Friday, July 27, 2007

Washington?s neglect of veterans a disgrace

Here we are four years and four months into the Iraq war and President Bush, the premier cheerleader for "Support the Troops" at political photo-ops, has been told by yet another study group—a presidential commission—that medical treatment of returning military veterans is abominable.

Only one conclusion can be drawn. Washington politicians like to embrace the flag, apple pie, motherhood and our fighting men and women, then forget about them as they drag home bloodied, battered and disenchanted by the indifference of those charged with their care and who failed to plan for war's grisly human byproducts, the disabled.

George W. Bush is not the only commander-in-chief who's shown ignorance, if not indifference, to the plight of veterans and their families. Returning World War II veterans needing hospital care and rehabilitation found a lack of planning and insufficient facilities.

In another encore, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals scalded the Veteran's Administration last week for foot dragging on benefits for victims of Agent Orange defoliation spray in the Vietnam War—more than 30 years ago. The VA, the court wrote, "has contributed substantially to our sense of national shame," and ordered retroactive payments.

Yet to be settled are claims of thousands of GIs from Gulf War I who suffered mysterious effects of toxic fallout. Pentagon and VA bureaucrats have tried to wiggle out of compensating the victims with claims the GIs are imagining illnesses.

Two basic factors played into the current crisis of vet care.

Bush & Co. believed their own snake oil boasts that the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk" and troops would be headed home quickly with few casualties, plus they rejected planning for a prolonged war and heavy casualties.

On top of the scandalously insufficient treatment at Walter Reed Army Hospital that's been widely documented, now this: Several groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing VA Secretary Jim Nicholson of denying disability pay and mental health treatment for as many as 320,000 to 800,000 Iraq war vets.

Like so many Bush appointees, VA chief Nicholson was unequipped for the job. His principal credential for managing the huge department was being a former Republican National Committee chairman and a conservative. He has resigned.

Nicholson blames a $1 billion shortfall of funds for the VA's backlog of benefit payments. But then the VA budget is President Bush's responsibility, right? Although the president has absolutely no trouble in ladling out billions on top of billions to fight the war, he just doesn't seem to have the same interest in the human wreckage his war has created.

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