Cutting veterans' benefits shows society's lack of respect

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HERSHBERGER: Cutting veterans' benefits shows society's lack of respect

By James Hershberger/Columnist
October 19, 2005

I never knew my grandfather. He died nine years prior to my birth, and yet he always has been present in my life. I would look at old pictures of him and try to detect my own features in his face and retell his heroic war stories my mother had told me around the lunch table at my elementary school.

My grandfather was a career Army man and though, after much consideration, I chose not to follow in his footsteps, I always have held men and women who wear the uniform in very high regard. The fact that people are willing to sacrifice their lives so America can be safe touches me, as it should all citizens.

For this reason, I have been very disappointed with President Bush as well as former President Bill Clinton. Both presidents have been responsible for massive decreases in spending for veterans.

During the presidency of Bill Clinton, veterans lost quite a bit of the medical benefits they had in previous years. According to the Vietnam Veterans of America's newsletter the VVA Veteran, the funding for specialized staff such as mental health and acute care professionals drastically was slashed. Clinton also proposed a bill to Congress, which was passed, increasing the co-pay veterans had to add to the cost of their medication.

President Bush also has tremendously cut funding for veterans health. His 2004 budget called for cutting $30 billion in programs for veterans including disability pay for wounds sustained during battle and pensions for low income veterans. As a result, 1.7 million vets currently do not have health coverage, an increase of about 235,000 since 2000, according to USA Today.

The protest from veteran organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion was so great that the president's 2005 budget restores much of the money that was lost, but it leaves out the $1 billion that the Department of Veterans Affairs requires to meet veterans needs.

Though I usually am a big fan of Clinton, and I like some of Bush's policies, I am horrified by these facts. Clinton bragged about leaving a $230 million surplus in 2000. Why couldn't some of this rainy-day money be used to meet the needs veterans face everyday? Bush asks for more and more money for the Iraq War. Why not take care of the disabled veterans living in America before creating more in a war that has no consistent motive?

I suppose funds allotted for veterans are easy to dip into. After all, they have sacrificed so much for the country already; why not ask them to give up a little bit more? I think this attitude demonstrates just how little gratitude society has.

People say the Pledge of Allegiance and study about foreign conflicts, but I don't know if most of us appreciate the sacrifices soldiers make. We've all see the films that are poor recreations of the hell many saw firsthand. Does it occur to us that these terrible events actually occurred and that people who live in our town experienced them?

One interesting aspect of this whole debacle is how partisanship blinds many Americans, including active servicemen and women. Clinton was very unpopular among the military, which he deserved. When he would pass soldiers exiting Air Force One, many were caught on camera dropping their salutes as he walked past.

But Bush enjoys support from many soldiers and their families despite the casualness with which he approaches veteran's issues. His budget is responsible for the medical attention many do not receive, yet he has not been criticized for it.

My guess is that many military families share in the conservative values of the president and the Republican Party, and therefore refuse to believe the truth about what he has done and continues to do.

Of course people should hold on to whatever they believe in, but at the same time those who are pro-military should hold leaders accountable. If the leader has as shoddy a record as Bush does in caring for veterans, then he has not earned their support.

My research has made me realize that it is very wise to elect veterans to the presidency when possible, or at least someone who has demonstrated sympathy towards the military. It is similar to the idea of a guy who washed dishes for a restaurant chain in his youth growing up to be the company CEO. Though he is at the top, he understands what it feels like to be at the lowest level.

As Commander in Chief of all American armed forces, the president should know what it feels like to be at the bottom. Clinton was a confessed draft-dodger, and while Bush's service to the Texas Air National Guard is shrouded in controversy and mystery, it is at least known he did not see combat. I do not think this lack of service and lack of commitment to veterans is a coincidence.

I now am and always will be proud of what my grandfather did for this country. Anytime I see someone in uniform, I reflect on the brave commitment they have made and appreciate it. I don't think it's too much to ask for a president who feels the same way.

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