Those who have come to believe that the Republican’s narrative that they “Support The Troops” is beginning to ring hollow have plenty of examples to prove their point.
“We agree that a troop coming out of Iraq or Afghanistan deserves the best health care not only as an active duty citizen, but as a military guy, but also as a veteran — and you’re going to get the best health care we can possibly provide. We agree our homeless vets ought to have shelter, and that’s what we’re providing. In other words, we agree the veterans deserve the full support of our government and that’s what you’re going to get as [sic] George W. Bush as your President.” George W. Bush, speech to VFW, Kansas City, August 22, 2007.
Thus did the President speak six months after the Washington Post broke the story of scandalous conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and two months before it was revealed during a Senate hearing that the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims was taking over two years to render decisions on most appeals from the time that appeal was filed. [VetSen] The rest of the picture isn’t very comforting either.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that about 194,254 homeless people of the 744,313 who are without a home on any given night are veterans. [AP] The Veterans Administration estimates that nearly 400,000 veterans may experience homelessness over the course of a year, and account for 23% of all homeless people in America. [NCHV] Because 47% of homeless veterans are from the Vietnam era it would make sense to recount what some of the causes and complications are for these former troops, 89% of whom were given honorable discharges.
79% reside in cities.
76% have experienced alcohol, drug, or mental health problems.
45% need help finding a job.
33% of the male homeless population are veterans.
Veterans from the U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are joining their Gulf War and Vietnam era brethren in some of those categories. About 8.5% of returning veterans have already received a provisional diagnosis of a mental health disorder, and 15, 927 have been provisionally diagnosed with PTSD. [PRnews]
Another factor that should be included in the overall picture is that, “Since 1987, VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with community service providers to help expand services to more veterans in crisis. This partnership is credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans on any given day by nearly 25% over the last six years.” [NCHV] In short, cuts in programs administered by local providers of health care, substance abuse treatment, and employment services, will also impact our nation’s veterans and the White House hasn’t demonstrated any willingness to increase support for these programs recently. The Veto is evidently mightier than the Rifle.
H.R. 3043 contains $228 million for veterans’ employment. [PRN] It also provides for $3.6 billion for job training, with $864 million for adult jobs. The President has threatened a veto.
The Labor-HHS bill (H.R. 3043) also includes about $906 million for mental health services, including $428 for Mental Health Block Grant programs; a five percent increase from current spending levels. The President has threatened a veto.
As noted previously, it doesn’t do to speak in generalized terms about providing the best possible health care for veterans and then turn about and threaten to veto the bill that includes funding for Traumatic Brain Injury research, the “signature injury” of the present conflict.
Nor does it appear seemly to threaten to veto a bill that would provide $23.6 million for programs to specifically assist homeless veterans. However, the President has already vetoed some assistance for veterans.
The Dole-Shalala Commission Report recommended that one year of employment discrimination protection, and six months of work leave, be given to family members who are the primary caregivers for wounded veterans. The provisions were included in the SCHIP bill. President Bush vetoed it. [HuffPo]
A Defense Department survey of reservists reports that 44% are dissatisfied with how the Labor Department handled complaints of employment discrimination, up from 27% in 2004. [NYT] Nearly 11,000 National Guard and Reserve troops have been denied prompt re-employment; 20,000 have had their pensions cut; and, another 11,000 have lost their health insurance. [Wired]
When Congress sought a 3.5% pay increase for members of our Armed Forces the White House opposed it as unnecessary even though the pay gap between military and civilian employment stands at 3.9%. [Army Times] These, and too many other examples, highlight the Administration’s disconnected view of veterans’ needs.
The President visited Waco, Texas today for Veterans’ Day ceremonies, sat with veterans and spoke to a gathering at an American Legion Post, doing little more than offering his GWOT conflation remarks, “America is blessed to have such brave defenders. They are tomorrow’s veterans and they are bringing pride to our country. Their service is noble and it is necessary,” he said. “The enemies who attacked us six years ago want to strike our country again, and next time they hope to kill Americans on a scale that will make 9/11 pale by comparison.” [AP] The President continues to ignore the fact that no Iraqis attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001; and that his administration has done nothing but escalate tensions and conflict in the Middle East. He omitted his repeated complaint that Congress hasn’t sent him a “Veterans’ Bill” before today’s ceremonies, perhaps someone reminded him that the Rubber Stamp 109th Congress hadn’t done so either.
In a disconnect that serves to illuminate the other myriad disconnects between the avowed intentions of the Administration and its actions, the President wants his Department of Veterans Affairs to coordinate services with local and state programs, but doesn’t want to fund those programs sufficiently to address the issues. He wants a “clean Veterans Bill” that ignores the fact that adult job training includes veterans; a Veterans Bill that doesn’t incorporate increased job protection and assistance for caregivers; a Veterans Bill that apparently doesn’t take into consideration the need for increased attention to and funding for TBI research and Mental Health Block Grant programs.
The perpetuation of this disconnected approach to governance will, sadly, all but insure that we will continue to see 70+% of our homeless veterans suffering from substance abuse and mental health problems and 45% looking for employment. Stump speech praise offers little comfort while a person waits two years for the adjudication of a claim, scans the want ads for employment, sees his or her pension benefits cut, or faces the loss of individual and family health care coverage.
It is almost as if the President wants to have his “all volunteer Armed Forces” without recognizing that these troops are not just soldiers, but citizen-soldiers. If he were to see them as citizen-soldiers then he would have to acknowledge that the services provided by the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, as well as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, are part of a crucial network of community services designed to invest in our prosperity and the well being of our citizens.
We are, indeed, blessed to have these brave defenders; but we can, and should, do more than offer platitudes, lay wreathes, parade with flags, and bestow condolences. These veterans served a “Can Do” nation, and it’s high time, as the old expression goes we: “Did for them.”