In his book Imposter two years ago, Bruce Bartlett describes how Bush has lost the support of real conservatives by his incredible debts. Very few progressives cry many tears over that, but there are actually tragic consequences.

Conservatives must be returned to the fold. It’s absolutely crucial for the Bush administration to create a fictional budget for the next two years that appears to be moving in the direction of solvency. That means that any accounting trick is fair game.

Unfortunately, the most tempting game–at least until last week–has been America’s veterans.
This isn’t a fantasy that can just be created “out of thin air.” To build the house of cards, the administration is frantically jockeying numbers all over Washington. Here’s the outline of just one aspect of the scheme.

Officially, the Department of Defense claim there are about 26,000 vets disabled from the Iraq war. That figure is patently ridiculous! In February, Wonkette identified this little discrepancy:

…the Pentagon doesn’t want anybody adding up the 25,000 or so troops hurt in “non combat” situations to the 22,000 or so it admits have been injured in battle.”

But the numbers come from the Pentagon itself.

“Casualties” in the military sense is the total number made unavailable for duty from all causes, including deaths and wounds suffered in combat as well as injuries, accidents and illness in a war “theater” such as “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (the official Pentagon name for the invasion and occupation). So whether caused by “hostile” (24,965 as of Dec.27) or “non-hostile” (25,406 as of Dec. 2) causes, the Pentagon’s own web sites record a toll of more than 50,000 so far in “OIF.”

Is the variation in numbers just a misunderstanding? Lest someone jump on me and simply say this is typical Pentagon mismanagement, here’s one segment from NPR indicating that there is a deliberate effort to supress the numbers:

Harvard professor Linda Bilmes presented a paper at a meeting of social scientists about the cost of treating injured soldiers. She reported that 50,000 American troops had been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few days later she got a call from a senior Pentagon official.
“The assistant secretary for Health of the DOD phoned me up asked me where I had found the numbers, and I faxed him his own Web site and that was the last I heard from them,” Bilmes says.

And that’s just the beginning. Many injuries, such as PTSD and closed head injuries, are not apparent immediately. So the number of injured veterans increases with time:

SAN FRANCISCO, California, Jan 3 (IPS) Administration reporting that more than 150,000 veterans of the Iraq war are receiving disability benefits.

But here’s a number closer to the truth:

The Department of VA predicts it will need to treat 5.8 million patients next year, including 263,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets returning with serious injuries requiring expensive care.

Reading between the lines, it appears that many of those who are receiving treatment have not yet finalized their benefit determination, and therefore haven’t been included in the administration report of numbers on disability. The longer the final determination is stalled, the greater the discrepancy between the number treated and the number “disabled.”

The situation is about to go from bad to worse. Of the 1.4 million service members involved in the war effort from the beginning, 900,000 are still deployed on active duty. Once they are discharged, the demands for medical care and counseling will skyrocket, as will the number of benefit claims. The Veterans for America organization projects that VA medical centers may need to treat up to 750,000 more returning Iraq and Afghan war veterans and that half a million veterans may visit the Vet Centers.

The Walter Reed scandal wasn’t–as the White House tried to portray it–an Army problem. It was created by a gap between army discharge and VA determinations. There is currently a backlog of 400,000 pending claims. The warriers in “limbo” were in temporary housing. Today’s talks about homeless veterans, as well.

This isn’t neglect. It isn’t “failure to plan” as a front page diary on claimed today. It’s part of a scheme to justify dramatic budget cuts.

The White House is proposing a budget that shows a decrease inthe VA’s budget two years from now. That is part of a scheme to make it look like there is a long term plan to eliminate deficit spending, which they hope to tout in the next election cycle. So fantasy numbers work toward that goal–despite how ridiculous they are. (Remember when Kerry was ridiculed for saying that the Iraq war would cost $200 billion)

What are they betting on? The math-phobia of the American public. Most people barely read the words in the crawl, much less the numbers. And the scope of our coming problem in supporting our troops is hard to imagine!

Maybe we can print more of those bumper magnets that say “Support the Troops–Donate to the VA”