How Do We Honor Our Veterans?
by James Glaser
September 19, 2007
No matter which politician says "Support the Troops," you have to know they are lying. Supporting the troops means more than lip service. We are now in our sixth year of George Bush's War on Terrorism, and still we read about troops not getting the equipment that might save their lives. When those troops return home with life-long physical and mental wounds, America is still not prepared to give them the "equipment" they need to continue on.
People will say to me, "but what about all the veterans in Congress? Well, some how they have forgotten their brothers in arms who do not have the same medical care our politicians have. Veteran politicians will use their service to get veteran votes come election time, but they forget about those same vets when it is time to fix problems.
This is nothing new as there have been Congressional reports and commissions during every presidency, where troubles in our Veterans Administration are supposed to be corrected. Politicians don't care about the veteran no matter what they say. During the Congressional hearings before Bush attacked Iraq, nobody was asking how much this war would increase the VA budget. Why? They don't care about veterans.
It is an insult to me when somebody thanks me for my service to this country, because I know they don't care enough to tell Congress to take care of our wounded and sick veterans. For over thirty years I have been getting screwed by the Veterans Administration. Not by the hard working doctors or staff, but by the administrators who sit by and watch year after year as each yearly budget proves to be inadequate. Nobody jumps up and down yelling to the public and the media that we are screwing over our veterans. Why? Because it might cost them their high paying job, or if they are politicians, they don't have the time. They have to jump up and down trying to help the corporations who pay for their campaigns.
The quote above was posted by the parent of an Iraqi war veteran. I still remember going to the Phoenix VA Medical Center just after the first Iraq war, which Washington named, Desert Storm. What I remember was seeing twenty five or so young veterans being pushed around in wheelchairs by their parents in the VA Hospital waiting room. All of these men had been in fine physical shape when they went overseas, but they returned home sick. They were in wheelchairs because they were too weak to walk. They had all been in the same unit, and they all had the same symptoms, but the VA was telling them that it was all in their heads, and there was nothing to be done for them.
Many of the parents pushing those wheelchairs felt a lot of guilt, because they had encouraged their sons to join the service. That may be one reason the Army is having a hard time with recruitment these days. I can just hear a parent telling their teenager, "Remember what happened to your Uncle Bob? How he couldn't get any help with his injuries?"
Well, it seems that there are a lot of "Uncle Bob's" coming home from Iraq these days. The Associated Press reports in an article titled "VA Struggles With Disability Claim Surge," that out-going VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said the VA faces difficulties in meeting challenges and expressed sympathy to injured veterans who might have unfairly suffered as a result of unnecessary red tape.
Nicholson went on to say, "We have learned that, in many instances, we were not as sensitive to those needs as we could have been. My heart has gone out to service members or veterans who seem to have slipped through the cracks."
It was nice of the Secretary to admit these shortcomings in the VA system, but like so many other Bush administration officials he waited until he was retiring, when he no longer had the ability to change things or be held accountable before saying anything. It also seems wrong for the Secretary of Veteran Affairs to apologies to members of Congress, instead of apologizing to the Veterans themselves. You know why he did it that way? Because he doesn't really care about veterans. He had his chance to stand up for every man and woman who ever served this country, and he let that chance pass right on by.
Just having a department of our government admitting a mistake tells us that things at the VA must be very bad, and they are. The Washington Post put out another Associated Press report on how "Injured Iraq War Veterans Sue VA Head." That might be one of the reasons that Jim Nicholson is stepping down as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The law suit was filed at the end of July and Nicholson is stepping on October 1.
Those Veterans returning form Iraq and Afghanistan believe that the treatment they are getting is somehow less than what other veterans have received. I know from experience that the VA can frustrate you to the point of anger. There is no doubt that the VA has sent many veterans on the path to suicide.
I know that the VA has been understaffed and under funded since at least 1969. That would be the first time I was given an appointment and there was a delay between my request for medical care and the actual appointment of at least six months. It took me thirteen years before I finally got a primary care physician. Before that, it was one doctor after another practicing their new found English language skills on me. For many years it seemed to me that the VA physician recruitment center had to have been set up in either Bangladesh or India. Later on it moved to Pakistan and Iran.
As Commander of VFW Post 3869, I heard complaints of canceled appointments almost every month, and when a veteran has already waited most of a year to get an appointment, having it cancelled just prior to the date will get the anger level right up there.
