May 1, 2008

Five Years Closer to Collapse



Today, five years after President Bush paraded in a flight suit on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and announced that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended," comes news that an Army ranger was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan during his seventh tour of duty. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino - who has apparently had her capacity for perceiving irony surgically removed (the same cannot be said for her ability to compose statements of singular, self-centered crassness) - declared that the administration had "paid a price for not being more specific" in the messaging of the "Mission Accomplished" banner that hung behind the president as he trumpeted false claims of victory in Iraq. Missing from Ms. Perino's comments was an explanation of how anyone could be required to serve seven tours of duty if major combat operations were over.

Of course, this attitude is nothing new for Mr. Bush and the people who work to keep him in power. As I have written in earlier posts, the president's "War on Terror" has been one defined by classism, hypocritical politicization of the armed forces, and perhaps most importantly, serial abuse of the military:
Now, not only is the United States stretched too thin to address another significant crisis, current policies are ensuring that, even when our troops are finally brought home from Iraq, the military will be exhausted, substandard and suffering from poor morale. The White House's desire to fight the Iraq War on the cheap and with as little political cost as possible is coming home to roost. Like nearly everything else the Bush Administration has touched, the military will bear the scars of ignorant, ideological, and short-sighted policies for years to come.
Despite statements by leading veterans like Colin Powell that the military is "broken," as well as vivid and public black marks like the Walter Reed scandal, evidence continues to mount that the White House and the modern Republican Party are conducting what appears to be an almost conscious effort to thoroughly undermine the armed forces and the families of those serving in them.

Earlier this month, for instance, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released data on the number of felons allowed to enlist in the Army and the Marines. Hard-pressed over the past several years to make recruiting goals, these services have increasingly opened their ranks to men and women with serious criminal records, and as Chairman Henry Waxman noted, "Concerns have been raised that the significant increase in the recruitment of persons with criminal records is a result of the strain put on the military by the Iraq war and may be undermining military readiness." It is a mark of our utterly misplaced priorities that homosexuals are expelled from active service simply for being gay while the number of felons admitted into the Army jumped from 249 in 2006 to 511 a year later.

In the same vein, a bill authored by Senator Jim Webb that originally enjoyed broad bipartisan support - and which would dramatically increase the educational benefits for troops serving in the military - has now gained substantial opposition from the White House, presumptive G.O.P. presidential nominee John McCain, and Republican legislators. Despite the success of previous incarnations of the G.I. Bill and similar legislation, that saw - for example - Mr. Webb, a Marine veteran, attend law school at taxpayer expense in return for his service in Vietnam, those opposed to this effort to improve the lives of veterans say they are worried that richer educational benefits will diminish the number of career military personnel. In the face of a petition with 30,000 signatures from veterans supporting Senator Webb's bill, Senator McCain has mouthed talking points about bureaucracy and rules:
“There are fundamental differences,” McCain told Politico. “He creates a new bureaucracy and new rules. His bill offers the same benefits whether you stay three years or longer. We want to have a sliding scale to increase retention. I haven’t been in Washington, but my staff there said that his has not been eager to negotiate.”

“He’s so full of it,” Webb said in response. “I have personally talked to John three times. I made a personal call to [McCain aide] Mark Salter months ago asking that they look at this.”

“Hell, no,” Webb bristled when asked if there had been an implicit message that he would attack McCain if he didn’t come on board. "John McCain has been a longtime friend of mine, and I think if John sat down and examined what was in this bill, he would co-sponsor it,” Webb said. “I don’t want this to become a political issue. I want to get a bill done.”

Finally, there is complete disgrace that is the Veterans Administration (V.A.) director for mental health services, Ira Katz. As reported by the Associated Press:
An eMail message from Katz disclosed this week as part of a lawsuit that went to trial in San Francisco starts with "Shh!" and claims 12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while under department treatment.
"Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" the eMail asks.

Six months ago, CBS News reported on what they termed a Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans, and in that story, Dr. Katz declared that the V.A. is "determined to decrease veteran suicides." Apparently, however, the Veterans Administration Mental Health Group has been more determined to hide the problem than to actually address it, because the group's own eMails admit than 18 veterans kill themselves each day, and five of them are under V.A. care when they do so.

To make matters worse, rather than address the underlying issues, the Bush Administration, as defendants in the San Francisco case, have argued that veterans groups do not have legal standing to bring suit. And to top that off, the V.A. has maintained that medical treatment for combat veterans is not guaranteed, but discretionary, based on the level of funding available in the V.A.’s budget. It's difficult to believe that anyone enlisting to serve their country would ever expect to be treated like this [emphasis mine]:
Multiple times during his opening statement, Justice Department lawyer Richard Lepley categorized the veterans’ groups as “special interests” and argued the changes they seek in their lawsuit - better and faster mental health care, and more rights for veterans appealing denials of benefits - are beyond the judge’s authority.
In March 2007, I wrote a post entitled Serially Abusing the American Military, and noted:
It is hard to come to any conclusion but that our soldiers are being serially abused. Consider for a moment the (by no means exhaustive) list of factors that are presently assaulting the structural integrity of - and the individuals in - our armed forces:
  • Stop loss
  • Insufficient equipment
  • An undefined, long-term mission
  • Cuts in benefits
  • Inadequate veterans facilities
  • Inadequate outpatient services
  • Inadequate psychological services
  • An unprecedented suicide rate
  • Diminished standards for enlistment
  • Deployment of medically unfit personnel
More than twelve months after I wrote those words, the only things that have changed are that the list above should certainly include institutionalized callousness, and that more military men and women are dead, both in combat, and by their own hand. Five years after his costumed performance aboard the Abraham Lincoln, Mr. Bush's war is no closer to over than it was then. Our military, however, is five years closer to collapse.

2 comments:

lokywoky bitter hussein said...

You can add that the VA refuses to help veterans in their many hospitals and nursing homes register to vote; the condemned barracks at Ft Bragg that our 3- or more-tour vets are expected to occupy once they finally DO get to come home; the schools near military bases that have been stripped of supplementary funding (necessary because base schools get almost no tax revenue due to them being on the base!) because according to Darth Cheney 'we have other priorities'; and the fact that the burn unit at Woods Hole and the head trauma unit are both slated for closure in late 2009 (gee - we're in a war where the most common wounds are what? head trauma and burns!)

McLame and the rest of them say the new GI bill will hurt retention. Don't you think that list of crap they have to put up with hurts retention?

And the ultimate irony - McLame claims that this situation isn't 'the same as after WWII'. I'd like to have him give a good explanation as to why not. Our soldiers volunteered, were sent overseas for tours that did NOT go over 1 year, were given all the material, weapons, protective gear and such that were available at the time, were rotated out of forward positions often to rest, and when they came home were taken care of - mentally, physically, educationally, and every other way.

In this war - they are treated abominably, tours of 15 months or more, no rest rotations, substandard equipment, stop-loss, multiple tours back to back with no rest in between, and then when they get home they are discharged because they have "personality disorders" so the US Government doesn't have to take care of them.

What???????

PBI said...

lbh,

I couldn't agree more. Along with civil liberties, treatment of veterans has been one of the topics on which I've writtent the most.

The disparity between GOP propaganda on supporting the troops and actual care for our veterans stands out as utterly and completely nauseating, even among the many instances of rank hypocrisy that have been the signature of the worst administration in U.S. history. Like pretty much everything else that has been done policy-wise since 2001, we're going to be dealing with the fallout from how we treat our military for a long, long time.

PBI