The Bush administration plans to cut funding for veterans' health care two years from now — even as badly wounded troops returning from Iraq could overwhelm the system.
Bush is using the cuts, critics say, to help fulfill his pledge to balance the budget by 2012.
After an increase sought for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing rapidly — by more than 10 percent in many years — White House budget documents assume consecutive cutbacks in 2009 and 2010 and a freeze thereafter.
The numbers are so unrealistic that some critics are speculating that the White House is just doing some fancy math, to give the appearance of balancing the budget.
In fact, even the White House doesn't seem serious about the numbers. It says the long-term budget numbers don't represent actual administration policies. Similar cuts assumed in earlier budgets have been reversed.
The veterans cuts, said White House budget office spokesman Sean Kevelighan, "don't reflect any policy decisions. We'll revisit them when we do the (future) budgets."
But, at the risk of parroting the GOP talking points we've been hearing all day as Congress debates Bush's surge "strategy," I have to ask. What the hell kind of message does that send to the troops who are currently doing all the fighting and dying in Bush's war? Don't they have enough to worry about, without learning that their Commander in Chief thinks their health benefits are expendable? How much are they supposed to sacrifice to maintain Bush's tax cuts for the super wealthy?
Iraq War veteran Christopher Carbone said he wouldn't mind a decrease in his medical benefits if it meant that additional federal dollars would be used for armored Humvees on the battlefield.
But Carbone, a survivor of an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq in October 2005, couldn't help being a little jarred when he learned the Bush administration planned to cut funding for veterans' health care by 2 percent in 2009 in order to balance the federal budget by 2012.
"It's kind of surprising," Carbone, 28, of North Haledon, said Monday. "It's one of those things that you always expect to be taken care of after everything you do."
As it is the VA cannot meet the demands of veterans returning damaged in body and spirit; something Jonathan Schulze discovered in his hour of need.
Jonathan Schulze was a United States Marine.
He died earlier this month at the age of 25 -- not in Iraq, but back home, in Minnesota.
He died of wounds received during his seven-month tour of duty in Iraq, wounds different from the ones that earned Schulze two purple hearts. This young man died of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, of wounds to the soul and not the flesh. He died because the government that was there to send him far away to fight in 2004 wasn't there for him when he got home.
Schulze had a harrowing time in Iraq, spending time in the heated battles of Ramadi in April, 2004. While he was there, 35 Marines in his unit were killed, including 17 of them in just 48 hours of combat.
The young Marine was wounded twice in battle but returned home to rebuild his life and to cope with the things he had seen, things he had done and friends he had lost. But, by the time he was discharged from the Marines in late 2005, he was deeply troubled with images of combat and violence that he could not get out of his mind.
According to Minnesota press reports, Schulze went to the Veterans Administration (VA) center in Minneapolis on December 14, 2006, met with a psychiatrist and was told that he could only be admitted for treatment four months later, in March.
On January 11, 2007, accompanied by his parents, he went to the VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota and told people at that VA facility that he was thinking of killing himself. They told Schulze that they could not admit him as a patient and sent him on his way.
The next day, January 12, Schulze called the VA, reiterating that he was feeling suicidal. He was told that he was number 26 on the waiting list....
On January 16, Schulze called his family and told them that he was going to do it -- he was going to kill himself. His family called the local police, who raced to his house, kicked in his door and found him hanging from an electrical cord.
Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
I fear there will be many more like Jonathan Schulze who return from increasingly harrowing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to find a failing VA, incapable of meeting their needs.