Many times I have been told that "We don't do those tests. . . they are too expensive." If you ask for a referral to an outside medical clinic that you will pay for, the Veteran Administration will tell you that they can not do that.
It is not the VA doctor's fault nor the staff's fault. They are working for the government, and they have to follow the rules. If a specialty clinic doctor leaves a VA clinic for a civilian position somewhere else, it might take the VA a year or more to find a replacement. That means cancelled appointments and shorter appointments for other patients, as the rest of the staff tries to crowd in more patients.
This will tell you some of the reasons that Veterans get to the point that they want to sue the VA. You have to remember, once you sue the VA, your care there is pretty much over. Those who rock the boat are known to be thrown overboard.
The Washington Post Reported:
Think about if you were one of these disabled veterans, and you had a wife and children to care for. Putting in a disability claim can take years to get approved. Let us say a man is totally disabled, and he puts in a claim. Lets us also say he is one of the lucky ones who gets his claim approved the first time it is submitted. Well, what usually happens is that this 100% disabled vet is rated at only 30% disability by the VA, so he has to appeal that claim. The next time they might raise it to 50%, then 70% and finally ten years after the initial claim he finally gets his 100%, but he only gets 100% back pay for one year. That type of treatment by the VA works in the government's favor. Many veterans just give up, or they die before an appeal can run its course. That saves the government billions.
Here is another frustrating example of what can happen. Let's us say a veteran gets rated 40% for a missing limb, 10 % for a hearing loss, 30% for loss of sight in one eye, and 30% for PTSD. That adds up to 110%, but the VA doesn't figure it out that way. The VA takes the highest rating, the 40% and then goes to the first 30% rating and says that that 30% is 30% of the remaining good 60% the veteran has left. So, 30% of 60% equals 18%. So they rate the vet at 58%. Then they do the next 30%, but this time it is 30% of the remaining good 42% the veteran has left. 30% of 42 % equals 13% this time. You add that to the 58% and you are now rated at 70%. It would be 71% but they round it down to an even number. So you are at 70% and you still have the 10% for your hearing loss. 10% of the 30% remaining is 3%. Well they only pay for 10%, 20%, 30%, and on up. So, that 10% hearing loss rating gets you nothing as it only raises you to 74%, and they round that down to 70%. I'm not making this up.
Therefore, the veteran with 110% disability only gets paid at a rate of 70% disability. A lot of Veterans Administration rules are like this when it comes to paying veterans any money. If you are rated with a disability for having your leg blown off and you have to go to the VA hospital for something dealing with that leg, the VA will pay you the mileage between your house and the VA and back home. I don't know what kind of mileage they pay a Senator or Congressman, but if you are a disabled veteran, they give you 11 cents a mile. Now get this, they deduct the first 6 dollars, however if you have to make four or more trips in a month, they stop taking that 6 dollars the forth time you have an appointment that month. No, really, I'm not making this up.
That pretty much tells you how much Congress and the American people support the troops. Almost everyone will thank you for your service, but those are just words. The severely disabled veteran knows how much America really cares about what he sacrificed for his country. Even with a 100% rating, a veteran can only look forward to existing for the rest of his life, and on top of that he has to suffer feeling that he is on the dole. A 100% rating equals $2470 a month, less than thirty thousand a year. See what kind of house loan you can qualify for with that income. Here is a chart that tells you what each rating gets paid.
I know people will tell you about veterans who get more than $2470 a month, but those vets are in such bad shape that no amount of money will ever give them a decent life, and holding up their pay check is a sick way to justify how we screw over other veterans.
Another example: During the 1950's and 60's there were tens of thousands of veterans exposed to high levels of radioactive fallout from atomic bomb tests. These vets are referred to as "Atomic" vets. It is reported that their average age at death was 57, and not until 97% of them had died, did the VA start paying them disability payments.
They are not the only ones. There were sailors who ships were bombed with chemical weapons to see what would happen, and Agent Orange vets who we sprayed with chemicals in Vietnam. Chemicals we knew that would hurt our troops. For many of the diseases that Agent Orange caused, the vet would have had to apply for benefits within a year of discharge, way before any veteran knew about what was happening to them. Civilian doctors had no idea of what was happening to these veteran patients, so they couldn't tell them to go to the VA. That saved the VA and Congress billions, which is good, because they really don't care about veterans.
That is what it is all about. Pay lip service to the veteran. . . and that is all. Because they really don't care about veterans.
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