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Letting Our Veterans Down

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Posted on Sep 13, 2007
Bush with veteran
AP Photo / Charles Dharapak

President Bush watches retired Army Sgt. Major Mike Welsh in a rehabilitation session at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington last month. Looking on are former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, left, and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, co-chairs of the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors.

Aaron Glantz

The sorry state of care of American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan is not accidental. It’s on purpose. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush Administration has fought every effort to improve care for wounded and disabled veterans.
 
“The Department of Defense went to war in Iraq. They hired hundreds of thousands of extra soldiers from the Guard and Reserve to make the military larger so that they could do the invasion of Iraq,” noted Paul Sullivan, a veteran of the first Gulf War who was working as a high-ranking civil servant at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington when America invaded Iraq.

“However, the Department of Veterans Affairs, they didn’t hire more doctors, and they didn’t hire more bureaucrats to help them with their paperwork.
 
Indeed, as the country prepared for war, the Bush administration was actively involved in scaling back veterans’ benefits. In January 2003, the VA announced that, as a cost cutting-move, it would start turning away middle-income veterans who apply for medical benefits.
 
The administration also proposed making the VA’s prescription drug benefit less generous, increasing co-payments for many veterans from $7 to $15 and requiring a $250 annual fee as well.
 
President Bush even proposed eliminating disability payments for veterans who abuse drugs or alcohol, despite the fact that substance abuse has long been connected to psychological trauma caused by the horrors of combat.
 
All in all, the Bush administration proposed cutting hundreds of jobs at the Veterans Administration at precisely the time programs should have been expanded to care for a tidal wave of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
As a result, for example, the number of people charged with reviewing and approving veterans’ disability claims has actually dropped since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. According to the American Federation of Government Employees, the VA employed 1,392 veterans service representatives in June 2007, compared to 1,516 in January 2003.

What was the president thinking?
 
Perhaps he believed his own rhetoric that the invasion of Iraq would go quickly and easily and that somehow, magically, it would be a war that produced no wounded soldiers seeking health care or disability payments from the federal government.
 
More likely, though, it seems Bush was simply too cheap to care for Americans who risked their lives for their country, because when injured soldiers actually started coming home from the war, he tried to implement policies to cut them off.
 
A year into the war in Iraq, President Bush moved to politicize the Department of Veterans Affairs. In December 2004, he replaced the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, who had spent a career in public service, with Jim Nicholson, a real estate developer and former chair of the Republican National Committee.
 
In his resignation letter, Principi gave no specific reason for his departure, stating only that it was “time to move on to fresh opportunities and different challenges.” Months earlier, however, he had voiced his frustration, telling a House committee that he had asked President Bush for an additional $1.8 billion for veterans’ care, but that his request had been denied.
 
“Some people were disappointed when Principi abruptly left,” Sullivan remembered. “Nicholson came with no experience at all when the VA was mired in crises.  The first crisis was a demand in health care and benefits by veterans.  And the second crisis was a shortfall in appropriations from Congress, because the VA failed to properly plan for the consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”
 
Unlike Principi, Nicholson made no requests for additional money, telling Congress his agency had all the resources it needed.
 
But the VA had to do something, because hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were coming home and filing disability claims with the federal government.

Instead of adequately addressing those veterans’ needs, the head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, Undersecretary Daniel Cooper—the main point-person in charge of processing those claims—made his priorities clear in a fund-raising video for the evangelical group Christian Embassy, in which he proclaimed that Bible study was “more important than doing my job.”
 
In the video, Cooper says of his Bible study, “It’s not really about carving out time; it really is a matter of saying what is important. And since that’s more important than doing the job—the job’s going to be there, whether I’m there or not.”
 
When Cooper was appointed in 2002, 325,000 veterans were waiting on their disability claims. Now that number is more than 600,000.
 
Even now—after the scandal at the Walter Reed military hospital and increasing reports of Iraq war veterans committing suicide or ending up homeless on the street—the Bush administration continues to stubbornly refuse to fund the VA.
 
Last week, the Navy Times reported, VA Secretary Nicholson wrote to prominent senators warning that President Bush would veto key spending bills if Congress increased funding for veterans beyond the paltry amount Bush has suggested.

