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Op-ed: Ratify disabilities treaty to do right by disabled veterans

By Matthew Stuart

First Published Aug 16 2014 05:57 pm • Last Updated Aug 16 2014 05:57 pm

Recently, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has been very outspoken about one particular issue: NCAA sports. He expresses serious concern about the importance of maintaining an "even playing field" for student athletes. Unfortunately, by failing to support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or Disabilities Treaty, he has failed to support an even playing field for disabled American Veterans and others with disabilities worldwide.

In my job as a VFW post commander, I see firsthand on a daily basis the challenges our veterans face when their service to our country leaves them with a disability. I know that even with the protections they enjoy here in the United States, every day can be a struggle. It is for the sake of the disabled veterans I work with here in Utah, and for the hundreds of thousands more across the country, that I strongly support the Disabilities Treaty.

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Inspired by U.S. leadership in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, the treaty would serve as a framework to help other countries develop legislation modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would allow us to use our experience and knowledge to help improve the lives of millions of people worldwide who currently face discrimination or a lack of accessibility in their home country. It would also open the world up to veterans like the young men and women I work with every day, allowing them greater freedom to travel, study, and work abroad without fear or shame.

It is not just as a combat veteran that I support this treaty, but as a father. My son, Nick, is severely hard of hearing and attends the School for the Deaf and Blind. We are lucky to live here in the United States, where his rights are protected and he has access to schools that take his needs into account and help him learn. But I know that there are millions of children like Nick in other countries that don’t have those protections, who are institutionalized or discriminated against.

Taking an easy step to help them by ratifying this treaty and taking our place at the global table on disability rights, without changing our laws or adding a penny to our budget, seems like a pretty common sense choice to me. It amazes me that so many politicians have fought against this treaty and made such outlandish threats like that it would limit our sovereignty or even allow the United Nations to take children away from their parents or make decisions about how they are raised.

As a veteran, I would never support something that would jeopardize the independence and sovereignty of our country that my fellow comrades and I have fought for, and as a parent of a child with a disability, I certainly wouldn’t support it if it would in any way threaten families like ours.

This treaty reflects the values that the military has taught me. I believe in the power of the United States to be a leader in the fight for human rights and dignity around the world, and I strongly believe that ratifying the Disabilities Treaty is an integral part of making that vision a reality.

I urge Sen. Hatch to ignore the misinformation being spread about this treaty, and to join me in supporting its ratification.

Matthew Stuart is commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3586 in Salt Lake City and a former VFW Utah State Commander.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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