Hope for a Veterans Windfall Above All Hopes

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

After years of fighting in vain for what he believed disabled war veterans deserved, David W. Gorman is on the verge of getting more than he asked for.

Appropriators in the House have voted to provide the Veterans Health Administration with nearly $300 million more than veterans groups such as Gorman's put on their wish list, something that has not happened in two decades.

And senators may go even further. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) is pushing a bill that would allow vets with service-connected disabilities to be treated anywhere they want, not just at VA hospitals.

For Gorman, Washington executive director of the 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans, this is a dream realized. "It's a tremendous feat," he said.

Republican-led Congresses constantly disappointed veterans groups. But the Democrats now in charge have come through. Publicity about mistreatment of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has helped, Gorman said, even though that facility is run by the Pentagon, not the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gorman has even had to try to rein in some of Congress's newfound enthusiasm. For instance, he told Craig thanks but no thanks. Craig's plan would cost too much (hundreds of billions of dollars) and would undercut VA hospitals by giving vets an incentive to steer clear of them, he said.

Gorman must also remain vigilant about funding, given a possible veto by President Bush-- and no one would expect otherwise from him. Gorman, 58, lost both legs under fire during the Vietnam War, yet he walks (and plays golf) with only a slight wobble on prosthetic legs.

His organization is just as tough. It has a sophisticated contact system that can inundate targeted lawmakers with faxes and e-mails at a moment's notice. And Gorman intends to keep using that technique. "We have to go through this battle every year," he said.

Whither Quinn Without Gillespie?

Quinn Gillespie & Associates was Washington's eighth-largest lobbying firm last year. This year, its well-connected chief Republican, Edward W. Gillespie, departed to work in the White House. So, what happens to the firm now?

A gradual decline is the street's leading bet. After all, lobbying is a very personal business, and few Republicans have as much entree -- or as much skill in working with the news media and interest groups -- as Gillespie. An inkling of QGA's concern: Gillespie and co-founder Jack Quinn called all 50-plus of their clients last week to give them a heads-up about the change.

But Howard Paster, the executive who oversees the firm, is remarkably upbeat. "It's a strong firm. The client list is pretty impressive. We'll be all right," he said.

Paster said that Gillespie had already been absent plenty (he took a leave to lead the Republican National Committee during the 2004 campaign) and other big-name GOPers on the staff (such as former congressional aide J. David Hoppe) were able to take up the slack. "The whole idea is to have these firms institutionalized and not revolve around individuals," said Paster, a senior executive at the London-based WPP Group, which has owned QGA since 2003.

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