Gov. Edwards tells veterans he will protect LA. Dept. of Veterans Affairs from cutbacks

Gov. Edwards tells veterans he will protect LA. Dept. of Veterans Affairs from cutbacks

SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - On this Memorial Day, Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed dozens of veterans and their families and made a promise about funding for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

In the southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell, the federal holiday attracted living veterans and those who revere them by the dozens. Collectively, they honored those who paid the ultimate military sacrifice.

"Very proud to be here and it's an honor for me to be here," said Robert Fertitta, an army veteran who served during the Vietnam War.

"I came out for support of all of my fallen comrades," said James Conley, a Navy veteran.

Miniature flags stood erect next to headstones in cemetery.

"As Louisianians, we understand the sacrifice made by every man and woman laid to rest on these hallowed ground…It's much more than just flowers, it's heartfelt appreciation, gratitude, respect," said Edwards as he delivered the Memorial Day address.

Edwards, a West Point graduate who served in the Army, told those in attendance he will not allow budget cuts that would affect the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"That's why the cuts to Veterans Affairs that came in HB1 will not stand," he said. "We're not going to imperil our ability to maintain and operate our cemeteries across the state of Louisiana, and I'm committing to you all here today, secretary, there will not be a cut to your budget this year."

Under a budget passed by the Republican-led state House, the department loses $150,000 and it has said two veterans' cemeteries could close as a result, forcing the state to have to pay $10 million to the federal government.

"We're going to make sure we doing right by our veterans, not just at the cemeteries, but all the parish service offices, as well," Edwards stated.

"I was really excited to hear the governor say those words because it has been a source of concern for the Louisiana Department of Veteran Affairs and for me personally," said Col. Joey Strickland, (Ret.), who serves as State Secretary of the LDVA.

Veterans in attendance welcomed the governor's words.

"A lot of veterans were worried about that and it was nice to hear it from his mouth that there wouldn't be no cuts," said George Dussor, who served in the Marines.
"To hear from the governor, that's, that's fantastic," said Conley.

And on this special holiday, the governor urged everyone to take some time out of this day to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day.

"While we can all appreciate the Memorial Day sales, that's not what this day is all about. I think that's the most important thing we can do," stated the governor.

"They need to stay out of the shopping malls and go to a cemetery and honor the fallen veterans," said Fertitta.

While Edwards pledges to shield Veterans Affairs services, he believes taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill for another special session because of Republicans blocking his tax reform package.

"It's coming, it's a question on when," Edwards said when asked about the prospect of another special session.

The regular legislative sessions ends in less than two weeks, and lawmakers have not come up with their own plan for resolving next year's $1.3 billion fiscal cliff tied to the expiration of temporary taxes lawmakers approved to address the ongoing budget crises.

"That's $1.3 billion that hits us July 1 of next year, but that isn't necessarily a session that we have to have right away. We will have a session right away however if they end up with a budget  I cannot support, or don't end up with a budget, at all," he said.

Edwards repeated that he is against extending the extra penny added to the state sales tax.

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