A Real Way to Honor America’s Troops
By John Kerry and Lane Evans
For America’s veterans, 2005 was like the movie “Groundhog Day.” Day after day in Congress we have had to fight for the health care and benefits that our veterans have earned, but after every minor victory we seemingly have to fight the battle again the next day against the forces of resistance.
The year began with a shockingly irresponsible budget sent to Congress. Incredibly, the Administration sought a flat-lined budget full of proposals that would have increased fees and co- payments and shifted the burden of care onto the backs of veterans — in spite of Department of Veterans Affairs statements in the past that a 13 to 14 percent increase in federal funding is needed annually just to keep up with the rising cost of health care. It only got worse. After months of repeated warnings by Democrats and veterans’ advocates that the VA faced a dangerous funding shortfall, the VA during the summer finally acknowledged that these warnings were accurate and that it lacked the funds to adequately meet the health care needs of our veterans. In fact, the VA was over $1 billion short for the year and the Bush administration only reluctantly, under intense political pressure, agreed to request additional funding to provide the resources needed for basic veterans’ health care.
Veterans won that fight, but it further revealed the misplaced priorities of the Republican-controlled Congress. Some in the Republican leadership actually proposed across-the-board cuts that would have taken back a large portion of the increase for health care that veterans had just received. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and when the dust had settled veterans’ programs were exempted from the cuts.
Veterans still must suffer a Republican-controlled Congress and an administration that likes to use veterans as backdrops for speeches but fails to deliver in substance time and again. Unfortunately, just like “Groundhog Day,” we have witnessed example after example of the failure by both the White House and the Congress to address the needs of veterans – from providing assured funding for health care to helping veterans affected by Hurricane Katrina to comprehensively addressing issues relating to the diagnosis and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an illness that may affect nearly one-in-four veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush Administration refuses to enforce a contracting program for service-disabled veteran-owned small firms, costing these businesses almost $8 billion in Federal contract dollars annually. Additionally, the Bush Administration continues to block legislation offering tax relief to small business owners that employ military reservists called up to active duty.
What is most shocking to us are the countless pork projects and special interests that have been put ahead of our veterans — whether it is $14 billion in hand-outs to big oil in spite of record profits, or $20 billion in capital gains and dividend tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit those making more than $200,000 per year. In fact, 53 percent of the benefits of these tax cuts go to households with incomes over $1 million. While these handouts and tax breaks increase our federal debt, vital obligations to our veterans go unmet.
We must end this vicious cycle now before we begin yet another year hearing the same old Republican refrain of tax cuts for the wealthy and pork projects ahead of veterans. Veterans are tired of living through this Republican version of “Groundhog Day.”
Caring for veterans is a continuing cost of war, and supporting our troops must not end when they take off their uniforms and return to civilian life. To do otherwise is to dishonor their service — and it is especially reprehensible given how this Congress instead chooses to spend your tax dollars, and simply is unconscionable in a time of war.
Unlike in the movie “Groundhog Day,” we are not guaranteed a happy ending. Accordingly, we must never – not even for a minute – forget the give of freedom that has been bestowed upon us by our veterans. This year, let’s insist that our government appropriately thank our veterans by providing them the benefits and services they have earned for their courageous service.
John Kerry is a Senator from Massachusetts, is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and was the 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee.
Lane Evans is a Congressman from Illinois and is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.