A friend of mine, a fellow Vietnam vet, revealed the other day that the Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded him a 10 percent disability rating for hearing loss suffered when he was a helicopter crew chief and spent the better part of four years in close proximity to jet engines.
That in itself is not so amazing, but what is truly astounding is that he first applied for the disability rating 22 years ago! Worse, his hearing loss was discovered and duly noted during his discharge physical.
Many veterans report that they were given cursory end-of-service physicals that overlooked or simply didn't record injuries that may have caused disabilities that surfaced long after they were discharged from active duty.
Yet, in my friend's case, even though he had the medical evidence all along, the VA continually ruled that his hearing was just fine, there was nothing wrong, all is well! Meanwhile, in the contradiction of contradictions, the VA also paid for his hearing aids!
In recent weeks I also have been seeing a surge of Internet postings from veterans who have had disability ratings for years due to service-connected illnesses, injuries and wounds, saying the VA is notifying them that they must submit to a review or face loss of compensation. The problem is, many vets are receiving notices to report to regional VA offices for review on a specified date, but the date had already gone by before the notice was mailed!
Thus their disability compensation is halted and they must go through a lengthy review process to get it reinstated.
Now, let's combine this with a recent decision by the VA to award bonuses to senior officials. News reports say the budget presented by these same officials fell $1 billion short and is not providing sufficient funds for veterans' health care, but they were given additional compensation because many senior Veterans Affairs employees are paid far less than they would receive for comparable jobs in the private sector.
I am NOT opposed to giving bonuses to VA employees who are doing exemplary work, especially the doctors, nurses and support personnel who do so much with so little. But bonuses should be performance based, and if the performance isn't there, the bonuses shouldn't be either.
Last but certainly not least, I have been hearing in the last few months from the major veterans organizations that of the estimated 1.4 million troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9-11, about 300,000 are expected to file claims for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.
Put it together and what do you get? The US government setting one generation of veterans against another generation of veterans to take money out of one hand and put it into another hand. Once again, in a deplorable tradition that predates the US Constitution, the government is shortchanging those who helped create and defend this country, while artificially claiming care and concern.
It is obvious that since PTSD has become the marquee disability, and vets are encouraged across the board to at least seek counseling if they have experienced the trauma of combat or lengthy separation, the VA is taking away from the older generation of veterans, in hopes of having enough money to treat the younger generation or veterans.
My question is "Why is there not enough to treat all veterans."
Although severe PTSD cases resulting from intense combat trauma may require hospitalization and long-term therapy, much of the treatment needed for the latest generation of veterans probably can be provided through counseling of the kind that was widely available to Vietnam veterans through the Vet Centers in the 80s and 90s. Those centers gave veterans individual counseling as well as a place to gather and discuss their shared experiences, and also provided an informal support structure through social and professional networking with other veterans.
Yet with the trillions of dollars the federal government spends each year, there suddenly is not enough money to take care of the veteran population without shortchanging one group in favor of another?
Let's get something straight here. I do not support communism, nor socialism. Both are unworkable economic models that conveniently forget the human element, that being, if one group is constantly working its butt off to provide for another group of slackers, sooner or later the workers are going to say 'enough!' Socialism only works when you have the proper balance of sadists, who enjoy inflicting pain on others, and masochists who enjoy the pain!
Nonetheless, I do believe in safety nets, not welfare, not socialized medicine, safety nets! I believe in caring for those who absolutely can not care for themselves, and I believe in support for the veteran community.
My reason for this position is simple. Of the 300 million residents of the United States of America, only the veterans have actually interrupted their lives and careers, gone off to often inhospitable distant lands, and served the remaining population by ensuring our homeland is secure and free from attack.
We live in a brutal world, and in many parts of this world people would love the opportunity to wage war on us, in our homeland, for no other reason than to give themselves what they see as our power, and to take what we have. They can't be reasoned with, they can't be diverted by peer mediation, they aren't diplomats and they see talk as weakness.
America's military has been successful at keeping this part of the human race at bay for more than two centuries. But that can not and will not continue unless America's politicians take a hard look at their spending priorities and realize that shortchanging veterans is ultimately shortchanging America.
We constantly hear about the tax cuts initiated by the Bush Administration and how they have provided the impetus for a booming economy. We hear that even with the high cost of waging the War on Terror the federal deficit is shrinking at a much faster rate than expected.
So why is there no money to treat veterans? Where did it go? Show me the MONEY!
One last point. Out of a (legal) population of 300 million, only about 2.4 million are in the military, active and reserves included. That is less than one percent of the total population, meaning 99 percent are living off of the sacrifices of one percent.
Only about 7 percent of the total population ever served, meaning 93 percent of America enjoys a life of freedoms and opportunities that are unprecedented in human history, due to the service and sacrifices of 7 percent. If that 93 percent can't or won't make sure that medical care and compensation for disabilities is available for those who preserve and defend our freedoms, then you are watching the disintegration of America and setting the stage for its downfall.
I doubt we need more taxes to take care of our veterans. I think we merely need to take a hard look at our priorities and get serious about where we spend our money. Veterans took time, at the risk of life and limb, to make America a priority.
It is high time we end the tradition of veteran abuse, and make veteran care and support an American priority.
Saturday, May 12, 2007