Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dishonoring Veterans

Millions of Americans took at least a moment on Monday, November 11 to salute Veterans on the day originally set aside to remember the World War I Armistice, later known as Armed Forces Day and now celebrated as Veterans Day.  The social network messages were authentic – and on my feed I learned about family members of friends who bravely served the U.S.  Veterans are those men and women who have served the United States militarily – in a range of roles and purposes over a variety of wars, military conflicts and interventions.  They have taken orders and fought for the principles of freedom and democracy.  My own pacifism and abhorrence of war does not mitigate my appreciation, respect and honor for those who have served.  Unfortunately the very government that lauds their service has undermined their contributions while basking in their bravery.

Nearly gone from this week’s celebrations is the 2013 summertime discovery that some 600,000 Veterans have up to a year to wait for benefits they are entitled to.  The contract that the government makes with soldiers, sailors, infantry and everybody in between is in exchange for service, you are entitled to healthcare and other benefits.  I may not like war, and I may think that the Government is too bloated in too many ways – but taking care of those who have served is something this Libertarian believes is the Government’s role.  The benefits need to be effective - in delivery of service and cost.  They're not now.  In addition to the extensive waits those returning from duty have for physical health care, USA Today earlier this month reported that more than 1/3rd of Veterans waiting mental health care have to wait longer than the VA’s own goals for wait times.
Conditions at VA hospitals have been an ongoing challenge.  Complaints go back to 2007 when unsanitary conditions were found at Walter Reed Hospital and others.  Five years later CNBC this week just completed a four-month investigation and found that pieces of bone were left on instruments at a VA hospital because they weren’t cleaned properly.  (The administrators at that hospital received generous financial bonuses for their work.)
Approx. 60,000 veterans are homeless, and according to Stars & Stripes this week, Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki still hopes to eliminate homelessness amongst veterans by 2015, but is no longer convinced it’s possible.
According to Wikipedia The United States Department of Veterans Affairs is second largest government department, after the Department of Defense.  In 2009 its budget was $87.6 billion and they employed nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices and is responsible for administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.  The VA 2014 Budget request for 2014 is $152.7 billion.
There are approximately 21.2 million Veterans in the US today.  Based on the 2014 budget request – the budget allows for $7,202.83 per Veteran.  Adequate financial resources does not appear to be the problem with a near doubling of the budget in four years.
In my lifetime the military has been staffed by volunteers.  I have not had to choose between my faith and beliefs and fulfilling my responsibility and obligation as a citizen by serving in the military (which may not be as incongruent as I think they are.)   I’ve written extensively about the financial costs and the political costs of war.  The biggest cost, however, is the human one.  Death is certainly a horrible consequence of war, but for those who survive must be treated with respect, dignity and appreciation.  Not just on the 2nd Monday of November, and not just with patriotic appeals – but at the very least by delivering what was promised by the Government they risked life and limb for.  That would be the honorable thing to do.

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