President Bush did not use the word “veterans” a single time in his 2005 State of the Union. This should come as no surprise given that the last time he mentioned veterans in a SOTU was in 2002 — before we went to war. Since then, over 10,000 troops have come home wounded from Iraq, and now there are “painful” changes to staff rotations in Iraq due to a lack of new recruits. One would think that the president would have something encouraging to say to the men and women who have served our country.
The president’s inattention to veterans is more than just rhetorical; it’s having an impact.
Though the Veterans Administration’s enrolled population has grown 134 percent since 1996, appropriations have only risen 44 percent. Because of this lack of funding, and with troops coming home injured from Iraq every week, the waiting lists are growing for medical services — leading to what seems to be the current strategy for saving money: hiding available veterans services from them.
Those who speak out on behalf of veterans suffer the consequences. At the opening of the new Congress, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) was removed by Republican leaders as chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee for being too strong an advocate for veterans.
And things may get worse quickly. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness David Chu says benefits for veterans have “gotten to the point where they are hurtful. They are taking away from the nation’s ability to defend itself.” (You decide: a tax cut in a time of war for the top 1 percent, or health care for those who serve the nation?)