Sunday, December 16, 2007

Politicians Want Veteran Support, But Government Shafts The Vets, Again!

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;

Rudyard Kipling "Tommy"

Since the founding of this country the government has been putting the boots to military veterans once the wars have been won.

This is not new, nor isolated to the US, as Rudyard Kipling so aptly pointed out regarding the British Army in his poem "Tommy," excerpted above. This also is not the first time I have written about this country's reprehensible treatment of its veterans, nor that I have used "Tommy" in leading this column.

It fits nicely and I believe that repetition may be the best way to get the message across.

To put this in historic perspective America's first full-term president - no not George Washington, John Hanson, who in 1781 was the first full-term president under the Articles of Confederation - had to quell a near mutiny among officers who had won the Revolutionary War. It seems the fledgling government placed paying its first veterans way down the priority list and the vets were so ticked off that they threatened to install George Washington as king!

Maltreatment of vets continued through the Civil War, and the government's reneging on promises made to World War I vets was so horrendous that in the 1930s Great Depression they marched on Washington along with family members, and camped out on the National Mall, demanding redress of their grievances. In response the government ordered two future WWII heroes, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George Patton to roust the vets using armor and infantry, and they did, with loss of life in the veteran ranks.

After WWII, where the active military represented 10 percent of the total population, veterans did pretty well overall, with significant increases in temporary benefits affecting education, housing, and job assistance. But when the Korean War broke out, the number of Americans actively involved in the military and the fighting was minimal compared to the Big One, and the political muscle necessary to keep the politicians' attention began to wane.

This trend continued with Vietnam Vets and Gulf War vets, who had to fight tooth and nail just for recognition of illnesses ultimately traced to Agent Orange and possible chemical weapons exposure. This was not new either, what with WWI vets needing treatment for mustard gas exposure, and post-WWII vets becoming sick from radiation exposure during atomic weapons tests.

With the number of veterans again climbing due to six years of fighting in the War on Terror, and budgets a constant focus for both major political parties, it appears that the vets are again taking an ax across the neck.

For some time now I have been corresponding with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Revie, a Vietnam veteran who is retired from the US Army with a 100 percent service-connected disability from Agent Orange exposure. Charlie is the Legislative Director for the Newe Mexico-based Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees, which represents hundreds of thousands of disabled military retirees.

He has sent me reams of information on matters his organization is pursing under the heading BROKEN PROMISE and ERODED BENEFITS ISSUES. Much of their focus is on government manipulation of the disability rating system that determines who gets treatment or compensation, and how much.

Retired vets can really get the shaft if they retired under a medical discharge without sufficient years in service, or a high enough disability rating. The disability rating itself is inconsistent what with the Veterans Administration, which deals with vets after they serve, having a different disability scale than the Department of Defense, which rates those still in the service, but on the way out due to medical disability.

Charlie's organization is working to get the DoD and the VA on the same page both in the disability ratings, and in the qualifications for compensation. He notes that President George Bush ordered a unified disability ratings system last spring, but that the two organizations still apply different criteria.

USDR also is focused on the issue of Concurrent Receipt, whereby military retirement pay is reduced dollar per dollar if a retiree is also receiving disability compensation. Charlie notes that support for disabled soldiers dates from English Law of 1573.

The American law prohibiting Concurrent Receipt first passed in 1892 and the current law passed in May 1944 - two weeks before Normandy Invasion. This law requires a $1 offset of earned military retirement pay for each $1 of VA disability compensation.

The law does not impact other Federal salaries or annuities - only military retirement. A little hypocrisy goes a long way in Washington.

Other issues disabled vets are facing include: Health Care; Tax Credits/Exemptions for Medicare Part B Premiums; Relief from Medicare Part B Penalties; Improved TRICARE access, reimbursement rates, and administration; Tax Exemptions for Medical Insurance Premiums; and the Survivors Benefits Program.

Rather than posting all of what Charlie has sent me, I will refer you to the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees web site:

There is contact information at the site.

I also would like to point out one other matter that I have addressed here before. In my little state there are about 300,000 veterans, and we can make a huge difference in any election where we are motivated and involved.

A case in point was the campaign of former Democratic US Senate hopeful Ned Lamont, who was outspoken in his opposition to the war in Iraq, and who successfully wrested the Democratic nomination from incumbent Joe Lieberman in 2006. Lamont, following the lead of many other politicians before him, visited the annual Harvest Fair in my community which typically sees more than 200,000 visitors over four days.

