Veterans For Peace

Chapter 78
Gainesville, Florida, USA
Events for 2004


Winter Solstice Concert, December 2004  

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Bush Regime: Main Menace to Troops & Veterans

As you read this, more than 235,000 veterans have been waiting six months or more (two years for some!) for their first VA appointment.BushCo wants to slash $2 billion more from the Veterans Administration's strained budget for 2004, and continue the assault on benefits over the next decade. House Republicans voted to take a whopping $28 billion from vets over 10 years - on the same March day they passed a resolution "supporting" our troops in Iraq.Dept of Veterans Affairs head Anthony Principi is the Bush appointee in charge of implementing this strategy. "We have reformed our department," he
touts. Indeed, Principi's tenure has seen a steady decline in the number of nurses at VA facilities, and those remaining are routinely subjected to mandatory overtime. Bobby L.
Harnage, of the American Federation of Govt Employees, states, "The veterans' health-care system is in a state of shock from the combined traumas of flat-line budgets, staffing cuts, bed closures, restructuring and contracting out."Because of increased medical costs at an above-inflation rate of 4.7% and increased enrollment of 8%, the American Legion calculates that Bush's 2004 request "comes $1.9 billion short of maintaining an inadequate status quo."Congress has called for $1.8 billion beyond what the administration requested for FY 2004 funding. (Still a decrease from last year's level.)A task force commissioned by Bush himself has reported that federal funding to handle the ailments of former soldiers continues to be considerably less than their needs. In the past ten years the spending per patient dropped from almost $15,000 to less than $5,000.Last year, Bush refused a congressional request for $275 million in emergency funds to cover the Veterans Administration health-care shortfall last year, saying "We'll spend none of it." Remember, that was the year he got an extra $50 billion for his so-called war on terrorism.And the system is getting more expensive to use. Bush more than tripled the cost of medications to
veterans in February 2002, while he sent tens of thousands of Americans to fight in Afghanistan.Congress sought to include $1.3 billion in veterans' health care and extending reservists benefits who have been called up in the notorious $87 billion emergency funding bill. BushCo Budget Dir. Joshua Bolten "strongly opposed" the provisions, which were later stripped.The same day Bush met with wounded soldiers and said that America "should and must provide the best care for anybody who is willing to put their life in harm's way," the Veterans' Administration explained that it could solve the backlog problem by limiting enrollment. "VA would avoid very significant additional medical benefits costs and begin to bring demand in line with capacity, which will reduce the number of veterans on wait
lists."At least 164,000 veterans have been "reclassified" to Priority Group 8: this brand-new category is eligible for less coverage, at a higher co-pay than before. Any Group 8 vet
who was not enrolled in the system as of Jan. 16, 2003, will no longer be eligible for VA health care at all, with or without copayment. That means that a veteran must either be impoverished or service-related disabled, or both, to qualify. Are our soldiers in Iraq aware of this? Do high school recruiters mention it?The administration would reduce costs by denying access to "better-off" veterans - those who do not have service-related disabilities and with incomes as low as $21,050.Others would be charged $250 annual enrollment fees, doubled prescription costs and increased co-payments.Estimates suggest this would likely more than triple the number of veterans denied health care by FY 2005 to more than half a million, and the VA anticipates that 55% of veterans who already participate in the VA health care plan, numbering 1.25 million, may be unable to continue participation due to the enrollment fee.The Veterans of Foreign Wars organization sums it up: "The shortage in funding has forced VA to ration health care by increasing waiting times, raising copayment amounts and removing veterans from the system altogether."It's reassuring that the CINC feels the vets' pain: ... In the soon-to-be-published The Faith of George W. Bush (Tarcher/Penguin), a sympathetic account of this religious journey, author Stephen Mansfield ... (in the advance proofs) ... reports: "Aides found him face down
on the floor in prayer in the Oval Office. It became known that he refused to eat sweets while American troops were in Iraq, a partial fast seldom reported of an American president. ..."

BushCo's "pre-emptive war" doctrine isn't making the VA's job any easier.More than 3 times as many American troops have been killed than in the first US war against Iraq, and probably 20 times as many wounded. The present occupation force has been breathing
depleted-uranium-enriched air for most of a year (two years for those in Afghanistan); who outside Washington can doubt "Gulf War II Syndrome" will overshadow the fallout from Daddy Bush's desert adventure?(Of the 700,000 troops sent to Gulf War I, almost 10,000 have died, almost 200,000 have filed claims for medical and compensation benefits, and
more than 150,000 (29%) were granted service-connected benefits.)Squeezing health care isn't the whole story. Pensions, education and other military benefits are also under attack.
The outlook for the huge backlog of work that needs to be done on crumbling military housing and other facilities is bleak at best.Similarly, the administration announced that on
Oct. 1 it wants to roll back recent modest increases in monthly imminent-danger pay (from
$225 to $150) and family-separation allowance (from $250 to $100) for troops getting shot at in combat zones. Shortchanging veterans accelerated with Ronald Reagan, who - like GW Bush - avoided combat duty. But the current regime seems bent on gutting benefits to our servicemen and women more than any administration since the Veterans
Administration was established in 1930.In other words, the VA will no longer be a way
for a grateful country to treat its veterans with dignity and respect. Instead, it is being turned
into a welfare repository for the growing number of former servicepeople in poverty.
And what about those vets we know will never need any help from the VA? The White House gripes that various pay-and-benefits incentives added to the 2004 defense budget by Congress are wasteful and unnecessary - including a modest proposal to double the $6,000 paid to families of troops who die on active duty.

SOURCES: Army Times,, Miami Herald,
San Francisco Examiner, Village Voice