My Turn: White House not serving our veterans honorably

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2004

Recently some stories in the media have shed some light on how our current administration is dishonoring the men and women who have served our country, and made sacrifices that most of us can't even imagine suffering through. Sen. John Kerry, in a speech given for Democratic caucuses in Iowa, mentions President Bush's proposed $1.8 billion budget cuts in the Veterans Administration's operating budget. In addition, recent policies that deny 400,000 veterans as a category access to the VA and very disturbing revelations that military hospitals are restricting access to wounded veterans from volunteer benefits counselors are sending a message to recently wounded soldiers and other veterans that their sacrifices are not appreciated. In a time when the president is proposing that religious groups and other private, nonprofit charitable organizations receive government funding for outreach programs, we are restricting these same types of organizations from counseling our wounded veterans. That is why I am more than a little disturbed at the current administration's attempt to restrict our veteran's access to organizations like Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

This organization, which since 1920 has become a "strong, insistent voice that represents all of America's 2.1 million disabled veterans, their families and survivors," has been severely restricted in its mission to provide assistance to wounded veterans. In a letter dated Jan. 2 to Department of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, David Goreman, executive director of the DAV's Washington headquarters, cites that at the Walter Reid Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., DAV representatives have been severely restricted from visiting wounded patients. Consultations with wounded veterans after their return from the front lines have been the mainstay of DAV's mission. Mr. Goreman goes on to write " It brings great dishonor to our nation to learn of disabled veterans suffering physical and economic hardships following their release from medical treatment solely because they are unaware and uninformed of their rightful benefits."

These restrictions come at a time when the Walter Reed Medical Center is seeing our wounded heroes come home in numbers unprecedented since the Vietnam war. A Nov. 12 story by the Los Angeles Times reporter Esthar Schrader cites "since April, when the first casualties began arriving, more than 1,875 have been treated at Walter Reed, an average of about 10 a day, 300 a month." For every one fatality in Iraq and Afghanistan there are seven wounded servicemen and women. These figures show that now more than ever are the services of DAV needed to ensure our wounded veterans receive the confidential advice pertaining to the benefits they so richly deserve.

This administration's policy towards those who have served honorably and that have sacrificed so much is abysmal. Why, Mr. Rumsfeld, is the DAV being restricted in providing much needed services to our veterans? And why, Mr. President, do you want to cut the budgets on the backs of wounded veterans and break the faith with those that are wearing the uniform today?

• Tyler Cole is a former Navy veteran who fought in the Persian Gulf and lives in Wrangell.

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