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You get what you pay for

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You get what you pay for

Federal spending on defense and veterans' programs in Veterans' News

By the time you read this article another Memorial Day will have come and gone. I will have once more done my small part to help area veterans by ‘shaking my can’ in front of one of the local food markets. I have been doing this for the past few years and I am continually gratified by the support that our veterans receive from area residents. From one veteran to the people of North Idaho I offer my heartfelt thanks for your generosity and support.

On a more somber note I’d like to pass on some information that I learned from the Sunday, May 22, 2011, issue of the Spokesman Review. This information set me back on my heels. Here it is—in the Spokane VA service area (much of eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana) from July 2007 to July 2008, 21 veterans committed suicide, 14 of them after they had sought help from the VA. Granted these numbers have gone down somewhat since the issue received publicity but it is still a staggering number. Fourteen out of 21 means that two/thirds of those who committed suicide had gone to the VA for help. These veterans knew that they needed help and it was not forthcoming!

This issue had reached such outrageous proportions that on May 10 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that, in essence, said the delays in the VA’s treatment of combat related mental illness was so egregious it represented a violation of veterans’ constitutional rights. The Court cited the lack of counselors, suicide prevention officers and poor tracking procedures. 

Admittedly, contributing to the VA’s poor track record was the military’s long-held attitude of ‘suck it up’—deal with it and get over it. There are times when that ‘suck it up’ tradition is counter-productive. Just as we blew it (nationally) in our treatment of returning Viet Nam era veterans, we are well on our way to screwing over another generation of veterans. That is so contrary to our traditional American values that I had to look at how we arrived at this sorry state of affairs. Included with this article is a chart that shows federal spending on defense and veterans’ programs between fiscal year 2001 and 2010 (sorry, FY2011 and FY 2012 are unavailable)

A quick overview of the chart reveals an interesting fact. That fact is this: while the previous administration was busy funding two wars they gave very little thought to funding the aftermath of those wars. The current administration recognized this discrepancy and in the FY2009 and 2010 budgets allocated over $34 billion more than had been allocated in FY2008. That is a lot of money but—there is always a ‘but’—the money allocated to other Defense spending almost doubled between FY2005 and FY2010. 

What does that translate to you ask? Well, what it clearly shows is that while the Defense budget was exploding at an exponential rate, the monies allocated towards helping our veterans increased a total of 0.4 percent as a percentage of Defense spending between FY2001 and FY2010. That, in military parlance, is known as ‘marking time.’

There is no way that any company, business or organization can deal with an exponential increase in the demands for its products or services if it has no means to hire and train the personnel necessary to provide those services or products. While the previous administration was dumping tons of money into two wars and cutting taxes it was doing almost nothing to deal with the results and aftermath of these wars. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has laid the onus on the Veterans Administration when they said, “The VA’s unchecked incompetence has gone on long enough; no more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations.” The VA can appeal the ruling but I think the fault lies further upstream than the VA. I agree with the Court saying that the government has failed to perform its obligations.

Where I disagree is the level at which this failure has occurred. For the only time in our nation’s history we are engaged in a war and have cut taxes. In ECON 101 this is known as the ‘Law of Diminishing Returns.’ If you or I spent money we didn’t have we could go to jail on any number of offenses. One of these is ‘fraud.’ I think that a fraud has been perpetrated on the American people. We tried to conduct our wars ‘on the cheap.’ Well, guess what—there is no such thing as a free lunch. The previous administration, aided and abetted by the Congress, sold us a bill of goods and all those unpaid bills are coming in—and now they are marked “Past Due.”

We have several nationwide messes to clean up—let’s start with doing what is right by our veterans. We have to start somewhere and I think this would be a good place to do so. As the wars wind down and more troops come home to join the ranks of our veteran community we need get our house in order. We need to gear up to be able to process VA claims and provide the services our veterans were promised and have earned. Our veterans represent slightly more than 7 percent of the total population of this country. They, more than the wealthiest 2 percent, are the ones who have given us the gifts we continue to enjoy in this country. To quote Winston Churchill, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.” 

Until next month take care and the next time you meet a veteran don’t just say ‘thanks.’ Tell them that you have written or called your legislative representatives to get our veterans the benefits he or she has earned.

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

Tagged as:

veterans, Memorial Day, Veterans Administration, suicide, defense funding, Veterans' News

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