On Memorial Day 2007, George W. Bush said, “On this day of memory, we mourn brave citizens who laid their lives down for our freedom,” he said. “May we always honor them, may we always embrace them and may we always be faithful to who they were and what they fought for.” That sounds really nice, but the actions of the administration seem to belie the sentiment, at least in regards to those who are only wounded but don’t die.
A recent article in the April 8, 2007 issue of U.S. News and World Report discussed the difficulties that wounded veterans are having in claiming benefits. Here are a few quotes:
“Since 2000, 92.7 percent of the disability ratings handed out by PEBs have been 20 percent or lower, according to Pentagon data analyzed by the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission, which Congress formed in 2004 to look into veterans’ complaints. Moreover, fewer veterans have received ratings of 30 percent or more since America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Pentagon’s annual actuarial reports. As of 2006 [four years into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq], for example, 87,000 disabled retirees were on the list of those exceeding the 30 percent threshold; in 2000 [with no large scale military conflicts going on], there were 102,000 recipients.” In other words, after four years of war, the number of full-benefits recipients is unfathomably lower.
“The actual rating is key, and here’s why: Service members who have served less than 20 years–the great majority of wounded soldiers–who receive a rating under 30 percent are sent home with a severance check. Those who receive a rating of 30 percent or higher qualify for a host of lifelong, enviable benefits from the DOD, which include full military retirement pay (based on rank and tenure), life insurance, health insurance, and access to military commissaries.”
“The Pentagon records show that 26.7 percent of disabled airmen have been rated 30 percent or more disabled, while only 4.3 percent of soldiers and 2.7 percent of marines made the grade. Services engaged in close combat, experts say, could be expected to find more members unfit for duty and meriting full retirement benefits” (emphasis added).
“The total amount paid out for these benefit awards has remained roughly constant in wartime and peacetime, leading disabled veterans like retired Lt. Col. Mike Parker, who has become an unofficial spokesperson on this issue, to allege that a budgetary ceiling has been imposed to contain war costs” (emphasis added).
In other words, the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress over the four years they were controlling the purse-strings while the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were going on did not see fit to increase the budget for disabled veterans benefits even as they were suddenly sending hundreds of thousands of troops into harm’s way. So, in order to keep the costs of the war in check (something that doesn’t really seem to be the goal of anyone), the Bush administration has decided that the best place to cut costs is in the benefits to disabled veterans. You would think that somewhere in the $437,664,790,424 (and rising; see www.costofwar.com) spent on the war, some of it could be allocated to care for the “brave citizens” who didn’t die, but were only wounded. These actions on the part of the administration seem to convey a contempt for and a disposition of disposability toward the troops.
This is another example of how far today’s Republican Party has strayed from its founding. Lincoln and his cabinet did all they could to take care of disabled veterans.
Bush, on October 26, 2005 said “the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom.” Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said at the same event, “These brave men and women in uniform sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom and for the security of their fellow Americans, and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.” At least the fallen troops get some gratitude; if you happen to get back up after falling, you’re S.O.L. (short on luck).