Politicians usually visit the veterans' hamburger booth to let the vets know where they stand on the issues, and take advantage of a photo opportunity. Governors, senators, and congressmen have been to see us, as well as local politicians. Lamont shunned the vets in 2006, walking to within feet of our booth before turning his back on us, which elicited a chorus of boos. He then further compounded the matter by scurrying away.

That little incident made the blogosphere in a matter of hours and news quickly spread throughout the state veteran community. Lieberman, running as an independent Democrat, crushed Lamont and kept his Senate seat. You can bet the veteran impact was substantial.

Local politicians were the norm this year, except for presidential candidate Ron Paul, who is running for the GOP nomination. He didn't personally show up, but he rented a booth at the fair and his Ron Paul Revolution T-shirts were a fixture throughout the four days. His supporters stopped by for a burger, which did catch the attention of the vets.

On the national level there are an estimated 26 million veterans. We are a formidable bloc when we unite behind a candidate or issue. In fact, if most veterans vote, and back one candidate or party, we can determine the outcome of virtually any election.

The problem is, despite the way veterans are usually portrayed in the mainstream media - as a separate and lesser class of citizens - we represent the entire spectrum of political and social demographics. We rarely vote the same, any more than any other segment of American demographics always backs one person 100 percent of the time.

But we have a tremendous opportunity here. The first primaries for presidential nominees are less than a month away and there is plenty of time to nail down the candidates on the issues.

By that I don't mean a photo op with a generic "I support our veterans and our military who are ... blah, blah, blah." I mean real knowledge of specific issues and statements displaying exactly where a candidate stands on those issues.

Remember this. Every single American from Warren Buffett and Bill Gates down to the homeless guy sleeping under a bridge owes what he has in this world to the 7 percent of Americans who are or have put their lives on the line to keep this country free.

Don't like the casualty rates in Iraq? Think of how many civilian casualties there would have been by now if the military wasn't fighting terrorists elsewhere instead of here.

Don't like the cost of the war? Think of the trillions that would have been lost to a destroyed or damaged infrastructure and a ruined economy if the war was on our soil instead of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The active military, and those in the growing veteran ranks, endure long periods of separation from home and families, and substandard living conditions often in
hostile environments. No other class of Americans has travelled to such hostile places, put their lives on the line including being shot at, endured so many hardships and faced extreme violence, including wounds and death, for so little in return.

None. No other. Period.

If this country is going to prevail, if our way of life and our freedoms are to continue in future generations, there will have to be warriors and ultimately veterans. I don't care what the cost is, or what percentage of the federal budget is involved. Whatever is paid to ensure that our military gets the best equipment and treatment, and that veterans get the best after their time on active duty, is worth it.

Without the veterans, without the military, there is no America. Think long and hard about that when you are deciding who to support in the presidential election.

My choice will go to the candidate who is short on lip service, and long on real support for the military and the veterans.


candomike said...

Great site, in fact I made it my Marine Corp website of the month.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 12/17/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

CTMountaineer said...

I'm a former Soldier and retired Airman. Although not a Jarhead, I fully respect the Marines and appreciate your great site. Thanks for the good work!

DESTRO said...

Until such time that a few couragious people in government take a stand and remove the funding for veteran's needs from the DOD budget, succeeding chapters will added to the "Soldier's Story" for as long as we exist as a nation and for as long as our Military is tasked with prosecuting our Foreign Policy.

lewg said...

I make it a point of voting for the person who has served honorably in the Military. The super patriots who never served a day are the ones that are leading the people astray. I was in my seventeenth year of service when I finaly opened my eyes and realized that the government did NOT take care of us.

Anonymous said...

My husband spent 36 years of our 42 years of marriage in the United States Army and not until his retirement in Sept. of 2004 did we realize that we don't even have health insurance. Tricare is part of Medicare and a benefit only. With the cuts about to take place not only will the Vets have the terrible offset of VA versus retirement pay, but no doctor to take care of the truely deserving. Our country is truely in a shameful state.

Anonymous said...

