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In The Beginning

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May 25th, 2009 by James Breedlove | 0

This Memorial Day weekend, Americans gathered with family, friends, and neighbors to celebrate the first holiday of a new summer.  But as President Barack Obama reminded us in his Memorial Day address this is not only a time for celebration, it is also a time to reflect on the meaning of this holiday; to pay tribute to those who’ve fallen in defense of our country in the 234 years since the first American soldier died in the revolutionary rebellion and to remember the servicemen and women who are currently deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.


Some 43 million Americans have served in our wars, 655,000 have died in battle and more than 1.4 million were wounded.  In the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan 4,963 Americans have given their lives and an estimated 34,000 others have been wounded.


But these are just the numbers; to most just meaningless statistics.  Behind each of these numbers is a face and a name and behind each name is a loved one who has been inalterably impacted by what their service member has undergone.


Yet after all the speeches, parades, laying of wreaths and sounding of taps in tribute to the many sons and daughters that paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom and democracy there is still a dark shadow of dishonor lurking behind America’s celebration of Memorial Day 2009.


President Obama recognized this in his Memorial Day tribute when he said, “all too often in recent years and decades, we, as a nation, have failed to live up to the responsibility to serve them as well as they serve us. We have failed to give them the support they need or pay them the respect they deserve. That is a betrayal of the sacred trust that America has with all who wear – and all who have worn – the proud uniform of our country.”


Historically, America’s war veterans have not been welcomed with open arms when they came home from sacrificing so much for their country.  While the military medical system has been amazingly proficient at saving lives that would have been lost in previous wars, the follow up bureaucracy for helping the injured survivors has not only been dismal but at times hostile.

For example, according to the Veterans’ Benefits Administration report for May, 2009, the backlog for veterans’ benefits claims stood at 916,456 an increase of nearly 108,000 (13 percent) in the last four months.  Processing times are averaging six months for an initial claim and more than two years for an appeal.

Congress has contributed to the bureaucratic quagmire during the past decade by repeatedly failing to pass the VA’s spending bills on time.

The Obama administration has proposed legislation to reconcile the rhetoric espousing taking care of veterans with the real world budget challenges on two key issues: advance funding for VA health care and expansion of concurrent receipt for disabled retirees.  Congress must now supply the funds.


There are over 20 million living veterans of America’s wars.  For our remaining World War II veterans, the days for helping them dwindle down to a precious few.  Fewer than 5 million are left of the 15 million who wore the uniform between 1941 and 1945, and they’re dying off at the rate of 30,000 each day. Similar statistics apply to the veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.


Congressman Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, made a statement regarding the proposed budget for FY 2008 that is just as appropriate for the current budget.


“We have inherited many years of neglect in funding the needs of our country’s veterans. The magnitude cannot be corrected overnight but we must begin to address the serious shortfalls that exist.  We have recommended to the House Committee on Budget that improving health care for veterans must be a priority.  Mental health and post-traumatic stress disorders are serious problems facing our returning service members and are ongoing issues facing veterans from our previous conflicts.   We must fully fund the health care needs. If we can pay for the war, we must be prepared to pay for the warriors.  Caring for our veterans is a cost of war and a continuing cost of our national defense.”


It is disconcerting to realize that America’s finest are nothing more than numbers to be manipulated by the very government that claims to support them.  Veterans are becoming fed up with promises of support and public relations flag waving by overseers that continue to effectively cut veteran’s budgets while instantly funding bailouts and other corporate malfeasance with billion dollar blank checks.


Congressman Filner, thousands of veterans are hoping that the current congress, unlike the predecessors, will support its rhetoric with its money.  Veterans should not be abandoned or sold off as war surplus.


The problems associated with shortchanging veterans are well known and documented.  We do not need more studies, hearings, or blue ribbon commissions.  We do need an enlightened Congress and Administration dedicated to keeping the promises America made to its veterans and with a clear understanding before committing to war that wars cost money both during and long after hostilities cease.


James W. Breedlove

Comments or opinions may be sent to the writer at: www.truthclinic.com

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