recently voted to send $87 billion to Iraq, money that will be used
to build everything from roads to power plants to hospitals. Yet while
Congress appears ready to rubber-stamp unlimited monies for nation building
in Iraq, thousands of our own soldiers at home are languishing with
substandard medical care.
have read about conditions at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where hundreds
of injured reserve and National Guard soldiers are housed in deplorable
conditions and forced to wait months just to see a doctor. These soldiers
made huge sacrifices, leaving their families and jobs to fight in Iraq.
Now they find themselves living in hot, crowded, unsanitary barracks
and waiting far too long to see overworked doctors. This is hardly the
heroes' welcome they might have expected. Only an exposé in a
major newspaper brought attention to their plight, prompting an embarrassed
Defense department to rush additional doctors to the base.
these men and women expressed shock at their treatment. They assumed
wounded soldiers returning from Iraq would receive priority treatment,
given the "support the troops" rhetoric coming from Washington.
Their complaints went ignored, however, until the media became involved.
mistreatment of soldiers has been evident throughout our occupation
of Iraq. Some wounded soldiers convalescing at Walter Reed hospital
in Washington were forced to pay for hospital meals from their own pockets!
Other soldiers returning stateside for a two-week liberty had to buy
their own airfare home from the east coast. Still others have paid for
desert boots, night vision goggles, and other military necessities with
personal funds. It's shocking that our troops are forced to pay
for basic items that should be supplied to them or paid from the defense
the most shameful mistreatment of our veterans is in the area of concurrent
receipt benefits. Existing federal rules force disabled veterans to
give up their military retirement pay in order to receive VA disability
benefits. This means every VA disability dollar paid to a veteran is
deducted from his retirement pay, effectively creating a "disabled
veterans tax." No other group of federal employees is subject to
this unfair standard; in every other case disability pay is viewed as
distinct from standard retirement pay.
veterans have fought for concurrent receipt benefits to no avail. Last
week Congress finally passed a very limited concurrent receipt law,
but the change is unlikely to satisfy those disabled veterans who need
benefits the most. Under the new partial concurrent receipt bill, only
those veterans in essence deemed "disabled enough" will qualify;
this means roughly two-thirds of disabled veterans will not receive
concurrent receipt benefits at all. Even severely disabled veterans
who do qualify may never enjoy their long-sought relief, because the
bill passed by Congress takes ten years to phase in. How sad that some
disabled soldiers will die in the next decade without seeing a penny
of their concurrent receipt benefits.
Members of our armed forces deserve more than platitudes when
they return from foreign wars with illnesses or disabilities. Unfortunately,
the trust our soldiers place in the federal government to provide for
their health care has been breached time and time again. Last week's
partial grant of concurrent receipt benefits will prove woefully inadequate
for most of our disabled veterans, veterans who could be well-served
with just a fraction of the billions Congress gave away in Iraq.