Having followed my husband,whose military career took 36 years of our 42 years of marriage, I am ashamed of our united states government and the treatment of the military active duty and retired members. When my husband retired in September of 2004 after starting his career with the United States Army in November of 1968, I was appalled after his retirement to find we did not have health insurance. I guess we were all dooped into thinking we had health insurance. What we have is a substandard health "BENEFIT" called Tricare which is attached to Medicare. So as Medicare goes so goes Tricare. The Tricare for Life often times won't pay because the needed medical treatment is not covered by medicare. Is this what was promised so many military persons and their dependants? NO!! The offset of VA and retirement pay is unforgivable to say the least and yet the Congress and Senators get their yearly raises like clock work. Our Lobbyists MUST BE HEARD!!! This is truely an outrage. The Medicare/Tricare has enough babyboomers and it is time they be heard. If we had been given the chance to opt. to pay for a health insurance program in a group rate--believe me we would have jumped at it. When we allowed military health care to become one of the worst HMO's in the United States our lives were changed and not for the best. Medicade and SSI would be a much better deal. It seems the government chooses not to hear our plight. It is with heavy heart and hand that I write this sad state for the Military. 7% of our population make up the Military that keep us safe and free and the government has fallen short on their promises and pledges. What an "ATROCITY"!!!

Anonymous said...

Followed my husband for 36 years in the United States Amry. Vietnam, GulfWar, Irag. He came into the military November of 1968 and retired in September of 2004. The offset in the VA pay and retirement pay is just one of many disconcerting things to make our soldiers feel less than whole. We did not realize until my husbands retirement that we did not have health insurance, but rather a health "BENEFIT". This benefit is tied to Medicare so if medicare does not pay then the medical procedure comes out of pocket. Also if medicare does pay and the Tricare for Life feels that Medicare paid too much then the Tricare for Life doesn't pay a thing because Medicare paid too much. "That will be the day". With the cuts to Medicare that are being proposed and not being addressed in a timely manner, we will have many military retirees secluded from the health care promised. Doctor after doctor can not afford to take Medicare/Tricare patients at the propossed cuts in pay, and yet the Congress and Senators seem to get their pay hikes on a regular schedule. I know that if we were offered and insurance group plan we would gladly pay so that we could have access to care that is more than deserved. But now the holidays are here and the Congress and Senate once again adjourn for their one of many breaks in the year. What is happening in this country? It is called "AN ATROCITY."

Senior Chief G said...

Great job and so true! My question is, when are the Veterans of this country going to unite and flex their muscles and not let the politicians continue to screw them over. The numerous Veterans organizations (ie American Legion, VFW, DAV, AMVETS, USDR, etc) need to take the lead here and unite. They must organize a massive veterans march on Washington. Can you the impact of hundred of thousands of veterans showing their support and marching on Washington and demanding what benefits are rightfully theirs. These organizations should endorse candidates who fully support veterans and then make it happen once in office (not just lip service). And finally take our fight to the American people. I really don't feel enough has been said about how badly the veterans of this country are being treated. Americans support our service men and women 110% and if they only knew what was really going on with our vets, they would be outraged and help make changes happen! Until more drastic measures are taken, I'm afraid things will remain status quo.

reggie said...

These are the kind of things that foment revolutions!

Anonymous said...

I'm a retired Navy HMC, currently 100% disabled, 100 IU, on Social Security and still being cheated from 100% of my retired pay, but at least I'm getting some of it after years of doing without any of it.
The way to change things in Washington is for EVERY vet and active duty service person NOT TO VOTE FOR ANY INCUMBANT. This should send a clear message to our elected officials: If you don't take care of us, you won't be in office next term, after all that is all our politicians are concerned about. IT WILL TAKE EVERY VET AND SERVICE PERSON TO DO THIS. ARE WE UNITED OR ARE WE GOING TO CONTINUE TO BE FRAGMENTED AND CONTINUALLY SCREWED OF WHAT WE EARNED AND WERE PROMISED?
David B. Cheney
HMC USN Retired

Fred said...

Until recently I was among the thousands of vets apathetically saying what difference can one voice make? I also suffer from a rather common affliction. I have a terrible time remembering which politician made what promise, and then remembering if he/she kept that promise or not. There are some good vet websites who do keep track of that kind of thing for us. It's a huge help, believe me. This site, MOAA, TREA, FRA are some of those sites that come to mind. Use those sites! Let them help you know who said what, and who actually did what. Then take that information to the polls with you!! Don't go the blanket "vote out all the incumbents" route. Although that can seem to be a viable alternative some times. There are actually some Members of Congress who have helped veterans with their votes. True, they are small in numbers, but it makes no sense to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It's equally as hard to vote only for veterans. There just aren't that many running for public office. We must pick our candidates carefully by using our powers of observation and intelligence. Above all, do not be apathetic! Study the candidates, then vote for whoever you believe to be in the best interests of veterans. I'm a retired Seabee who's made anphib landings with the Marines, and had a hand in building a few camps and runways with them. Semper Fi, Brothers!

jessep1942 said...

