Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How NOT to respect veterans

Want to know?

It's really simple. Just do what the Veteran's Administration has apparently been doing for years-- shred and 'lose' application paperwork from injured veterans so that the VA doesn't have to shell out for medical care or disability benefits. This is just about as disgusting as the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal last year. For all that Iraq and Afghanistan are cranking out new veterans (many of them wounded or otherwise disabled) like Henry Ford cranked out Model T cars, the VA just can't seem to give them the treatment they are entitled to.

From the St. Petersburg Times, an editorial.

From US News, the story.

The VA's Office of the Inspector General has discovered that staff at two-thirds of the VA's regional offices were shredding paperwork submitted by veterans, rather than processing it as part of a claim for federal benefits.

It's simple. Shred the paperwork, close the file, report a clearance to your boss. As a VA bureaucrat, your performance is judged based on the number of claims you process and close, not the thoroughness with which you handle them. Shredding applications requires little work, holds the department's budget expenditures down, and helps you look Productive, but it cheats the veteran who might no longer be able to work because of wounds or medical problems. It's not a new thing, either-- the VA fired people for this in 1987.

Even the time-lag on un-shredded paperwork can be crippling. There are, currently, over 800,000 applications for veterans' benefits trapped in the VA's labyrinthine bureaucracy, some of which have stagnated there for years.

It's a small wonder why the motto sardonically attributed by veterans to the VA is "delay, deny, and hope that I die."

All of this brings me back to a question I have often asked in the past. Most of this country's citizens appreciate and respect those who served in the armed forces, and that is plain to see. The question, however, is how much the federal government values them? Over the past 25 years, the government has swung wildly back and forth from an abject horror of casualties (c.f. Somalia 1992 and Beirut in 1983) and an inexcusably obstinate and callous attitude towards the deaths and injuries which have accumulated in Iraq since 2003. 4,190 killed and 30,774 wounded later, with some servicemen on their third or fourth tour of duty in Iraq, stop-loss orders and Individual Ready Reserve activations of personnel who have been out of uniform for ten years later, we're still wading through the swamp the Bush Administration led us into.

The former attitude could be one of two things: it could be either genuine concern for the soldiers, or it could be an allergic reaction to negative publicity and political damage. The latter attitude..... well, I already said it was inexcusable, but since it would be bad form to repeat myself, I'll call it disgusting instead.

What could well be true beneath either attitude regarding casualties, however, is that beneath the pious speeches, the parades, and the medals, the government seems to view servicemen as expendable door-kickers and leg-breakers, whose job is to go do what the Washington crowd says, and then be put back on the shelf or thrown away and written off if they're no longer useful.

This was the British Empire's attitude towards its soldiery, but that was a different world and a different country. Tennyson's "theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die" might sound heroic, but it describes men being used up by their commanders like so many bullets. Everyone knows the "reason why/do or die" couplet, but the last line is usually forgotten-- "Then they rode back, but not the six hundred." 278 men from the Light Brigade, nearly half of the total number, had been killed or wounded during the famous charge at the battle of Balaclava,which was launched because of a spat between two aristocratic cavalry officers. General Pierre Bosquet, the French commander on the scene, famously and sadly remarked "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre; c'est de la folie," rendered in English as "it is magnificent, but it's not war-- it's madness." The Russian commanders allegedly suspected the British were drunk, since no sober man would have launched such a futile attack.

The matter of war and veterans is, incidentally, one of the big reasons I opposed McCain in the election. Although he certainly milked his veteran's status (as well as his POW story) for everything it was worth, for virtually the entire time he has been in elected office he has opposed improved veterans' benefits or other aid. For example, he spent most of 2006 voting against increased medical assistance for veterans, funding for better vehicle and body armor, and funding for VA hospitals, even while he was enthusiastically voting for the surge.

Send 'em into battle with inadequate tools and then write them off when they're no longer useful; spend the blood but hoard the pennies. If that isn't treating servicemen like expendable bullets, I'd like to know what is.

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