Thursday, March 01, 2007

You Can Carry Out Your Noble Missions, We Will Carry Our Noble Scars

There are few stories out there that are more deserving of the spotlight than the evolving scandal surrounding the deplorable treatment that our wounded veterans are receiving under the Bush administration's leadership. This is a story that must not be allowed to slip away down the memory hole, nor should ignorance and amnesia lead to inaction. Vigilance is a must in order to prevent the further perpetuation of this unthinkable travesty. The Bush administration is not going to right this wrong absent an avalanche of political pressure. And even then.

That being said, I haven't had the time, or creative spark, to really give this story the attention and treatment it deserves. But instead of waiting around for either to fall in my lap, I'll do my best to play catch-up today.

The story begins, I suppose, with the revelation that the recently unveiled Bush administration budget calls for cuts to veteran's health care benefits at a time of increased need due to the wars in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, Afghanistan.

Actually, "increased need" is a gross understatement. The VA is currently treating over 200,000 soldiers suffering from some form of injury sustained during these conflicts. Think about the enormity of that number. Over 200,000. And it's only going to get bigger when the surge is fully implemented, and the Taliban unleash their Spring offensive.

From the outset, the VA was not prepared to handle this level of casualties - despite the dedication and hard work of the many employees in the system. It was a matter of limited resources available to meet a larger burden. Caught flat-footed by the ongoing difficulties faced in the conflict in Iraq, the VA and its network of patient care has been severely overstretched. The system is breaking down and that is leading to lapses in treatment, unsanitary conditions and decay at its facilities (including premiere facilities like Walter Reed), increased delays and hardships faced by soldiers trying to avail themselves of promised benefits and, generally speaking, neglect and mistreatment of those that have sacrificed so much for us all.

Some soldiers have actually committed suicide while under the noses of doctors and nurses that have been too overburdened to take notice of the warning signs. Others continue to engage in destructive behavior, toward self and others, due, in part, to the inadequacy of the care they are supposedly receiving. Our soldiers deserve infinitely more.

The unavoidable truth is that, while the vast majority of doctors, nurses and administrators in the VA system are working diligently and honorably, they need help. More money is required for more personnel, more and improved facilities, better record keeping, better monitoring of patients and everything else that goes along with running such an operation.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration's response is to push to make Paris Hilton's tax cuts permanent, while cutting funding for the health care of our wounded vets. Priorities I guess.

Thanks to the WashingtonPost (follow up here), however, this story has received sudden national attention. Acting equal parts surprised and chastened, the Bush administration has promised to look into the matter and rectify the situation. Here's the thing though: unless more money is allocated for our wounded veterans, most of the other solutions will be of little impact.

But where do we get the money? The budget is currently swollen to unhealthy levels in large part due to the exigencies of funding the wars themselves. Oh, and those multi-trillion dollar tax cuts aimed at the wealthiest Americans are expensive too. There is a reason, after all, that no nation in history has cut taxes while fighting a war. Let alone two wars! Let alone multiple rounds of tax cuts!!!!

What to do then?

Part of the answer to that question, at least from the Bush administration's point of view, is to do more to conceal the issue from a public that might not agree with the Bush team's skewed priorities. So first we get news that the military is punishing our wounded vets for speaking out - now requiring the patients to break their convalescent rest every morning at 6:00am in order for room inspections at 7:00am. Because, you know, the health and recovery of these soldiers is their top priority.

In addition, these patients are now forbidden from talking to the press about their health care experiences. Leaving no stone un-unturned, the Pentagon has revoked the previously granted access of film crews from CNN and the Discovery Channel who were involved in projects focused on our wounded soldiers. Actually, they've instituted a general media blackout. Further, there has been a spate of firings and dismissals that appear to be aimed at silencing critics and whistleblowers - including this strange incident involving Donald Rumsfeld's wife.

To sum it up: the Bush administration's fiscal priorities translate into slashed funding for the health care of veterans while bestowing a windfall on the wealthiest Americans - those who need it far less. This comes at a time of acute crisis for the healthcare infrastructure serving our veterans due to the unexpectedly large influx of wounded soldiers. The Bush administration has been on notice about these problems for more than three years, but, despite public plays at shock and outrage, the actual response has been to silence the critics and hide the story from the American people.

Of all the things this administration has done that I have found to be morally and ethically reprehensible, this ranks toward the top. That this is not the unambiguous leader of that dubious category is only a testament to the extent of this administration's malfeasance.

Beyond hyperbole, this is the worst presidency in the history of the United States. Bar none. And it seems to be getting worse. At the very least, we owe it to our soldiers to demand better. Loudly and repeatedly.

(hat tips to Henley and Hilzoy)

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