If you can’t give me your word of honor, will you give me your promise?
– Samuel Goldwyn, The Great Goldwyn
President George Bush can’t keep his word even though the words are always the same. Having mouthed them so often you’d think he could remember them. What’s not surprising is that the forgotten beneficiaries of his words are the people he sent to Iraq to get killed or wounded who now wish to be remembered by the man who sent them there to gratify his own ego. They should have learned from Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Bush visited New Orleans shortly after Katrina had paid its respects. Standing in the Rose Garden on September 3 of that sad year, Mr. Bush said: “I know that those of you who have been hit hard by Katrina are suffering. . . The tasks before us are enormous, but so is the heart of America. In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need. And the federal government will do its part . . . . We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters all along the Gulf Coast and we will not rest until we get this right and the job is done.” Mr. Bush is well rested. Anyone reading about New Orleans knows he didn’t get it right and the job isn’t done. Those living in New Orleans suffered because of nature’s tragedy and were forgotten by the man who promised them help. Now it’s the veterans’ turn.
In his last State of the Union message, Mr. Bush received great applause when he said: “Our military families also sacrifice for America. . . . We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to child care. . . and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children. Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation, and tonight our nation honors them.” One week later he submitted his 2009 budget and dissed the veterans. No funds were included for transferring education benefits.
In submitting his $1.3 trillion budget he forgot to include the benefit that would cost between $1 billion and $2 billion dollars. That was not the end of ignoring the needs of veterans. According to a release from the Brain Injury Association of America, for the third year in a row, Mr. Bush has proposed the complete elimination of the Federal traumatic Brain Injury Program. The program “provides grants to state agencies and [other organizations] to improve access to health and other services for individuals with traumatic brain injury and their families.” Susan Connors, president and CEO of the Brain Injury Association of America described the omission as “deeply disappointing” and went on to say that “President Bush just doesn’t get it.” Those two examples are not the only ones in which veterans who have withstood the onslaught from the enemy in Iraq have to defend themselves from the onslaught of the wolf in the White House parading in sheep’s clothing.
According to a report on National Public Radio, during a visit by representatives of the Army Surgeon General’s staff at Fort Drum Army base, officials from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs were told they should stop helping injured soldiers complete paperwork related to their injuries. The forms completed forms determine what level of care and disability benefits the soldiers receive.
Rep. John McHugh who represents the area that includes Ft. Drum, the military base at which the instructions were given, told NPR that: “The Surgeon General of the Army told me very flatly that it was not the Army that told the VA to stop this help.” That would have been the end of the matter but for one thing. A summary of the meeting prepared by one of the attendees surfaced and it contradicted the Surgeon General who had contradicted NPR.
Kevin Esslinger, a legal administration specialist at Ft. Drum , prepared the memorandum, according to NPR’s report. It says that Col. Becky Baker of the office of the Surgeon General said the “Veterans Benefits Administration should discontinue counseling Medical Evaluation Board (MED) soldiers on the appropriateness of the Department of Defense MEB/OEB (Physical evaluation board) ratings and findings. There exists a conflict of interest.” Responding to that comment Mr. Esslinger wrote in his summary that “a recent Department of the Army Inspector General inspection had noted the practice and had found it to be a useful service to the soldier.” He went on to say the practice would be discontinued.
NPR’s requests for interviews with Col. Baker and Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker were initially turned down. That’s too bad. You would think the Surgeon General would have thought that the only thing more important than reassuring the country that veterans are receiving the best assistance and care available is making sure they get the best assistance and care available. His original silence suggested otherwise.