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Veterans health care crisis

05/07/03 12:00AM By Bill Seamans
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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on government priorities and the support of veterans.

(Seamans) While President Bush posed for his top-gun photo op on the carrier Abraham Lincoln and then thanked the thousands in the crew for their service to the country, I regret that - since all aboard the Lincoln will eventually become veterans - Bush did not tell them that he will restore the funds that he in effect has cut from the Veterans Administration healthcare budget. As a veteran of World War II who has not yet faded away, I admittedly write the following with extreme bias.

In the midst of the war, Bush's Republican controlled Congress voted for a sharp reduction in veterans' healthcare and disability benefits over the next 10 years. I cannot think of a greater moral debt our nation owes its veterans than to take care of those who have been physically and/or mentally hurt by their extreme combat experiences. I find it hard to believe that our nation, the wealthiest in the world, has reneged on this truly sacred obligation.

The American Legion Magazine devoted all of its latest issue to the problem. National Commander Ronald Conley called it a nationwide crisis. He said, "Today's veterans find themselves running in bureaucratic circles when it comes time to seek health care, file claims, and receive benefits because of a lack of funding by the government." Conley added that approximately 700,000 veterans are waiting in line to have their VA claims cleared - some for more than a year. Some die in line waiting for the care they earned and the country promised.

Edward Heath, the national commander of Disabled American Veterans, wrote Congress a letter. "Is there no honor," Heath said, "in the hallowed halls of our government that you choose to dishonor the sacrifices of our nation's heroes and rob our programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Has Congress no shame?" So said the DAV's Mr. Heath.

It's been said that America is very good at honoring and remembering those servicepersons who died, but too often it forgets about those who lived. I share the view of a New York Times columnist who said "the biggest test of a politician's patriotism is whether he is willing to sacrifice some of his political agenda for the sake of the nation. That's a test our current leaders have failed with flying colors."

I truly hope that the next time President Bush makes a speech in front of an assemblage of cheering, applauding servicepersons, he renews the nation's obligation to support the Veterans' Administration with the same fervor that he talks about spending billions to repair a broken Iraq. How about repairing our broken veterans, Mr. President?

This is Bill Seamans

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.
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