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DOLE: Ensuring equal access for wounded veterans

Buildings and vehicles mustn’t block the disabled from leading an active life

- - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All too often, service members return home with a disability after having bravely served their country. More than 3.8 million veterans receive Veterans Affairs disability compensation and 5.5 million American veterans are now living with a disability, many severe enough to be life-altering. It is for the sake of these brave veterans that we strongly support U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The convention is an international treaty that was inspired by U.S. leadership in recognizing the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. Modeled after our own Americans with Disabilities Act, it is a vital framework for creating legislation and policies around the world that promote the rights and dignity of the billion people living with disabilities.

The pending Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is of such vital interest to American veterans and veterans groups that I write this with the support of such distinguished organizations as the American Legion, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wounded Warrior Project and many others.

We are not alone in our support for the convention. Both Republicans and Democrats, including veterans such as Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State John F. Kerry support the treaty. We have continually shown our support for ratification, and with good reason. As more countries implement the Convention, with leadership from the United States, changing attitudes around the world would help remove barriers for American disabled service members and veterans abroad. This would greatly expand opportunities for them to work, serve, study and live abroad, and to continue leading active lives as a part of the global community. It is not enough for politicians to speak in vague terms about supporting veterans; they must take opportunities like this one to give veterans with disabilities equal access in the global marketplace.

More broadly, we support this convention because it embodies the values that make our nation great. Through their service, veterans have promoted human rights and dignity around the world. For this reason, retired Gen. Colin L. Powell and several four-star generals and admirals representing all branches of service endorse ratification. The United States must ratify the convention to reinforce our leadership in promoting the rights of disabled veterans and service members.

We know that American leadership matters. American leadership will steer the 144 other nations that have already ratified the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to take the types of positive steps that have opened up access in our own country — steps such as having an enforceable building code that is consistent for all nations and requiring all new buses to be accessible. By working to promote actively the rights of people with disabilities worldwide, others will enjoy the freedoms disabled veterans and service members enjoy here.

The United States should not be a bystander in the fight for rights and dignity for disabled veterans and service members. We must embrace our role as a global leader and extend the rights we have here to the rest of world.

Bob Dole is a former member of the U.S. Senate from Kansas and Republican nominee for president in 1996.