The War on Veterans

Congress and the White House are much better at starting wars than cleaning up after them.

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Do you remember Cory Remsburg? He’s the Army Ranger who received a standing ovation from Congress during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address a few weeks ago.

Applause is nice, especially from such influential people. It sure beats those cuts the Pentagon wants to make to veteran benefits.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is now trying to sell vets on his plan to scale back the number of U.S. troops, as well as what taxpayers are spending on active-duty and retired forces. After he announced his ideas, Hagel brought them straight to a town hall meeting with soldiers at Fort Eustis in Virginia. “There was no applause,” reported.

Before and After a War, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Before and After a War, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Whenever Washington winds down its wars and our troops become needy veterans, interest in their welfare always flags. Senate Republicans just blocked a comprehensive $21 billion bill that would have beefed up veteran education, health, and other benefits.

But that’s not all. Food stamps were just cut for some 170,000 vets, pensions will soon decline, and the Department of Veterans Affairs admits a backlog of 393,000 benefit claims after making great progress toward getting caught up.

About 30 percent of the vets who serve in war zones return from the battlefield with undiagnosed or untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. Some half a million are suffering from it now.

Clearly, Congress and the White House are much better at starting wars than cleaning up after them.

Military debates in Washington generally revolve around the costs of manpower, equipment, and logistics. Finding the money needed to cover the medical bills and pensions of veterans is always harder to squeeze into the federal budget.

The Pentagon only lists 19,000 troops officially wounded by enemy action in Afghanistan and gives them good care. The other hundreds of thousands with mysterious brain or emotional injuries have to prove it. But first they need to succeed in gaining an appointment at the Department of Veterans Affairs — better known as simply the VA — and demonstrating that they were honorably discharged.

That can be tough.

William Dolphin, a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran, is now fighting for that right in federal court. The Army gave him a bad conduct discharge years ago for being AWOL upon confusion over where he was supposed to convalesce after leaving the hospital. He’s been suffering from PTSD for four decades.

“All I’m asking is that the Army recognize that I served my country proudly,” Dolphin says.

There’s another new lawsuit filed in March by a group of Vietnam vets who went through a similar ordeal. It’s seeking class-action status.

And things haven’t changed much since the Vietnam War. Washington still sees wasting record sums of money on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a high priority while vast numbers injured veterans go without adequate psychiatric care. At least 55,000 veterans remain homeless despite the existence of dozens of programs that specifically target this problem.

If our leaders really want to honor Cory Remsburg, they should stop making people go through what he experienced. It’s time to stop waging unnecessary wars and start taking better care of our wounded warriors.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow her on Twitter @ESGrecoOtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.


White House Office of Public Engagement Weekly Update

Last week at the White House, the President and First Lady welcomed President Lee Myung-Bak and First Lady Kim Yoon-Ok of the Republic of Korea for a State Visit. During their visit, President Lee held joint press conference with President Obama, Mrs. Kim Yoon-Ok visited Annandale High School in Virginia with Mrs. Obama, and all attended a State Dinner.

Friday, the White House released Creating Pathways to Opportunity, a report that highlights steps the Administration has taken to create opportunity for all Americans. This report is an important update, and discusses the critical investments this Administration has made to lift and keep millions of Americans out of poverty, provide critical support to families throughout the economic downturn, and invest in long-term reforms to grow the middle class.

Also last week, the Office of Public Engagement illustrated the ways in which the American Jobs Act would help small businesses, veterans, and educators back into the job market. The White House continues to highlight the inspirational stories of a restaurant entrepreneur, a social studies teacher and other Americans who are working hard every day and would receive significant support from this legislation.

On Friday October 7th,  the President welcomed the 1985 Chicago Bears football team for a long-overdue reception at the White House, an honor that was originally postponed following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. On Tuesday the First Lady, in partnership with National Geographic Kids Magazine, kicked off an attempt to set the world record for the most people doing jumping jacks around the globe in 24 hours. The First Lady served as the “Jumper in Chief” and led hundreds of local kids in one minute of continuous jumping jacks.

Blog Highlights

West Wing Week: 10/14/11 or “We Go Together”

October 14, 2011 — Check out this week’s West Wing Week, your guide to everything that happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

President Obama: Americans Want Congress to Do Its Job

October 12, 2011 — President Obama today vowed to keep fighting for the American Jobs Act, despite the Senate’s failure to pass the bill. The American Jobs Act would keep teachers in the classroom, cops on the beat, and put construction workers back on the job while providing tax cuts for middle-class families and small business owners and helping our veterans share in the opportunity they defend.

National Service: Powering Community Solutions in Dallas

October 12, 2011 — Three years ago Chris Oliver was unemployed and facing homelessness after being evicted from his Dallas apartment.  He turned to City Square, a local nonprofit that provides vital services to neighbors struggling with poverty.  City Square didn’t just help Chris put food on the table – it gave him a second chance on life.

Dr. Biden: October Is the Time for Each of Us to Consider the Role We Can Play in Combatting Breast Cancer

October 12, 2011 — Last week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Dr. Jill Biden and actress Jennifer Aniston toured a state-of-the-art breast health center in Northern Virginia. They met with committed health professionals as well as with women who shared personal stories about their battles with breast cancer. Forward this video to your loved ones; together we will win this fight!

American Jobs Act Would Help Hard Working Families Pay for Education

October 11, 2011 — Sabrina Mangrum works hard as a student teacher in Maryland, and even harder at home, where she and her husband are raising six children, aged two to 25. Sabrina and Dannie, who has been a corrections officer for 17 years, are hoping Congress passes the American Jobs Act, because the extra money in every paycheck will enable them to put something aside for their children’s educations.

Cutting Red Tape to Help Create Jobs

October 11, 2011 — Today, as President Obama meets with his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Administration is announcing the selection of 14 infrastructure projects around the country that will be expedited through permitting and environmental review processes. This is an important next step in the Administration’s efforts to improve the efficiency of federal reviews needed to help job-creating infrastructure projects move as quickly as possible from the drawing board to completion.

Get Involved

For more information about the American Jobs Act conference calls and other ways to get involved email You can also follow Jon Carson, the Director of the Office of Public Engagement on twitter: @JonCarson44.

Know someone who is an everyday hero, demonstrating commitment to improving their own communities, their country, or their fellow citizens? Nominate them to be a Champion of Change.