In response, the Senate effectively gave Bush the finger—passing a larger VA budget by a vote of 92-1.

Aaron Glantz has reported extensively from Iraq throughout the US occupation. He runs the website War Comes Home www.warcomeshome.org, a project of KPFA Radio (kpfa.org).

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By Mike Goodold an X-GI 1966 t0 1968 guess where !, September 21, 2007 at 1:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

09/20/07
It does not surprise me that the current middle east military actions is creating the largest number of deserters, and suicides in the history of the u.s. army.
  If the real world threats band together, Russia, China, Iran, and Korea, all of whom have economic alliances, “We the People” might have to defend our homeland.
  Young Americans have no reason left to volunteer for the middle east nightmare.
  Is the Draft a possibility in the near future ?
I hope NOT !

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By steve, September 19, 2007 at 8:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Felicity brings up an excellent point.  I also remember watching the incredible light show from Baghdad during the first days and nights of the war.  Everyone was watching with some kind of excitement like we were seeing a fourth of july made for tv reality show: when in fact we were watching the bombs going off over Baghdad.  There really does seem to be some kind of strange disconnect between the American public watching the MSM and the actual death and destruction that occurs.

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By RunsWithScissors, September 19, 2007 at 8:43 am Link to this comment

As a retired US Army Command Sergeant Major & Vietnam Vet, I always found Rudyard Kipling’s Tommy to be very poignant. Disgraceful that it still is.

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
..........O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
..........But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play -
..........The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
..........O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
..........For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
..........But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide -
..........The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
..........O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
..........Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
..........But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll -
..........The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
..........O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
..........While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind,”
..........But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind -
..........There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
..........O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
..........For it’s Tommy this an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
..........But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
..........An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
..........An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

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By The Old Hooligan, September 19, 2007 at 7:49 am Link to this comment

As an honorably discharged Veteran of the Vietnam Era, it saddens me to think my fellow Veterans are today being treated like this. I’m in good health, thankfully, but my younger brothers and sisters in arms who are not because of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq are shamefully being slighted on their care, by the very same Republican criminals who deliberately sent them into harm’s way to begin with.

It’s a sad day…

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By John Borowski, September 18, 2007 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Republicans (Aka Conservatives right-wingers) working with Bush can emasculate many decent things our American society treasures. The inspectors that have the job to see that it’s safe for Americans well being have the work force cut in half. Where the workload was such that they would come around every 5 years, because of the cut they come around every 10 years. On top of that, the companies that deal in our food supply are told to get out the soap, mops, and buckets because the inspectors will be around next week. In China, the decision to make children’s toy are solely dictated by the British or their American colony. They will decide what kind of paint, toys, safe or unsafe items they will produce there. The Chinese job is to provide them with factories, cheap labor, and other amenities that will enhance their profits. Do you notice that every time you turn around there is another type of food that is deleterious to your health because of contamination?

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By hippy pam, September 17, 2007 at 10:24 am Link to this comment

OUR VIET NAM VETS CAME HOME AND WERE DENIED “AGENT ORANGE” RELATED DISABILITY BENEFITS.MY FATHER,A “SECOND WAR” VET-WAS DENIED BENEFITS FOR DISABILITIES CAUSED BY"MUSTARD GAS”.IT SEEMS TO ME THAT OUR “LEADERS”[I USE THE TERM LOOSLY-I DO NOT SEE THEM OR THEIR RELATIVES ON THE FRONT LINES]WANT OUR TROOPS TO FIGHT WARS AND PUT LIVES ON THE LINE BUT NOT BE CARED FOR WHEN INJURED.AFTER ALL-IT AIN’T BUSH*TS DAUGHTERS[I bet if they get injured-NO expense will be to great for “the BUSH*T BUNCH”.

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By riya, September 16, 2007 at 11:35 pm Link to this comment

“I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is that noise?
          The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now?  What is the wind doing?”
          Nothing again nothing.
                            “Do
You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
‘Nothing?’

  I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.

T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”.

