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Support the Warrior Not the War: Give Them Their Benefits!
Published on Friday, March 28, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Support the Warrior Not the War: Give Them Their Benefits!
by Ashley L Decker
 

The recent rally cry "Support Our Troops" seems to me little more than a perverted, propaganda ploy to "Support the War." But we can support our troops, without supporting the war, by rectifying some of the following conditions.

The House of Representatives have recently voted on the 2004 budget which will cut funding for veteran's health care and benefit programs by nearly $25 billion over the next ten years. It narrowly passed by a vote of 215 to 212, and came just a day after Congress passed a resolution to "Support Our Troops." How exactly does this vote support our troops? Does leaving our current and future veterans veterans without access to health care and compensation qualify as supporting them?

The Veteran's Administration, plagued by recent budget cuts, has had to resort to charging new veterans entering into its system a yearly fee of $250 in order for them to receive treatment. It is a sad irony that the very people being sent to fight the war are going to have to pay to treat the effects of it.

According to the Veteran's Administration, 28 million veterans are currently using VA benefits. Another 70 million Americans are potential candidates for such programs. This amounts to a quarter of the country's population. Veterans and their families will sadly begin finding that they have no place to turn for their medical treatment as V.A. hospitals across the country face closing their doors. With the budget shrinking, staff will be let go. This could mean the loss of over 19,000 nurses. Without these nurses, this leads to the loss of over 6.6 million outpatient visits. Approximately one out of every two veterans could lose their only source of medical care. That is, if they even realize help is available to them. The Bush Administration recently ordered V.A. medical centers to stop publicizing available benefits to veterans seeking assistance. This follows discontinued enrollments of some eligible veterans for healthcare benefits as of January, 2003.

Bush Administration funding cuts will also prevent veterans from receiving their disability pensions. My father was granted 100% disability six years ago for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder associated with the Vietnam War. He deserves every cent of it. As do all soldiers who are willing to go to war. Under the Bush administration, being granted the ability to receive war related compensation has become a rare privilege, not a right as it should be. Nearly a third of Gulf War veterans, about 209,000 veterans, have submitted claims to to the VA for disability. The backlog of unprocessed claims has reached the astronomical count of 489,297, a number which is unfortunately increasing all of time. There are also currently 500,000 Compensation and Pension cases still pending.

Making matters worse, forty percent of Vietnam Veterans are homeless. They went from the jungles of the war to the jungles of the street. Before President Bush decided to declare war, maybe he ought to have considered correcting this situation first. How many current veterans will return home, only to find themselves in the same situation?

I have seen the effects of war written upon the face of a man who grew old at 17. I have seen it in the way he awakes from yet another night terror. I have seen it in the countless pills he has to take. They have only succeeded in erasing his memory, but the images of the war he fought are so graphic that they will never be able to stop playing themselves upon his mind.

Even I, his daughter, have not escaped unscathed. Exposure to the chemical Agent Orange has left me with several genetic problems, including growth problems and digestive ones. I fear that these current soldiers will be exposed to toxins that will not only affect them, but their future offspring as well.

And today we are told that we must "Support Our Troops." "Wear a yellow ribbon, wave your flag, support the Bush Administration's War on Terror and War on Iraq." Questioning the war is equated with deserting our troops or treason. And yet how are the warmongers supporting our troops? By eliminating their healthcare and slashing their pensions. Let us support the warrior without supporting the war.

Ashley L Decker is a student at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

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