John Youmans: Active Duty and Veterans Not on America’s Priority List
John Youmans: Active Duty and Veterans Not on America’s Priority List
John F. Youmans is a retired prior-enlisted (E-7) USAF major and a well decorated disabled Vietnam Veteran who served at Bien Hoa AB from 1966-1967. Mr. Youmans served 30 years in the USAF. One of his most enjoyable positions was as the executive officer at the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. Media relations and coordination was an important part of the job, working with and meeting flying legends like Chuck Yeager. Mr. Youmans was a reporter for the Daily Record in Dunn, N.C. for several years when forced to resign due to his disability stemming from Hodgkin’s Disease and Agent Orange. Mr. Youmans has taken the task of advocating improvements for veterans’ benefits as a personal goal. Confined to home, he has joined the new breed of Internet journalists. His articles have been published in many hometown newspapers across the country. Mr. Youmans is a also a staff writer for www.supportthevets.com and submits articles for several others on the Internet such as www.usdr.org
Off! - Have an opinion about this
article? Visit the discussion forum.
Off! - Have an opinion about this
commentary? Visit the discussion forum.]
The United States of America has certainly not been silent on how it feels about its active duty troops and veterans over the last few years and it appears compassion is no longer an accurate description of a supposedly grateful nation. When did America stop caring for its veterans, now viewing them as a financial burden? I say United States of America because that is who our elected officials who set our budgets and other fiscal priorities are supposed to be representing. As our war-torn troops are being poorly equipped, as our active duty troops are being poorly led with no idea or concern of when it will end, our wounded and injured military warriors are returning home and not facing much better conditions. America’s warriors, present and past, are certainly not at the top of the Bush administration fiscal priority list.
We can all recall vivid images of our president praising our military troops for their patriotism and willingness to fight and die for their country. He has even said he is grateful and the country owes these great warriors a great deal. But this appears to be only rhetoric without much sincerity as he continues to be led by advisors that have no regard or concern for the military and veterans other than being a cheap renewable fighting resource to meet the neo-conservative goals throughout the world.
It truly bothers me to realize these brave men and women are nothing but numbers to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his staff as well as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It would appear their primary goal is to complete the mission as cheaply as possible, especially when it concerns active duty, Guard and Reserve troops and veterans, while civilian contractors and corporations are given carte blanche expense accounts. Something is grossly out of balance. It is time to get out with the old and in with the new, and that includes replacing the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and his cronies.
Its all a game of money, money and money with the military and veterans being at the bottom of the list while other millionaires are getting richer through tax breaks and other giveaways. I personally do not think this is an accident or innocently a matter of poor planning; quite the opposite. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
We, the parents, spouses, children, brothers, sisters and friends of these brave true American patriots need to do something about it. We need to let our legislators know what we want, the citizens of the United States of America. If we have any hope at all in changing this injustice, along with many others, it is through our legislators and our right to vote that has not been corrupted yet. Or has it? I do have my doubts about the new computerized, no paper trail, voting machines however. It seems as ridiculous to me as going to one of the many gambling casinos on the Internet. Do we really think we can win, gambling or voting, by using a computer? I don’t.
Active duty service members are prohibited from publicly voicing their opinions. Well, unless it is a public relations Karl Rove-type gimmick by the Bush administration -- like sending canned letters from soldiers to the media in the US praising the conditions in Iraq -- it is a courts martial offense. Veterans no longer have that restriction and have been very vocal during the last several months letting our legislators and America know how the Bush administration is treating our disabled veterans, hacking away, almost daily it seems, at hard earned retirement pay and healthcare benefits.
Why would a thankful compassionate United States of America want to degrade those who defend or have defended her and become disabled in the process? Why would the United States of America prefer to send a blank check to Iraq for $87 billion, with Iraq sitting on the second largest oil reserve in the world, our enemy only six months ago, while refusing to adequately care for those who won America’s freedom?
In my opinion, the majority of America’s citizens are not being represented by the Bush administration. It is time to give the government back to the people. Give is the wrong word; with the way laws are being changed, it will be a hard fight.
Disabled veterans recently united to fight for their rights. Disabled veterans have their retirement checks robbed every month. Disabled veterans have their retirement checks reduced by the government, dollar-for-dollar, by the same amount of their VA disability compensation. They are the only group of federal retirees required to do this. For many, their total earned retirement pay after serving 20 or more years and putting their lives on the line for this country, is snatched by the Department of Defense. Disabled veterans, including one from WWI, have been trying to change this unjust discriminatory law for 20 years.
Finally, this year, only because of powerful political pressure from veterans and the strong commitment of the Democratic party, the GOP Leadership reached a partial compromise allowing only a fraction of those disabled veterans with VA disability ratings of 50 percent of above to collect both their retirement pay and VA disability compensation. But again, saying the program will bust the budget, the compromise is phased in over ten years. It offered relief to less than half of the disabled veterans, while the majority with disabilities rated below 50 percent are excluded. But the fight will go on. Those blocking repeal of the Disabled Veterans’ tax will voted out of office by a very well organized Veterans Voting Bloc. There are more than 26 million veterans, with more than 2 million retired.
