Ratify the U.N. Disabilities Treaty

Veterans have been vocal in urging support for the treaty.

Steve Baskis, 24, who lost his sight as an U.S. Army specialist serving in Iraq, rubs his eyes at his home in Illinois.

Steve Baskis, 24, who lost his sight as an U.S. Army specialist serving in Iraq, rubs his eyes at his home in Illinois.

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The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the international framework of the Americans with Disabilities Act that would give the United States the leverage to export our technical expertise and knowledge on disability issues globally. The U.S. should be leading the 139 ratifying nations, and the time to ratify is overdue.

Last December, the CRPD fell five votes short in the U.S. Senate, largely because of misinformation and lame-duck process concerns. Now, after two substantive hearings before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, ratification of the CRPD is supported by major veterans and disability organizations that know this treaty is important for veterans and all Americans living with disabilities.

Veterans’ support for the treaty has been strong and unified as 15 groups – including VetsFirst, a program of the United Spinal Association – collectively representing millions of veterans, have written letters of support to the foreign relations committee leadership – Sens. Robert Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey, and Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee – urging swift ratification.

[Read Steven Groves: The U.S. Doesn't Need the U.N. Treaty on the Disabled]

Yet before heading home to spend the holidays with his family, Corker sent a message to the 57.8 million Americans with disabilities, 5.5 million disabled American veterans and 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide: He has chosen to grab a seat on the bench instead of continuing negotiations that would lead to ratification of the CRPD.

Corker fails to acknowledge the chorus of American veterans supporting the treaty who defended the Constitution in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes the secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs, along with many retired four-star flag officers who have written supportive letters in recent weeks to Corker and Menendez, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Opponents claim that it is unnecessary to ratify the CRPD because the U.S. provides assistance through the Agency for International Development and has already successfully improved the lives of people with disabilities in foreign countries. That is true. And by ratifying the CRPD, we can supplement those efforts by leading the conversation globally.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

Why should the U.S. work bilaterally with 139 countries when we can meet with them at one table? The opponent lobby knows that only a few more votes are needed in the Senate to ratify the treaty, and any concerns individual senators have about U.S. sovereignty can be fully addressed, as was confirmed in testimony to the committee last month.

Steve Baskis – an Iraq War veteran who lost his sight in battle – was recently featured by GOP Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk during a CRPD hearing. Baskis, who has become an international mountain climber since incurring his battlefield injury, has experienced more difficulty in foreign countries navigating airports because of his disability than climbing to the top of mountains. The reason is that some nations simply don’t understand how to apply disability policies effectively or are not versed in the assistive equipment used by people with disabilities.

Veterans during this debate have been vocal in urging the United States to sit at the table and push for equal opportunity for all veterans globally. The U.S. should ratify the CRPD and advocate for better disability policies on behalf of the more than 5.5 million disabled U.S. veterans and 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide.

Christopher Neiweem is director of veterans policy at VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association.