"Failed in the care of wounded veterans:" In this one
phrase is an indictment of the Bush administration in particular and the
federal government in general. Where do we go from outrage?
Public hearings, resignations and firings first. Then check the data
from the White House budget office - 2006: revenue collections, $2.3
trillion. With $2.3 trillion we've failed in the care of wounded
Look at the spending chart: Military, 28.5 percent of the budget;
Health, 20.2 percent; Veterans Benefits; 3.7 percent. Over half the
budget spent on these three things, and we hear "failed in the care of
Veterans benefits may be a relatively small item, unless you relate it
to the general category of military spending, because a volunteer
military loses viability if potential volunteers hear "failed in the
care of wounded veterans."
Of course, the federal government is spending $2.7 trillion, running up
the national debt. So 18.7 percent of the budget goes to cover interest
on that debt. If the government borrowed only for capital expenses and
infrastructure - the only valid reason, in my opinion, for any of us to
borrow - there would be a lot of money freed up for "the care of wounded
Then the money in the three related categories should be carefully
monitored to prevent waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption,
so that there's enough for "the care of wounded veterans." If that's
still not enough, then the remaining social expenditures should be put
on hold until the wounded veterans are cared for.
Sen. Joe Lieberman said this week that he would happily vote for a tax
increase to cover "the care of wounded veterans." I could support that,
too, if I thought the already-collected $2.3 trillion was being wisely
spent and the new taxes would be actually used for "the care of wounded
veterans," instead of, say, the listed abuses coming from studies by
Citizens Against Government Waste.
I've been a military wife. I've seen money wasted in the military
segment of the budget. I have experienced "care" for dependents at
military facilities, which became my primary reason for opposing its
proposed civilian version - government-sponsored universal health care.
Nothing much surprises me, except the phrase, "failed in the care of
wounded veterans," for which there is no excuse.
Public safety, which includes the military and police, is the reason
government was invented in the first place. We must fund these essential
functions enough to get the job done, or none of the other funding means
much for long. But just as this does not mean there is public support
for foolishness like private police details or pension scams, it
shouldn't mean public support for unlimited military funding without
But is there, somewhere, a lack of public support for "the care of
The answer is no. And this, along with noting the likelihood of
competent organized complaint when necessary by veterans and their
families, makes me wonder if things are really as bad as they seem in
the immediate response to the Walter Reed scandal.
I checked in with my expert on all things military, World War II veteran
Woody Ford of Tewksbury. While certainly agreeing that the Walter Reed
failures are horrible, he expressed total satisfaction with his own
experience at the VA hospital in Jamaica Plain. He and his fellow
veterans, some from New Hampshire and Vermont, travel by VA bus for
their appointments; when they check in, they are told to mention that
they have to catch the 2:30 bus home, and he has never missed the bus
He tells of his pregnant eye doctor: When he sent her a congratulations
card, he received a reply with a photo of the baby. A simple story, but
it paints a picture of VA personnel who are relating well to their
Woody also mentioned the renowned care of Alzheimer's patients in the VA
facility in Bedford.
The VA budget has increased this year, even as the federal government
struggles to lower the deficit. We're told that battlefield care and the
acute care hospitals are exemplary. Many of the real problems seem a
result less a lack of concern than of the usual glitches found in giant
bureaucracies, not to mention similar problems found in our sometimes
stressed civilian hospitals.
If the mistreatment of veterans was a common problem throughout the
system, wouldn't our own congressman, John Tierney, who is now chairing
the hearing on Walter Reed, have received letters of complaint and acted
long ago to bring this to public attention? Since he did not, we should
assume the problem is fairly small and manageable by a newly aware
political and military establishment.
Government by definition doesn't work very well. Lately, many aspects of
the private sector aren't too reliable either. We can forgive human
error in a lot of areas but should have zero tolerance for poor
treatment of our wounded heroes. Their jobs require that they risk their
lives for us, and our job is to make sure that when they are wounded,
they get the very best of care.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.