The war at home is a political battleand its victims could be the men and women fighting overseas in a war that never should have been waged.
House and Senate Democrats are pushing legislation would provide full scholarships to in-state public universities, along with housing costs, for any veteran who served at least three years in the armed forces. It also would give vets 15 years to use the benefit, instead of the current 10-year limit, and would set up a new government program that matches financial aid by more expensive private institutions, according to the Washington Post. The program is estimated to cost $51.8 billion over 10 yearsnot cheap, but the investment would pay significant dividends down the road. [The House and Senate have approved the GI benefits as part of a supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan operations. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill because of the provision.]
The legislation would be paid for by a new surtax on an estimated 44,000 Americans who earn more than $500,000. The 0.47% tax, according to the New York Times, would kick in on income above $500,000 and the tax would apply to couples on incomes above $1 million.
Democratsrightlysay the new benefits would pay a debt to Americas newest veterans that the current administration has ignored as it has fought to minimize the cost of war at home. While the military death toll has been relatively smallabout 4,000 soldierscompared with previous wars, the number of soldiers badly wounded or whose lives have been upended is astronomical.
Consider a recent study from the Rand Corporation that, according to an editorial in the New York Times, found that nearly one in five service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, or about 300,000, have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression and About 19% reported having a possible traumatic brain injury due to what the paper calls these bomb-afflicted wars.
The Veterans Administration has proven itself to be woefully unable to keep up, as the Washington Post has reported. As the Times pointed out, about half of afflicted veterans have sought treatment and they have encountered severe delays and shortfalls in getting care.
The VAs inspector general has faulted the agencys case management of brain-injured veterans, and a federal lawsuit by veterans groups in San Francisco seeks to force the VA to streamline and improve treatment, the Times said.
And then there is the economic impact at home. National Guard families, for instance, deal with lost wages, crushing debt and the difficulty of making up lost ground.
Yet, there is a sizable minority in both houses of Congress that oppose the kind of extensive expansion of veterans benefits that is necessary, preferring to do it on the cheap.
As the Times said in its editorial, the solutions will include more money for mental health services, closer tracking of suicides and more aggressive preventive efforts, more efficiency at managing veterans treatment and more help for their families. Money is key.
Meeting the needs of our veterans is a cost of war, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in May.
I hate to use the word moral, but I can think of no other way to describe our responsibility to American veterans but as a moral responsibility.
After all, we send them into war and ask them to deal with the murky circumstances while upholding the highest standards. Not everyone manages to maintain these standards, but that is our fault. War is like a virus that alters the mind and turns everyone involved to violence.
So, yes, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that the people we ask to fight get more than the stop-loss program and IEDs, head trauma and economic dislocation.
War is expensive indeed and the bulk of that cost is paid for by the men and women who wear the uniform, Marty Conatser, head of the American Legion, told the Washington Post. Benefits are just a small, small cost of war.
It is a cost that we have no choice but to pay.
As the Times said, If this country gave back to wounded troops even a fraction of the commitment and service that it has received from them, they will be well cared for.
Hank Kalet is a poet and the managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press in central New Jersey. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. See his blog, Channel Surfing, at www.kaletblog.com.
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2008
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