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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

“Frozen and Forgotten” (Korea), “Sprayed and Betrayed” (Vietnam), or “Gassed and Harassed” (Gulf War I). It’s all been the same for American combat veterans of the wars since WW II. It has to stop. Now.
The idea that a combat veteran has to prove that their illness, disease, or death, not otherwise accountable for by 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.

Just 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 Persian Gulf War veterans from the VA, the DOD, the USA, the USMC, the USAF, the USN, 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 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 simply a token of appreciation from a grateful nation.
As we celebrate Veterans’ Day, 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 Afghanistan just as once the veterans of WW II stood with their predecessors for 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 yes, 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, some of the veterans’ children suffered catastrophic polygenetic birth defects, and 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 and the Department of Defense are power sources unto themselves, 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 is its 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 French have put it well, Ce sont toujours les memes qui se font tuer: “It is always the same people who are getting killed! The woes of the people settle the accounts of the non-accountable.”

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.”

On each and every Veterans’ Day we should recall and assimilate the lessons of the War in Southeast Asia and the message of the Agent Orange litigation.

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.