Today, President Bush addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Kansas City. Instead of taking the opportunity to discuss the urgent issues that are facing veterans today, the president offered a history lesson -- and actually compared Iraq to Vietnam. But the last thing these veterans needed was a lecture from such a poor student of history. They remember America's wars -- because, unlike President Bush, they actually fought in them.
President Bush telling veterans about war is like an atheist preaching to the choir. No surprise that he got his facts wrong. But plenty of others are making great arguments about the historical accuracy of Bush's remarks and their relevance to today's conflicts. I am more frustrated by what Bush did not say.I have often admonished the president for not addressing veterans' issues. This speech today represents a new low. After taking credit for increasing the veterans' budget, even after years of underfunding the VA, the president was strangely silent on the real issues facing new veterans, including naming a replacement for Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson who steps down in October, and implementing recommendations of the Dole-Shalala Commission to fix the nation's military and veterans' hospitals. What happened to all the outrage and promises after Walter Reed? The words "Dole-Shalala" were not even mentioned. The Dole-Shalala Commission's Report set out six clear recommendations to be implemented (most by the president), and now they are gathering dust on a shelf somewhere while the president and Congress are on vacation for the summer.
So if we're going to talk about the legacy of Vietnam, we need to remember what happens when a nation fails to take care of its veterans. We cannot abandon another generation of combat vets to untreated mental health problems, substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and suicide. As President Bush said today, "History does remind us that there are lessons applicable to our time. And we can learn something from history." Let us learn that the men and women who have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, (and all wars) deserve to be provided for. Not just used as a backdrop for another presidential photo op.
Paul Rieckhoff is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Executive Director and Founder of IAVA (Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America), the country's first and largest Iraq Veterans group. IAVA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization headquartered in New York City.
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