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By riya, September 16, 2007 at 11:23 pm Link to this comment

Escuse me, sorry, Huff-P0 won’t even take it, but a bit of T.S. Eliot is in the works for me and maybe you to…

“I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
                Nothing again nothing.
                              ‘Do
‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
Nothing?’

  I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.

T.S Eliot, The Wasteland.

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By Amir, September 16, 2007 at 8:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bush Killing More Americans?
Yet more Americans are pushed into poverty and disease. As of now, 47.000.000 people have joined the ranks of the uninsured.

Bravo Bushit.

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By 911truthdotorg, September 16, 2007 at 11:05 am Link to this comment

What else would you expect from a cowardly, drunken, cocaine whore chickenhawk?

And for that other schmuck Bob Dole to stand there for the photo op, just pours salt in the wound.

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By GrammaConcept, September 16, 2007 at 10:00 am Link to this comment

Demons are only interested in perpetuating suffering, not in relieving it…..

a metaphysical fact:
It is the only way their own suffering is relieved…..

God Is still Love, war is always hell…...Strive On….

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By felicity, September 16, 2007 at 9:10 am Link to this comment

#100652

So every veteran must verify beyond a reasonable doubt the circumstances surrounding his disability claim?  That’s like demanding that the accused in a court of law prove his innocence.  Smart and principled people realized way-back-when that it is probably impossible for the accused to prove his innocence - thus the burden of proving him guilty lies with the state. 

Oh well, habeas corpus went down the tubes so are we surprised that the principle of burden of proof in a court of law which has served the West for centuries is non-applicable when it comes to disabled veterans? How long will it be before the accused in a court of law will be required to prove his innocence?  How about two weeks?

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By weather, September 16, 2007 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

Have Israel pay for this out of the $30 Billion dollars they just bribed out Congress under the illusion of ‘aid’ when its simply manipulated extortion.
- of course if its even the least bit germane to Israel its always at the selfish and remarkably deceitful expense of everyone else.

Israel:we make our problem, your problem(tm).

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By Barbershop, September 16, 2007 at 8:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Back during the Vietnam War (You remember the Vietnam War? It was in all the newspapers.) we had a saying - “Nothing is too good for our troops. So that’s what we’ll give them. Nothing.”

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By PACRAT, September 16, 2007 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

PRESIDENT MAGOO DOESN’T SEE HIS RIGHT FROM HIS LEFT!

It’s pretty clear that the president doesn’t know what is going on - and doesn’t care. He sends our troops to invade a country that hasn’t harmed us and expects them to die. Then, if they return live, wounded in mind or body, he abandons them. This guy is a real winner, right?

And then he hides behind a mediocre general like Petraeus to justify continuing the killing or being killed scenario - just to enable his friends to cut their oil deals with what little is left of Iraq above ground. The treasure under the ground is what it is all about.

How many more families have to be destroyed before the democrats stop playing politics and support our troops by bringing them home and caring for them when they return!

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By Scott, September 16, 2007 at 12:02 am Link to this comment

When Cooper was appointed in 2002, 325,000 veterans were waiting on their disability claims. Now that number is more than 600,000.

This is the sort of thing that actually justify’s terrorism.

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By GW=MCHammered, September 15, 2007 at 11:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

purplewolf:

“This problem also happens to those in nursing homes.Seems that those who handle the money to take care of our wounded soldiers don’t want to spend the money to do the job they were hired for.”

As one who happily volunteers in nursing homes, the least paid are the ones who care for you. The many pompous sit if offices unsure of the computer monitor before them.

C’mon America > Git your butt involved! The tale ain’t all about your tail. It’s your mom and pop, you, spouse and kids.

Think money protects you? I see field workers cared for the same as airline pilots.

Wake the fuuuck up!

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By purplewolf, September 15, 2007 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment

Working in the nursing field most of my life,I worked a private case with a male nurse who worked at the VA in Saginaw Michigan and heard horror stories of the lack of necessary supplies, staff and money to properly care for our veterans.That was in the 1980’s-2000.A close friend who was in the navy said he would rather die than ever be put in a VA hospital for the same reason.Things were never at the proper levels of staff for our veterans and it hasn’t changed.This problem also happens to those in nursing homes.Seems that those who handle the money to take care of our wounded soldiers don’t want to spend the money to do the job they were hired for. This administration is worse as it has tried to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle income people, the disabled veterans,those suffering from PTSD and other ailments. They did the same with the Vietnam Veterans,deny them what they need.Nice way to say thank you to the very people who put their lives on the line for those ungrateful polititions and their wars.

