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The head of the nation's largest veterans' group said Tuesday that Washington is failing troops and veterans.
Army veteran James Koutz of Boonville, Ind., national commander of the American Legion, criticized politicians for using the defense budget and service members as pawns in a battle over deficit reduction and spending priorities.
He also objected to attempts to increase out-of-pocket Tricare costs for retirees and opposed a recent Pentagon move to create a new medal for drone operators that ranks higher in precedence than some medals awarded to combat troops on the ground.
He made his remarks at a Washington conference of the 2.4-million-member organization, which has more than 13,000 posts around the world.
The Legion's conference comes during a week when the threat of across-the-board budget cuts is consuming the most attention in Washington. Koutz urged Legionnaires meeting with lawmakers to press for a budget agreement that protects defense and veterans' programs.
"Let your elected officials know you expect them to work this out," Koutz said. "This is unacceptable."
Koutz said he has no problem with a Defense Department plan to create a new Distinguished Warfare Medal for the operators of remotely operated drones. However, the new award should not outrank the Purple Heart or Bronze Star, he said.
On Tricare fees, Koutz said he had a simple message for politicians: "Leave Tricare alone and stop insulting us by taking money away in an attempt to balance the budget."