The Sec Def Donald Rumsfeld and the OMB have already determined the cost of this recent compromise and are planning on a large percentage of these veterans being in their grave before they collect they full earned retirement pay in a very distant 10 years. This is only one example of how our government is treating veterans and active duty troops. VA healthcare is facing similar problems.
Troops in Iraq have had to go without protective amour, without equipment to do their mission, without food and water in some cases, and for many without mail. Civilian contractors were overpaid a lot of money to provide many of these things. Again the priority was not on the welfare of the troops, and in my opinion, it was not just a matter of poor planning.
Look at the wounded and ill returning from Afghanistan and Iraq at Ft. Stewart in Georgia. Hundreds of troops are on medical hold waiting for medical appointments over a month and for disability evaluations before being discharged. They are living in squalor, having to walk on crutches to dirty open latrines and showers in outbuildings, and many are complaining the government is attempting to say their medical problems are preexisting conditions to avoid having to pay disability compensation. Does this sound like a compassionate nation?
According to a report on the National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc. web site (NGWRC)http://www.ngwrc.org/article.asp?id=226, "Besides the deplorable conditions, we were concerned about reports of improper claims processing, lack of medical care and physical therapy for war-wounded veterans. We spoke with many soldiers who all seemed to tell the same disturbing story." Mark Benjamin, UPI Investigations Editor in a separate article said, "Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see doctors.
The National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers' living conditions are so substandard, and the medical care so poor, that many of them believe the Army is trying to push them out with reduced benefits for their ailments. One document shown to UPI states that no more doctor appointments are available from Oct. 14 through Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.
"One month after President Bush greeted soldiers at Fort Stewart -- home of the famed Third Infantry Division -- as heroes on their return from Iraq, approximately 600 sick or injured members of the Army Reserves and National Guard are warehoused in rows of spare, steamy and dark cement barracks in a sandy field, waiting for doctors to treat their wounds or illnesses."
Here is what just one U.S. Army reservist at Ft. Stewart , name withheld, had to say on Oct. 15: "I have served this country for 30 ½ years (3 active and 27 ½ reserves) and never thought I would see the Army ‘take care of their own’ like they are doing. I feel so strongly against the military service now that if they start the draft and it appears my son would be drafted, I would pack my family up and learn to live in Canada or elsewhere."
To make conditions even worse, and in an attempt to save even more money, the president has established a commission to reform Title 38, the VA Disability Guideline, and evaluate how the Veterans’ Administration will evaluate disabled veterans and compensation in the future. The GOP Leadership offered this reform as a means to budget the repeal of the Disabled Veterans’ Tax on Sept.5, if that gives you an idea of how the program will be butchered. The budget office will probably gain billions of dollars annually by this reform.
At a time the United States of America should be providing excellent healthcare and compensation to her brave warriors who defend her and become disabled, the Bush administration is adamant about cutting back on services to provide for their welfare and disability compensation. Does this sound like a compassionate nation?
Most Americans remember the name of Shoshana Johnson, a POW during the Iraq War, although not as well as Jessica Lynch who was misused by the Bush administration as a public relations icon to falsely portray the war. On Friday Johnson’s father accused the Army of shortchanging his daughter of disability benefits. "She is not getting what she deserves," Claude Johnson said.
Many of us saw Johnson when she returned from Iraq riding in a cart after being shot in both ankles and was held as a POW in Iraq for 22 days. She still has difficulty walking and standing for long periods of time and she has trouble sleeping. Her disability rating is 30 percent. It is unclear if this is the Army disability rating or a VA disability rating.
Army spokesman Maj. Steve Stover said Johnson's (disability) payment can be appealed. Changes to VA disability compensation often takes several years and there are hundreds of thousands already on a list fighting their unfair ratings. Does this sound like a compassionate nation?
As I said at the beginning, I continually used the term the United States of America in this article. More correctly would have been to say the Bush administration. The two should be the same, but I am becoming more and more concerned that they are definitely not. I suspect many of you said as you read this, "I don’t feel that way" or "That isn’t right." But that is what is being done. And this is just one example. I don’t believe most Americans feel that way, but that is what is being done in our name, the citizens of the United States of America, by a government that is supposed to represent us.
We are the United States of America; its soldiers, its citizens, its families, and its taxpayers. We need to get our country back. We need to be proud of being Americans and raise our voices when we think our goals are not being met. We need to stop sitting back watching and letting the "other guy" stand up for us.
The only way I know of to do this is to get involved. Once you get started it is amazing how easy it is. Write, call, FAX, e-mail or visit your legislators and let them know how you feel. Freedom is governance of the people, for the people and by the people; stand up and be heard.