Since the Bu$hit Bunch doesn’t want to spend and continues to cut the money and deny our returning veterans the medical care they are more than entitled to,congress needs to grow a new set of b_l_s and deny any futher money, soldiers, weapons and anything else he demands for this insane folly in Iraq.If Bush wants his war so bad let him pay for it with his own money and send the twins in to fight too,he would stop it real fast if he had to use his own money, since he isn’t,he will not stop his wars.Bush is throwing away almost 4 BILLION $$ a week in just Iraq yet he cannot find any money and wants to cut what they now spend to attend to the medical expenses he has caused for our wounded military people.That in itself should be an impeachable offense.Get the weedboy and dicko out of the white house and start taking care of the problems that have been left unattended since he took office in 2000.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, September 15, 2007 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment

Forget reinstating the draft unless we’re attacked.  The US should make every effort to stay out of war. 
“Ain’t gwine study war no mo’”

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By Michael Leon, September 15, 2007 at 5:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Another way of going after vets is discouraging Vietnam-era, PTSD-diagnosed vets from filing for disabiltiy benfits.

In the PTSD case of U.S. Navy Airman Keith Roberts (1968–71) the U.S. Dept of Justice in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Stephen Biskupic, decided to indict a Wisconsin Vietnam-era Navy veteran (who was diagnosed with PTSD by at least five different mental health professionals), using the power of his office to convict and jail the vet on trumped-up charges of wire fraud in 2004-2005. This while after the guy had been granted benefits and while the VA benefit adjudication process was dragging. The VA sought to make this vet a cautionary tale.

The case has potentially vast repercussions because if Roberts’ criminal conviction and denial and reduction of benefits stand, every veteran who has a disability case pending in the VA bureaucracy is theoretically in legal jeopardy.

Were the current VA administrative rules allowed to be rendered inoperative and a new standard for benefit claims to be enacted demanding that every veteran must verify beyond a reasonable doubt the circumstances surrounding his disability claim, every veteran claimant could face criminal wire fraud indictments, assuming they resided in a jurisdiction with a US Atty exercising the same lack of prosecutorial discretion as Biskupic.
###

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By thomas billis, September 15, 2007 at 3:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

They do not give a damn.It is off the front pages.The democrats do not even mention it.Our media doing a fine follow up job.1 month of headlines and asta la vista on to the next Brittany Spears story.Our media may be the worst in the free world.What a travesty if you want to find out what is really happening in America you have to read the foreign press or Truth Dig.

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By sophrosyne, September 15, 2007 at 3:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with Felicity.  The perfidy, the dishonesty and the rank evil of this presidency staggers the imagination.  Truth is, Bush could care less for the low and middle income Army soldiers.  They are just cannon fodder for the neo-con agenda.

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By felicity, September 15, 2007 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment

Even though I deplore a resumption of the draft in this country - because I hate war - when I read an article like this I want those who would deny care to those who are suffering because of their service in Iraq to be drafted and subsequently subjected to the same pain and suffering.

I remember visiting friends on the night when the Gulf War was being displayed in every American’s living-room, CNN’s light show to top all light shows, and our friends saying, “This is fantastic, wait ‘til you see it!”  It revealed some sort of strange disconnect between the ‘light-show’ and the people being blown to bits at the same time - faceless, nameless bits of bomb fodder.

Thus we have warfare, American style, which is why veteran care or 15 month tours-of-duty or the pain and suffering of so many others and our own have no more impact than a made-for-television reality show. 

Fred Kagan of the AEI said recently that Senator Webb’s proposal to shorten military duty in Iraq to afford the soldiers much needed home time would involve far ‘too much paper work.’  Fred Kagan and his ilk are an excellent reason to reinstate the draft - no deferments allowed.

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