So far, the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t seem to care that it has pulled the rug out from under 1,000 veterans, their families, friends and supporters, and key components of the Buffalo economy. But it is coming under increasing pressure for its cavalier decision to cancel the Veterans Golden Age Games just 10 weeks before the event was to occur and only two weeks after the VA signed contracts.
Both Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., have written to Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, to protest the abrupt cancellation of the games, which had been in planning for six years. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, has also made his objections known.
In his letter, Higgins noted the $2.2 million economic loss the region will suffer because of the VA’s unexplained action. He also noted that the 1,000 veterans will be unable to compete in a prequalifying event for the Senior Olympics and, as a financial matter, will forfeit whatever they may have invested in nonrefundable airline tickets.
Schumer made similar points in a letter to Shinseki and also demanded to know what the VA planned to do with the money it saved by canceling the games. He asked Shinseki what the VA would do “to help make veterans and companies whole?”
It’s a good question. In a normal world, a party who backs out of a legal contract is subject to be sued and to be forced to compensate those who paid the price for its indifference. We see no reason that the VA shouldn’t be similarly held to account.
That’s not the answer, though. The solution is for the VA to reverse its decision and proceed with the games – as it still intends to do in North Carolina, Florida, Colorado and California.
The VA’s vague plea of poverty doesn’t hold up. As Higgins noted, Shinseki’s department was exempted from sequestration, while the recent resolution keeping the government functioning through Sept. 30 provided the VA with $61 billion in discretionary funding, a $2.5 billion increase that is also shielded from sequestration.
So what is the real reason for the VA’s action? It’s not saying, and in its silence it is leaving thousands of individuals and businesses in the lurch. Four downtown hotels had booked guests for the six-day event, which was to have begun on May 30. Those hotels may now take a bath.
The venues for the competition, including the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, Erie Community College and Amherst’s Audubon Golf Course, will also suffer. Nothing comparable can be booked into the convention center on such short notice.
It is fair to ask if the government should be paying for events such as these in a time of financial strain. But that’s a question for the future and one that has evidently not been asked regarding the games still scheduled elsewhere. The VA made an agreement and, more than that, it signed a contract. It needs to make good.