You all know who Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is. To me, first and foremost, the Senator was a Naval pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War and held captive in a North Vietnamese prison camp for nearly six years. His fortitude and bravery in the face of torture by the enemy left him with lifelong disabilities, and the respect and gratitude of many Americans like myself.
So, on June 18th down in the U.S. Capitol building, I experienced the honor of a lifetime to meet the Senator and to present him with the VetsFirst Congressional Bronze Star Award in front of a large crowd of veterans and disability rights advocates from across our nation attending United Spinal’s Roll on Capitol Hill. The Senator could not have been more gracious in accepting this award.
And, his genuine selflessness came shining through in his remarks. Rather than discussing his many legislative accomplishments, he talked only about the passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Back in March of 2007, the United Nations approved this document. It is an international rights agreement of the UN intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities around the world. As of today, over 130 countries have signed on, or agreed to, follow its provisions.
Some of its core principles include non-discrimination, full and effective participation and inclusion in society, equality of opportunity, accessibility, and equality between men and women. These are the similar principles that we find in our disability rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act. These laws have made it easier for Americans with disabilities to find accessible housing, to move around their communities by bus, train or van, and to find jobs.
Now here’s the rub: the United States of America is NOT one of the more than 130 countries that have agreed to the CRPD. Amazingly in my opinion, last December the Senate voted and failed to pass the CRPD by the required two-thirds vote by a measly five votes. The reason: what I read was that if ratified by the U.S., it would encourage abortion around the world. Are they kidding us?
In his remarks to the audience after receiving his award, Senator McCain stated in part, “…you speak for millions and millions around the world who deserve the passage of the CRPD…” and he added later on, “…there are many people in less fortunate circumstances than we are and they cry out for the kinds of rights that we have granted to many of our citizens.” The Senator’s remarks were directly on point.
Finally, during my daylong visits with Ms. Heather Ansley, Esq., MSW, VP of Veterans Policy for VetsFirst, while encouraging Senators to vote in favor of the CRPD when it comes up again, we emphasized that its adoption and implementation also will make it easier for Americans with disabilities to become employed abroad. Please help VetsFirst to get the CRPD adopted here by urging your U.S. Senators to vote in favor of it when it comes up again.
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee