and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
March #1

Wounded war heroes deserve the best of care
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 8, 2007

"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 veterans?

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 wounded veterans."

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 veterans."

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 accountability.

But is there, somewhere, a lack of public support for "the care of wounded veterans?"

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 yet.

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 veterans.

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.