This is one of the biggest undercovered stories of the war. Even pro-war veterans groups are criticizing the “Support Our Troops” administration.
Here is my latest piece from AlterNet. Q&As are below.
President Bush is scheduled to submit his budget request for the 2007 fiscal year to Congress on Feb. 6, and the country’s largest, most influential veterans groups are already on the offensive, saying they are being shortchanged again.
Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Steve Buyer, R-Ind., has implemented new rules: Veterans groups must submit their written testimony for budget requests and policy initiatives to the committee by noon on Feb. 6. Two days later, veterans groups will present their testimony to the committee — but, for the first time in 60 years, they’ll be constrained by a three-minute limit.
“The revised schedule for hearings and the change in format amount to a slap in the face to individual veterans as well as the groups that represent them in the public policy arena. Chairman Buyer has slammed the door in the face of America’s veterans,” says Paul Jackson, National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a 1.3 million-member group that works to improve the lives of disabled veterans.
During wartime, it only seems appropriate to give veterans groups even more time to articulate their needs. What can be accomplished in three minutes? “It just seems so different now,” says Violante. “During past wars, Congress has been more liberal with veterans’ benefits. Now we’re seeing the exact opposite. They’re looking at ways to cut our programs and limit spending levels on veterans programs. It’s an entirely different atmosphere.”
I’m providing links to the Q&As because they’re fairly long.
Larry Scott, a four-year Army veteran and operator of VaWatchdog.org, keeps a close eye on veterans issues. He also writes a column for Opednews.com. I recently spoke to him about the state of the VA:
(Click here for the full interview)
People support our troops but they don’t understand that every single one of those troops is going to be a veteran. The support stops at the bumper. It’s a sad thing. It’s what I call “bundling patriotism.” We support our president. We support the war. We support the troops and therefore we are patriotic. People will open their hearts, but they won’t open their wallets and that’s what it’s going to take.
Why isn’t the VA being adequately funded?
The current administration looks at the concept of the VA as just another expense. They treat veterans’ benefits as another expense line on the budget. They’re not dealing with a moral obligation.
On my website, I don’t talk about war because it doesn’t matter to a veteran. Veterans went out and served their country, right or wrong, they did it. You have people who have served their country for whatever reasons — a lot were drafted — and now they’re finding that the government is not doing the right thing.
Somebody once asked me, ‘Are you a conspiracy theorist?’ It’s just the way the Republican Party, which is controlled by neocons, works. It’s the way they do business and it’s just that simple. People look for complex explanations, but it’s not that complex. They’re looking at the VA as a business. Steve Buyer actually says we should run this like a business. Revenue enhancement? Good lord, it’s a government agency and it’s designed to help veterans. What do you mean by revenue enhancement? It’s the whole mindset of the current administration.
What about the public? Why aren’t they raising hell about this, especially the ones who drape themselves in the flag and march in pro-war rallies?
What you find is the old problem of cognitive dissonance. What you’ve done is presented them a fact that conflicts with their faith. I have to say the conservative movement has been good at packaging the support the troops concept when in actuality they don’t.
To admit that the government is not caring for the troops would be something like admitting that Bush lied to get us into war. They would look at it as adopting a viewpoint that has already been taken by the other side even if it is right. I’m sure there will be a breaking point. Suddenly people will realize what’s going on and I think the government will have to address the issue of veterans benefits and veterans healthcare.
Name a few politicians who fight for the troops.
The ones that are really absolute killers and ball busters are Lane Evans of Illinois, the ranking member on House Committee of Veterans Affairs, Brian Baird, a veteran and clinical psychologist in Oregon and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). This woman will steam roll you when it comes to veterans issues.
Those are all Democrats.
Surprise! Show me a Republican who has voted for or who supports full and mandatory funding for VA healthcare. A Senate and House bill has been languishing for a long time that would require the federal government to fully fund mandatory VA healthcare. The bill was written by Senator John Kerry. The Republicans have done this over and over. They have trashed the legislation and won’t bring it for a vote. They don’t want the hassle. If you fully fund the VA alone, you’re looking at a tax increase. The whole neocon movement is so fully entrenched. You find that in all government agencies. The upper echelons of the VA are all political appointees.
Here’s an interview with Joe Violante, national legislative director of Disabled Americans Veterans:
Bush is preparing to pass another tax cut. Why isn’t the vets issue getting more attention?
That’s what we keep asking ourselves. I think it’s just a matter of priority. They [the Bush administration] feel strongly about providing tax cuts as opposed to providing benefits and services to veterans. That’s what it boils down to. There’s more of a need to put pork barrel projects in appropriations bills than it is to spending on veterans health care. The American public believes the sick and disabled are being cared for but it’s not happening that way.