As I write this, the US House of Representatives has passed a new budget that will slash the military retirements of millions of people who served or are serving our nation. At this hour, military families and veterans organizations are meeting to wonder how they will survive this latest effort to crush them in the name of budget compromise.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the architect of this scheme, believes that the budget should be balanced on the backs of our military. Not cutting the out-of-control federal spending. Not by rooting out corruption and graft. Simply by taking away the retirements of people who have served 30 years or more on the front lines of the war that continues twelve years after 9-11. And all of the earlier wars for which we volunteered or were forcibly drafted into by our government. He is joined in this effort by Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat from the state of Washington.
I am deeply ashamed to admit that Bob Goodlatte, our own representative in Congress, voted to approve this bill without a single word about opposing the damage it will do to military families and veterans. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia has said nothing on this. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia snuffled about how it will hurt military people, but is proud that it will protect federal employees and contractors. Really. While I believe all three to be honorable men, they have today failed our nation’s heroes.
The Senate will vote to pass this bill next week.
Current military people are outraged at this travesty, but those of us who served in the Vietnam years are little surprised. The moment this nation decides they no longer need the fighting man and woman, they break every promise made and begin to skimp on the rights we were given under contract with the Congress of the United States. That includes health care through the Veteran’s Administration, and other VA benefits. The problem is that when our nation is again attacked and needs a strong military, they can only hope that their lies and shoddy treatment of veterans will be forgotten.
The quote is attributed to George Washington: “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 veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
One may believe that, with the current national tide of support for our military, those men and women are being adequately cared for when they come back from war. They are not. Here are just a few examples of what is going seriously wrong:
- The current version of the budget, as passed by the House, would cut military retirements by $6 billion over the next 10 years. The House’s version of a compromise budget plan decreases the annual cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees under age 62 equal to inflation minus 1 percent. The change would be phased in over the next two years starting in December 2014. One might be inclined to say, “Well, everyone is losing their retirements. Union members. Enron employees. Anyone who works for the hundred or more local governments that are going broke.” But there is a major difference – our retirements, our benefits, are only granted in recognition of the poor pay, poor housing, poor equipment and poor policy management we suffer when we go into combat. Firefighters and police officers understand this, but they at least have a union to fight for them as they put their lives on the line.
- The Veteran’s Administration is killing veterans through lack of care. That’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of a CNN investigative report you can find here. The upshot is this – shoddy service and long waits are allowing veterans to die in order to save money for the Veterans Administration. Needed medical care is delayed, sometimes for years. Current medical technologies are not adopted, drug regimens are based on cost rather than outcome, and needed tests are put off – sometimes for years.
- Returning vets can’t get jobs. While the national unemployment rate runs about 7 percent, the rate for returning vets is almost double that. Worse yet, the programs that were designed to help ease these heroes back into American society…end in two weeks. A 2-year-old federal program that retrains veterans and offers tax breaks to businesses that hire veterans — the VOW to Hire Heroes Act — is set to expire at the end of the year. And no one cares.
- And Congress is cutting the military family safety net. Also, Congress has slashed a social safety net that provides food stamps to feed more than 900,000 veterans and their families. You may not be aware that the pay of enlisted military people and families of veterans is so poor that many exist below the poverty line, and their families rely on food stamps just to subsist. Those who live on or near a military base can get a small break by shopping at a military commissary, but guess what? Yup, Congress wants to do away with them as well.
- And then there is the “go to the nearest emergency room” game. If you are a vet, chances are that the nearest Veteran’s Administration hospital is up to several hours away. If you are a vet and call one of those hospitals, you will be told that if you have a life-threatening emergency, you should go to the nearest emergency room. But here is the sleazy game they are playing – if you actually go to the nearest emergency room, the VA will deny payment for your life-saving treatment because you failed to go to the nearest VA hospital. Save your life, or your family. Your choice.
Veterans know this game well. If you suddenly fall to your knees with a heart attack, the Veteran’s Administration will give you a simple choice: call 911, take an ambulance to the nearest emergency room, get admitted to the nearest cardiac ICU that can save your life…and thus bankrupt your family and destroy everything you have worked for all of your life. Or simply die, and take the option for a cheap burial in a veteran’s graveyard, if there is any room left in any of them.
I’ve logged more than my share of hours in VA hospitals in the last couple of years, and have never found the people there to be less than superlative. From the janitors to the heads of medical departments, they believe in their mission and fight for the health of “their” vets. They are as frustrated as we are by the bureaucracy in Washington and the follies of Congress. They are professional, caring and fighting for us. But they don’t control the purse strings, and that is the key to this.
Just for the record, we could have funded everything our military and our veterans need for one tiny slice of what we spent in crony investments in failed “green technologies.” We could have more than covered the full retirements of our military people for the next ten years for half of the money we gave to the corrupt government of Afghanistan.
Our government will continue to do everything in its power to renege on its written, legal commitments to its military people and its veterans, in the belief that the American people will not hold them accountable. We are, after all, only one percent of the US population. And if the experience of the Vietnam Era Vets holds true, the American people will indeed throw us under the bus to save a few bucks. It’s the 21st-Century equivalent of spitting on us as we return home from the war.
Thank you for your service, indeed.