has failed to explain how our national security depends on engaging in yet another Middle Eastern civil war on the side of radical Islamist rebels who have been documented as possessing sarin gas and beheading Christians, among other atrocities.

President Obama has requested Congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria. The President provided a summary of his justification for the request in his September 7th weekly radio address:

President Barack Obama

Almost three weeks ago in Syria, more than 1,000 innocent people – including hundreds of children – were murdered in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century.  And the United States has presented a powerful case to the world that the Syrian government was responsible for this horrific attack on its own people.

This was not only a direct attack on human dignity; it is a serious threat to our national security.  There’s a reason governments representing 98 percent of the world’s people have agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons.  Not only because they cause death and destruction in the most indiscriminate and inhumane way possible – but because they can also fall into the hands of terrorist groups who wish to do us harm.

That’s why, last weekend, I announced that, as Commander in Chief, I decided that the United States should take military action against the Syrian regime.  This is not a decision I made lightly.  Deciding to use military force is the most solemn decision we can make as a nation.

As the leader of the world’s oldest Constitutional democracy, I also know that our country will be stronger if we act together, and our actions will be more effective.  That’s why I asked Members of Congress to debate this issue and vote on authorizing the use of force.

What we’re talking about is not an open-ended intervention.  This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan.  There would be no American boots on the ground.  Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so.

I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down.  That’s why we’re not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else’s war.

But we are the United States of America.  We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we’ve seen out of Syria.  Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.  All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security.

That’s why we can’t ignore chemical weapons attacks like this one – even if they happen halfway around the world.  And that’s why I call on Members of Congress, from both parties, to come together and stand up for the kind of world we want to live in; the kind of world we want to leave our children and future generations.

One of the President’s strongest supporters in North Carolina, Democrat Congressman G.K. Butterfield (1st District), expressed an open mind on the issue:

Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-1st District)

I’m deeply troubled by the Assad Regime’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians in Syria.  As a Member of Congress, authorizing the use of military force is one of our most important responsibilities and it should not be taken lightly.  This situation deserves careful consideration and I look forward to a thorough debate in the Congress

For Republican Congressman George Holding (13th District), further information from the White House on the situation in Syria provides more reason to oppose military action:

Congressman George Holding (13th District)

After classified briefings and hearing directly from Secretaries Kerry and Hagel yesterday in the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am more skeptical than ever about President Obama’s plan to bomb Syria. For Secretary Kerry to say an attack on Syria – which when you get right down to it amounts to an act of war – is a limited strike, and then add we ‘are not fighting to win,’ doesn’t make a bit of sense.

What we heard today from the administration was purely and simply an exercise in minimizing and understating risks – and nothing I heard convinced me it is necessary to send one American soldier into battle.

The President will speak on the situation and his justifications for use of US force in Syria during a televised address on Tuesday evening, September 10th.

VA Claims Change takes effect August 6th, enables retroactive benefits

Senator Richard Burr

Veterans who choose to submit “fully developed” claims with the Veterans Administration will become eligible for a year of retroactive benefits on and after August 6th, the result of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law last year.

The provision was part of a bill authored by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as part of his ongoing efforts to help Veterans deal with a VA claims administration process that most agree is seriously flawed.

“When veterans file a fully-developed claim VA is able to move past a number of time-consuming steps in the claims process and directly begin ordering any necessary medical examinations and federal records,” said Senator Burr in a release. “According to the VA this allows them to issue a decision in half the time of a traditional claim, without sacrificing quality.”

Retroactive benefits are scheduled to be in effect from August 6, 2013, through August 5, 2015.

“VA strongly encourages Veterans to work with Veterans Service Organizations to file Fully Developed Claims (FDCs) and participate in this initiative, since it means more money in eligible Veterans’ pockets simply by providing VA the information it needs up front,” said Allison A. Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. “At the same time, it helps reduce the inventory of pending claims by speeding the process.”

Retroactive disability benefits are only eligible to those Veterans who are submitting their very first compensation claim as an FDC.

Those who choose to file FDCs can do so online through the DoD-VA portal, eBenefits (  Those who cannot file online are encouraged to work with an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) who will file a claim through the portal on their behalf.

FDCs are supposed to reduce the lengthy backlog of VA claims by improving claims decision rates and reducing waiting times.  The VA also assigns FDCs a higher priority, giving Veterans an incentive to choose this option in order to receive faster decisions than by traditional methods.

Other categories for prioritization of claims utilized by the VA include those seriously wounded, terminally ill, Medal of Honor recipients, former Prisoners of War, the homeless and those experiencing extreme financial hardship.  The VA also gives apriority to claims more than a year old in an effort to eliminate its current backlogs by 2015.

“While this provision offers some expediency to new cases,” Senator Burr stated, “I am still dedicated to making sure VA realizes the damage done to our nation’s veterans when the process is broken.  If you have any questions about filing a claim, please contact any of my offices and my staff will be happy to help you.”

Senator Burr’s Rocky Mount office is located on the second floor of the Rocky Mount Train Station and can be contacted by calling (252) 977-9522.