Pentagon Says Veterans' Benefits "Hurtful"
to National Security
January 28, 2005
By Joel Wendland
During a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal
(1-25-05), Pentagon official David Chu, in a mockery of the contribution
of veterans, defended a new round of cuts by ironically describing
funding for programs like veterans' education and job training,
health care, pensions, Veterans Administration (VA) housing and
the like as "hurtful" to national security.
Despite Republican pretense that spending increases for the VA
budget under the Bush administration have been large, new spending
has neither matched inflation over the same period, nor does it
keep pace with growing need.
For example, as private sector health care costs skyrocket, veterans
are turning more and more to the military's health insurance program,
Tricare. Retired service members account for half of the people
covered by Tricare, whereas just five years ago they accounted for
only 40 percent. The Bush administration wants to find ways to stem
this tide - none of which have anything to do with keeping private
sector insurance affordable.
The slow rate of VA spending growth enforced by Bush and the congressional
Republicans over the last four years won't cover growing deferred
benefits, such as education, housing, retirement, health care and
so on, promised to current service members or that are supposed
to be available for new enlistees.
Slow spending growth isn't even the biggest immediate problem
for vets. In the last two years, Bush ordered the closing of several
VA hospitals in different parts of the country, pushing waiting
lists for medical services for veterans as high as six months for
about 230,000 vets. These closings followed in the wake of the congressional
Republican's concerted drive in 2003 to cut $15 billion from VA
spending over the next ten years.
And, since his razor-thin victory over Senator Kerry and his claim
of "political capital" to rule as he sees fit, President Bush, according
to an Associated Press story about a leaked White House Budget Office
memo, plans to slash veterans' health care benefits by over $900
million and veteran's housing programs by $50 million in 2005 alone.
A Center for American Progress analysis says, "President Bush's
2005 budget would increase prescription drug co-pays from $7 to
$15 for many veterans. In 2002, the co-pay went from $2 to $7."
This co-pay increase would have the biggest impact on "near-poor"
veterans whose incomes are just high enough to require that they
pay the new premium.
In fact the Republicans are so desperate to cut veterans' benefits
they have started attacking fellow Republicans who want to preserve
current benefit levels. The Wall Street Journal reports that
"the House Republican leadership took the unusual step of stripping
New Jersey Rep. Christopher Smith of his chairmanship of the Veterans
Affairs Committee" for pushing "so aggressively for veterans benefits
that he at times threatened to oppose their spending plans - and
President Bush's - unless more retiree benefits were included."
The Wall Street Journal attributes the fact that the Republicans
haven't been able to cut more from the VA budget to the work of
large veterans' lobby groups such as the Military Officers Association
of America and other veterans groups like American Legion and Vietnam
Veterans of America who have consistently blocked cuts and have
pushed for expanded programs and spending. Veterans groups have
called for expanded VA hospital usage, larger retiree, disability,
and survivor benefits, equitable pay for service members and better
access to health care and health insurance for retirees and survivors.
The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans lament the
fact that increasing entitlements promised to veterans have forced
them to limit the growth of spending for questionable missile systems
and other weapons programs. New funding for their illegal war on
Iraq, they claim, is also in jeopardy as long as so much new military
spending is set aside for veterans' programs.
These "compassionate conservatives" want to force American taxpayers
to choose between the GOP's vision of "national security" and taking
care of the people who have provided that national security.
While the Republicans would like to see tax dollars handed over
to the big defense that fund their election campaigns contractors
- their version of an "entitlement program" - they will also have
to deal with the 28 million people who sacrificed their time and
lives in the US military.
The Pentagon plans to reduce deferred benefit packages and increase
one-time cash awards for new enlistees in the hopes of reducing,
even eliminating, long-term benefit programs. In other words, recruiters
will ask young people to sign up with enticements of several thousand-dollar
payments and forget to tell them that they could have more for college.
Further, one Pentagon official said that they'd like to change existing
benefit plans to cause older service members to retire early and
thus have smaller pensions and fewer benefits.
Meanwhile, Republicans are blocking an effort to eliminate premium
payments for some retirees who receive Medicare. Also, the reliance
on reservists in Bush's war on Iraq to participate in longer terms
of active duty without adequate increases in pay is a de facto
pay cut that affects thousands of service members who share equally
the risks of military service.
The Republicans' effort to cut veterans' benefits is just another
sign of their callous attitude to the vast majority of people in
this country. They feel that the very rich are entitled to hundreds
of billions in tax cuts, but do not feel the least twinge of guilt
in forcing veterans to forego the benefits and services promised
in return for their sacrifices.
This week Bush announced his request to Congress for another $80
billion, bringing the total spent on his war to $280 billion. Critics
of the new spending request see it as more money being thrown at
a criminal invasion of Iraq based on lies about WMD and terrorist
ties that also is draining national resources from programs that
help people for a military machine that kills and tortures.
Opponents of Bush's war know that it has undermined national security
making Americans the target of terrorism more than ever before.
But Bush wants you to believe that the real threats to national
security are retired veterans who need food, shelter, and medical
Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political
Affairs and can be reached at [email protected].