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The recycled Pentagon types now merrily selling their “expertise” to the weapon-makers and the rest of the current crop of shakers and takers who make up today’s military-industrial-congressional greed machine are as usual sucking up big bucks, while many of our vets continue to get the shaft. Also as usual.
Wesley Clark summed up what’s going down in a recent campaign speech: “We’ve got veterans’ hospitals closing; we’ve got people who have to drive six hours to get a checkup; we’ve got veterans that are waiting six months to get an appointment … that’s not health care.”
If elected, Clark promises to add $2 billion to the vet health-care budget. “We’ve got to fix the veterans’ issues here in America,” he said. “We’re going to put the full funding we need to get the Veterans Affairs to meet our … former service members’ needs.”
Since 1996, the VA’s workload has increased from 3 million to 7 million vets without a comparable increase in operating funds. There’s presently neither the money nor the infrastructure to take care of all those who paid the hard price when Uncle Sam said, “I want you.” Which is why the enrollment of thousands of eligible vets in the category designated as Priority Group 8 – non-service disabled vets and those with incomes higher than $24,000 a year – were dropped like a live grenade last year.
According to VA honcho Anthony Principi, this suspension affects only the lowest-priority group in the VA’s eight-tier system – vets in Group 8. But he says Priority 8s already enrolled will be “grandfathered” and allowed to continue in the VA health-care system.
“Who is Principi to play God?” asks Vietnam vet Lawrence Tahler. “When is a vet not a vet, and why should these good men and women be penalized for not getting their paperwork in before some bureaucrat arbitrarily decides to change the system?”
“I’m a Priority 8 Vietnam vet who was denied enrollment,” Donald Schlotz says. “As a result, I annually spend over $7,000 on health insurance for promised care that would otherwise be provided by the VA. It looks to me like the Bush administration is trying to save money at the expense of vets who were assured they’d have health care for life.”
Millions of vets who agree with Schlotz are angry because they believe the Bush administration has looked the other way when it comes to the aging veteran population.
But Bush’s $63.6 billion 2004 VA budget actually comes in at a whopping 7.7 percent increase over last year’s allocation – the biggest VA increase in history. The bummer is, that’s far from enough dough to do the job.
“This action against Priority 8 vets is outrageous,” Schlotz says. “It’s particularly distasteful that this now pits vets against each other for benefits, rather than providing benefits for all. Moreover, by ‘grandfathering’ some vets, it discriminates between similarly situated vets based on nothing other than when they applied for benefits.”
The Priority 8s are the victims of a government that’s forgotten George Washington’s sage warning: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
While Clark has low-balled the money needed to get the VA program back on track, he’s spot on when it comes to the 2004 election. Veterans – and there are millions of them from sea to shining sea – have vowed to hold our politicians’ feet to the fire this time around to make sure they honor our nation’s sacred obligation to the men and women whose sacrifices have made our country the freest in the world.
Principi recently said, “Our veterans deserve nothing less than the best a grateful nation has to offer.”
Sounds good. But Principi, the president and Congress should be told that America’s vets need action, not more glowing words. Payback begins at home. Our country’s service heroes must be properly looked after before the rest of the world gets any more goodies. And certainly before the powers that be give another thought to colonizing the moon or Mars.