Remarks delivered at an anti-war protest in Charlotte, NC
In early January 2003, a little over two months before the US invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush spoke to troops at Fort Hood Texas. He assured them, “I want to make sure that our soldiers have the best possible pay,” and, “I want to make sure the housing is the best possible for our military families.”
Two weeks later, Bush met with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center and told them, “We should and must provide the best care for anybody who is willing to put their life in harm’s way.”
These expressions of support, and others like them over the past 3 1/2 years since then, receive a lot of play on the cable news channels and make for good sound bites on the evening news. Anyone paying only superficial attention, or anyone who puts any faith in what Bush has to say, might come away with the impression that he sincerely means what he says, and that his words would translate into actions to benefit our servicemen and women.
Unfortunately, it has become all too clear that this Administration has a serious credibility gap, and has a long history of misleading the American people. A brief overview of what the Bush Administration has actually done, or attempted to do, over the past 3 1/2 years demonstrates that, despite their rhetoric of support, they have been waging an on-going war on our troops and veterans on every front where it matters.
After Bush declared “major combat operations” over in Iraq under the banner of “Mission Accomplished,” the Bush Administration tried to reduce proposals for modest increases in monthly imminent-danger pay and the family-separation allowance, they opposed an increase in the $6,000 one-time payment to families of those killed in action, and acted to block a federal judge’s award of damages to Desert Storm veterans who had sued the Iraqi government for torture during the 1991 Gulf War.
They closed Small Business Administration offices that provided aid to veterans starting new businesses, closed several commissaries and military-run schools, and proposed increasing prescription co-payments and charging a $250 user fee for some veterans.
Before there was public outcry, the Bush Administration outrageously charged injured GIs $8 a day for food when transferred back to the US for medical treatment from injuries sustained in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Their budget proposals have included billions of dollars in cuts for VA medical and prosthetic research, military family housing, and VA hospitals.
The inadequate funding of healthcare and medical facilities has had its consequences. Various surveys and reports in the past couple of years have found that long-term care services are severely underfunded, that clinics have been withholding non-institutional long-term care services, that the VA was poorly prepared to serve the mental health needs of veterans, that over 310,000 veterans were waiting up to six months for medical appointments, that veterans receiving disability compensation had to wait from six months to two years, that there is a backlog of hundreds of thousands of benefits claims, and that the VA was only able to tend to 20% of homeless veterans.
Earlier this year, a Government Accountability Office audit of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs found that political pressure from the Bush Administration had caused VA officials to lower their budget requests to match the lowered funding targets from the White House, every year from 2003 to 2006.
Concerning this finding, Larry Scott of VAwatchdog.org wrote, “The VA’s healthcare budget didn’t make sense because VA officials, for at least the last four years, have been cooking the books.”
Back in July 2003, while withholding funding that military commanders said they needed for armor and body protection and while troops were scrounging for make-shift armor and buying their own if they could afford it, Bush’s answer to the growing insurgency was a taunting, “Bring ’em on.”
Later, in January 2006, the New York Times reported:
A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.
Over the past several years, reports continued to surface about how over-extended and over-taxed our military had become, the significant recruiting short-falls, and the various attempts the Administration had made to address these problems without calling for a draft. These attempts included extending service via a stop-loss program, twice raising the eligibility age for enlistment, offering thousands of dollars to troops to reenlist, the recall of retired and discharged troops, and sending our National Guard overseas for extended deployment in Iraq.
At the same time, the Administration was also putting pressure on recruiters, leading to reports of highly questionable and illegal tactics to meet quotas, including misrepresentation of benefits, false assurances about non-deployment to Iraq, and the compromising of minimum IQ requirements. As the situation worsened, monetary incentives to sign up were increased and induction standards were lowered.
All these efforts have not done much to relieve the situation; suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder are at an all-time high, and morale continues to decline.
And after all of that, sadly, there is more….
In the Spring of this year, it was revealed that this war was being fought by sending troops with post-traumatic stress disorder back into combat, and that the military was relying increasingly on the use of antidepressants in the war zone.
In this all too brief and limited review of the Bush Administration and their efforts on behalf of our troops, it becomes very clear that their “support” for our troops doesn’t go much beyond whatever meaningless, deceptive, and superficial rhetoric will suffice to create the illusion of support, and to inspire our armed forces to act as cannon-fodder for their delusional policy objectives.
There are many other examples that I have passed over here, including: their reluctance to support health hazard research regarding Depleted Uranium exposure, their lack of support for tax breaks for service members while giving tax breaks to the rich, their poor planning for the post-war situation, their lack of bright and clear guidelines on handling prisoners or how to interrogate them, and, finally, having them wage an unnecessary and illegal war without an exit strategy, but it appears that this Administration has no interest in doing what it really takes to “support our troops” beyond what amounts to the policy equivalent of slapping a bumper sticker on the back of their SUVs.
This callous disregard and disrespect for our military and its veterans is driven by this President and his chickenhawk cronies, who have managed to avoid service or combat themselves. This Administration has grown accustomed to using force to get their way while sacrificing others. In this case, tens of thousands of our troops have, and are continuing to, pay the price, while this President vacations in Crawford, Texas.
Republicans in Congress have not acted much better, to cite just a couple of examples: in September 2005, House Republicans proposed closing elementary and secondary schools for military family members and voted that the VA must cut $798 million over the next five years. And just this week, USA Today reported that:
Congress appears ready to slash funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts, an injury that military scientists describe as a signature wound of the Iraq war. House and Senate versions of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain $7 million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center – half of what the center received last fiscal year.
Last year, the Disabled American Veterans released a report on individual members of Congress, indicating the degree (from 0 to 100) that each elected official supported the interests of the organization in that year. The report gave a score of “0” to two-hundred congressional representatives, all of them Republicans. Only two Republicans received a score over 50. On the other hand, 154 Democrats received a score of “100” and only one Democrat scored under 60.
While Afghanistan deteriorates back into warlord fiefdoms and the Taliban reemerges within, while Iraq devolves into an undeclared civil war and has become a training ground for future terrorists, while the entire Middle East lurches towards total chaos and more people hate us than ever before, while the monetary costs threaten our economy and result in cuts in essential benefits and services, and while we are less free at home and the death toll on both sides is measured in the tens of thousands–all because of the policies of this Administration–the only war this Administration of chickenhawks seems to be winning is the war on our troops and our veterans
The Bush Administration’s on-going war on our troops and veterans is not honorable or sustainable, and we must do all we can to put a stop to it.