Veterans’ Day is traditionally a grand opportunity for members of the nation’s political class to wrap themselves in Old Glory and bask in the patriotic aura of soldiers from the last century’s wars.
You probably won’t see our duty ducking president or his gopher-like, hideaway vice president marching in any parades though. It’s not so much that they have to worry about an attack by terrorists, as that they might get hit with raspberries from the old vets and young soldiers in the parades.
Conservatives have been quick to cry “Support the troops!” at anti-war demonstrators, but the Bush administration and its supporters in the Republican dominated Congress have meanwhile been busy screwing both veterans and active duty troops with a vengeance this year.
The hypocrisy of this administration, when it comes to veterans and active duty military, is truly staggering.
Thanks to the Bush Administration’s and Congress’s refusal to approve increases in the budget for the Veterans Administration, veterans now have to wait an average of six months to be seen. In fact VA spending per patient today is an average of $624 less than it was seven years ago. To add insult to lack of treatment for injury, the administration also is proposing levying a $250 charge on all veterans receiving treatment in VA facilities, and to end access for vets suffering from service-related problems who earn more than $26,000 a year.
The Bush administration has also sought this year, even as soldiers are risking their lives in the Iraqi desert, to cut “imminent danger” pay by $75 per month, and to also cut a family separation allowance of $150.
Even more miserly, until the media made it an issue, the government was actually charging injured GI’s from Iraq $8 per day for their meals at the Ft. Stewerd, Georgia base where most are brought to await treatment for their war injuries.
That’s not all, though, This president, who came to office with the help of bushels of military absentee ballots–ballots which tipped the election to Bush in Florida’s disputed presidential election in 2000–and who loudly proclaimed to the armed forces during his campaign that “help is on the way,” has proceeded to close dozens of Department of Defense-run schools for military dependents, and has shuttered 56 commissaries relied upon by military families to help them buy food and supplies on their limited incomes.
The callous disregard and disrespect for older veterans and for those now on active duty in Iraq and elsewhere in the U.S. and around the globe has extended to the petty. For example, when a Green Beret, confronted with the horror of combat for the first time (he witnessed an Iraqi cut in half by machine gun fire), froze in a panic attack and asked his commanding officer for help, he was court-martialed and charged with “cowardice.” Only when his case was publicized did the army back down and lower the charge to “dereliction of duty.”
Worse, when a woman in the National Guard, who was serving in Iraq along with her active duty husband, returned home on leave and decided to stay with her two small children rather than return to Iraq, because she was in danger of having her them taken away (her mother in law had been caring for her kids in the parents’ absence, but could no longer do so when her own husband became ill), instead of responding to her family crisis humanely, the Pentagon court-martialed her.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has gone to court seeking to block a federal judge’s award of damages to a group of mostly black servicemen who had successfully sued the Iraq government for their having been captured and tortured by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. The government’s argument: damn the torture claims, the money is needed now for Iraq reconstruction.
At least one presidential candidate has loudly protested the White House’s attack on vets and soldiers. “The Administration has made a mockery of the treatment of our veterans; ignoring their needs and slashing the Department of Veteran Affairs budget by 27 percent,” says Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). “While thousands of men and women stood risking their lives in the Middle East early last month, the Bush administration cut their combat pay by one-third. Although this reduction is built into the $87.5 billion President Bush has just received [for Iraq and Afghanistan operations], Halliburton and Bechtel have not been asked to reduce any of their enormous profits. The members of the Guard and Reserve units that are in Iraq are finding out that the separation pay which they have received for their families is also being reduced. This is a shameful dishonor and it must be stopped. We must support our troops by bringing them home and by providing them with health coverage and adequate compensation.”
“This president lied us into an illegal war and glorified it with TV specials,” says Woody Powell, executive director of Veterans for Peace. “Yet he won’t show up at a funeral” for any of the Iraq War dead. Of the Bush Administration’s and Congressional Republicans’ astonishing trashing of vets and active duty soldiers, Powell, a Korean War veteran, says, “I don’t think they see it as attacking them. They see it as saving money. But it’s the wrong thing to be cutting, just like cutting education is a bad thing.”
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html