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Higgins says VA decision to pull Golden Age Games creates hardship on WNY, veterans

by jmaloni

Press release

Wed, Mar 20th 2013 09:00 am

1,000 vets signed up for 'Warriors on the Waterfront'; local hotels, facilities and organizers spent six years planning event

Congressman Brian Higgins, NY-26, expressed shock and disappointment upon learning of plans by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to "postpone" the 2013 National Veterans Golden Age Games in Buffalo. Higgins is urging the VA Secretary to reconsider and proceed with the event, titled "Warriors on the Waterfront," scheduled for May 30 through June 4.

Local organizers have been planning for the event since 2007. Buffalo was officially awarded the Games in 2011. Earlier this month, Higgins' office worked closely with local organizers to facilitate finalization of the contracts with the VA.

Higgins questions why the VA would sign contracts only to cancel two weeks later.

"While I certainly understand the need to regularly reassess how we best meet the needs of our veterans, the VA made a commitment to this region; local businesses and organizers have invested time and money to ensure this VA event would be a success and, with just 10 weeks to go, the VA abruptly and unjustifiably is walking away from Western New York and the nearly 1,000 veterans who have been planning and looking forward to this event," he said. "It's just not right."

Higgins noted the Games were expected to have a $2.2 million impact on the local economy, but the lost economic impact would be much greater. Events were scheduled to take place at a number of locations across Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Western New York, including the convention center, Erie Community College, Audubon Golf Course and the Made in America Store, among other sites. All venues would now need to make alternate plans or face lost revenue due to this cancellation.

2013 would mark the 27th anniversary of the Golden Age Games, which the VA describes as the largest sports and recreation competition for military veterans 55 years of age and older in the world, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Nearly 1,000 veterans have registered for the event, many of which have already reserved hotels and made travel arrangements.

The VA confirms with Higgins' office that the decision was not due to sequestration, as the VA is exempt. Higgins is puzzled why the VA would pull the plug on the Buffalo event while indicating no plans to cancel several similar events being held this year in Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, California and other destinations.

Below is the text of Congressman Higgins letter to the VA:

Hon. Eric Shinseki

Secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki,

I write today to express my deep concern with the decision to postpone the 2013 National Veterans Golden Age Games (NVGAG) scheduled to take place in Buffalo, New York.

The Veterans Administration notified my office of this postponement on March 19, only two weeks after the VA signed the Conference Packet approving the event.

Work has been underway for the past six years in preparation for this event and Buffalo was officially awarded the 2013 NVGAG in August 2011. Thousands of hours have been spent by stakeholders in the Western New York convention and hospitality industry, VA personnel, military personnel, and local volunteers to prepare for this event. More than 2,500 veterans and families, supporters, sponsors and others were expected to come to Western New York and this postponement will result in a loss of in excess of $ 2.2 million to our community.

The Department cites the current fiscal climate as the impetus for postponing this event. However, as you are aware the VA was exempt from sequestration including care, benefits and administrative expenses. The Continuing Resolution, H.R. 933, to fund the government through September 30th provides $61 billion in discretionary funding for the VA - a $2.5 billion increase which is also immune from sequestration.

Approximately 1,000 veterans will now not be able to compete in a pre-qualifying event for the senior Olympics and will suffer a loss for any non-refundable airline tickets purchased.

Further, all the venues that committed to provide facilities for the games and will now need to scramble to find alternatives to replace this loss of income.

These games have been held for 26 years and I urge you to reconsider and proceed with the Games as agreed to by my community and your agency.

Sincerely,

Brian Higgins

Member of Congress

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