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Combat veterans have earned the right to quality medical care

Adapted from the Newsday op ed, Veterans Day, November 11, 1996; revised each Veterans’ Day since. We must never forget our veterans.

“Frozen and Forgotten” (Korea), “Sprayed and Betrayed” (Vietnam), “Gassed and Harassed” (Gulf War I), or “Scattered Limbs & Scrambled Brains” (Afghanistan & Iraq). The history of VA disregard for our American combat veterans has been the same since they came home from the “Police Action” in Korea. The indifference and lack of concern for the health and well-being of our American fighting men and women by VA Administrators has to stop. Now.

The idea that an American combat veteran has to prove that their illness, disease, or death, not otherwise attributable to some determinable event subsequent to combat is “service connected” is outrageous and demeaning. It is an insult to the integrity of the men and women who served our country without regard to whether they came home whole, crippled, or in a body bag.

Provide the medical care and treatment combat veterans need

It is time for our elected officials to remove the issue of what actually caused the illness, malaise, and deaths among the our combat veterans from the VA or any other alphabet agency of government and leave it to the doctors who care for these veterans in their home towns throughout the country.

Universal quality medical care and treatment for all combat veterans must be a right. Yes even an entitlement. It has been earned. It is not a reward; it is not just some token of appreciation from a grateful nation.

As we celebrate Veterans’ Day, we see veterans of the UN Police Action in Korea, standing shoulder to shoulder with veterans from the Viet Nam conflict, the Persian Gulf War, and now the Second Gulf War and the War in Iraq and Afghanistan just as once the veterans of WW II stood with their predecessors from WW I, the Spanish-American War, and even a few survivors of the War Between the States. But it was not always thus.

The War in Vietnam and Southeast Asia

In 1979, when the Agent Orange litigation began, the American combat veterans of the War in Southeast Asia had been abandoned by their elected officials, their fellow Americans, and in some cases, even their families. In 1979, the VA was the most dangerous enemy a Viet Nam combat veteran faced since leaving the VC and NVA in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

It is different today because the Agent Orange litigation provided the focus that the Viet Nam veterans needed to come together and ask the questions that the media would eventually present first to the American People, then the Congress and the President of the United States. But before the real answers came, many veterans died and some of the veterans’ children suffered catastrophic polygenetic birth defects. All the while a solid phalanx of war contractors and government bureaucrats looked the other way.

The men and women who served during our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should not have to wait as long as the Viet Nam veterans did. They must not be required to grovel before a federal judge appointed for life and accountable to no one pleading for just the opportunity to present the evidence of their afflictions. Never again.

It is all about accountability

Just as our elected officials are accountable to the sovereign people of the United States on Election Day, so must the myriad of self-perpetuating, self-sufficient agencies and officials of the federal bureaucracy remain accountable to the people. Unfortunately, the Veterans Administration seems to be effectively insulated from the people, responsible to no one but themselves, and essentially immune from criticism or public action.

One of the strange inconsistencies of bureaucracy and the entire Executive branch of government starting with the President of the United States is their intransigent opposition to public scrutiny. Our investigative media have chronicled so many tales of evasion, suppression of information and a general policy of restricting public information that even assuming the best of motives on the part of bureaucrats and politicians can only be explained by a kind of totalitarian paternalism inconsistent with the Constitution.

The VA medical system, once the best in the nation, has fallen on hard times

America can no longer afford competing government health care systems which assure only marginal care for those who need medical attention and ever increasing burdens on the taxpayers for a constantly expanding bureaucracy which is not accountable for the money it spends or the quality of the care it provides.

For those combat veterans who can no longer work, the Social Security Disability System should provide benefits to disabled veterans just as it does to alcoholics, drug addicts, and those whose antisocial attitudes and activities rise to the level of “behavioral disorders.”

We send the best and bravest of our young men and women to die for what our elected officials say we believe in. But when they return home they are forgotten or worse.

We must always remember and never forget our combat veterans.