I just read all of the comments. I can agree with all of them. I do have one thing to say that some may not be aware of. The Congress and Senate automatically get a 15% payraise every year unless they vote NOT to receive it. This has been going on for several years and I think it stinks. Pay raises should be a fixed dollar amount and match what the military is getting....then see what happens. Also, why should they receive 100% medical and dental assistance unless they refuse it? Give me that opportunity! I put 32 years in the Navy and am 100% disabled and have to fight to just stay ahead with the increases in everything that the cute(?) cost of living raise we get(?) doesn't come close to matching. Another thing, IF we want to shove the cost of fuel down in this country the best way to do that is to just stop buying gas at 2 large gas company gas stations, ie. Exxon and Shell. Buy any gas from any place else and just watch...should only take a few months and the gas prices will go down. First at the large stations and then the ones we are buying at will also go down. I also agree, don't vote on any politician that is now in office unless you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are for the military and have proven it by their actions. PLEASE don't vote for Hiliary...she has a foul mouth and has cussed all of the agents that are supposed to protect her and the military plus even police. I read an article a few weeks ago that were bits from books written about her and was amazed at how crude she really is. Plus she made some type of comment about when she was president again (?????) she would do blah blah. AGAIN? Now doesn't that tell us something? Go with your gut feelings, we all have had lots of practice on using that method over the years, when we vote. GOD BLESS ALL of our military, both active and retired. /OSCM (SW) Jesse Prescott, USN Ret.

I emailed the pres 4 times today asking what if anything he & Congress planned to prevent Civil War in our nation. Public domain ruling by US Supreme Court giving developers any property anywhere anyplace anytime created the housing & financial mess it always has & that ruling was not for the good of our nation; nor for the common good of it's people. They are always WE & OUR & claim BIG MONEY (but from which nation?);scariest of all is that they are demanding our farmlands;cut off supply & whoever owns it, is your ruler. Congress & Pres have already eliminated most trained militay personnel by not paying; & then due to cc companies allowed to break usuary & collection laws (they pay each party big money every year so it is legal (?),Congress hasn't done anything when brought b/4 them;our nation has been sold out by our leaders; Famine is coming. Folks in some large cities collecting survival gear & leaving; fatwa pronounced by 26 countries on american $.

Blight wiped out all wheat in Asia & Europe; only left is in USA whatever is ours; stock up cuz prices high & food scarce next year;; has some info;outsidethebox there has requests for survival gear; more vets dead here in usa than in Iraq. they say "don't worry";can't be proved. CC companies can call 5 6 times a day, everyday,won't stop;i found out when lady said i can't take it anymore i want to die. Congress paid $13 billion to oil companies zilch to vets owe over $220 m; have to use cc to survive & then in my mind, tortured, harrassed to death by collection tactics bought from Congress. Congress is totally responsible in my mind of all deaths from a result of their failure to act. I feel they use men/women as cannon fodder & toss like rubbish. American people support vets 100% and haven't a clue what has been going on. Am also concerned re all suicides being that; to many; remember the suitcase conveniently stolen with all military info on it? Taken home for no cause, conveniently left there while at dinner it & several other items taken? & this many vets dead? they claim suicide but the #s are over the top; over 120 a week just from Iraq & Afghanistan ( investigative; also shows metholodgy; pesky folks questioning what was up with vets deaths told not 2 worry about it; "nothing could be proven anyway."How many more from "accidents"? they are not giving us any information.

it seems to me: #1 rule of war: take out military trained personnel they are going to be the biggest threat; #2:cut off supply #3. create panic in banks & businesses; all of this has been or in process still of being done.the way i see it, & others apparently, heck, even Oprah in Aug or Sept had an expert on her show asking if our country would have a Civil War. That should have woke some folks up. His answer was yes.

On the national level there are an estimated 26 million veterans. We are a formidable bloc when we unite behind a candidate or issue.

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