MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: SUPPORTING OUR TROOPS AND SUPPORTING BUSH

How many cars have you seen with those magnetic yellow (or red, white and blue) ribbons that read “Support Our Troops”?  Supporting our troops is, of course, a sentiment that we can all get behind.  I personally feel very strongly about this – the troops deserve our unwavering support.  These men and women are performing their duties with honor and valor, in the most extreme conditions, putting their lives on the line so that we might enjoy the many liberties that are all too often taken for granted by the American people.

 

I must insist, however, that “Support Our Troops” means just that – that we support our troops.  This is a completely separate and distinct issue from whether we support the Bush Administration’s policies – especially in regards to how this Administration has treated our troops, and how the Administration has handled the war in Iraq.

 

How many of the cars with those magnetic ribbons also have bumper stickers supporting President Bush?  This really bugs me.  The people who believe they can support our troops while simultaneously supporting President Bush are either simply uninformed – totally, completely, catastrophically uninformed – as to just how terrible this Administration has been to our troops, or they are using the phrase “Support Our Troops” as a euphemism for “Support Bush’s Policies”, which would be outrageous – a blatant attempt to use the well-intentioned support we all feel for our troops for partisan political gain.  I would argue that if you support President Bush, you support policies that actually do great harm to our troops!  To demonstrate why this is true, I offer the following summary of President Bush’s policies regarding our troops:

 

In a time of WAR,

  • He opposed new tax provisions that would have helped military homeowners, reservists who had traveled long distances for training, and parents deployed in combat zones.
  • His 2005 Budget Proposal cut veterans’ health care.
  • He opposed full health benefits for reservists and guardsmen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • He supported closing Walter Reed Army Hospital.
  • He supported closing seven VA hospitals.
  • He opposed increasing our veterans’ health care benefits by $1 billion.
  • He proposed doubling the cost of prescription drugs for veterans.
  • He proposed cutting our troops’ combat pay by 30%.
  • He proposed cutting assistance to our troops’ families by 60%. (click here to help our veterans’ families!)
  • He opposed an amendment to the 2005 Bankruptcy bill that would have exempted military personnel returning from a combat zone from the fees for the credit counseling required by the bill.
  • He opposed an amendment to the 2005 Supplemental Defense Authorization bill that would have added $1.9 billion to the VA system. (the system ran out of money in June of 2005; Congress had to pass an emergency spending authorization for the system to remain open)
  • He instituted “Stop-Loss”, preventing troops whose enlistments had run out from leaving the military (this amounts to a “back-door draft” and undermines the notion of an all-volunteer military).
  • Over two years into the war, the Bush administration had still not provided proper armor for the vehicles used by our troops, forcing our troops to rummage through junkyards looking for sheets of metal they could bolt to the outside of their vehicles.
  • He cut funding for VA staff that evaluate health care and disability benefits claims at a time when the number of these claims was rising dramatically due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a backlog that forces our veterans to wait months – or, in some cases, years – before those claims are resolved.
  • Under President Bush, more and more of the families of our Reservists and National Guard are having to declare bankruptcy as a result of their service to our country.
  • Under President Bush, wounded soldiers are charged for their meals while they recover from their injuries in military hospitals.
  • Under President Bush, the final paychecks sent to the families of our soldiers killed in combat are docked for the number of days the soldier was dead.
  • The Pentagon has identified over 330 troops hit with military debts after being wounded in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  This “financial friendly fire”, instituted under President Bush, includes being charged for equipment (Kevlar helmets, rucksacks, etc.) not properly accounted for after their battlefield injuries, being given unreasonably short notice on having to return large lump sums of “combat pay” inadvertently paid to them while they were recovering in military hospitals (and were therefore no longer in a “combat zone”), etc.  Many wounded troops have even been aggressively hounded by collection agencies while learning to live without an arm or leg, and now have derogatory information on their credit reports.
  • In October of 2005, or about two and one-half years into the Iraq war, the Bush Administration finally committed to reimbursing troops for body armor they (or their families) had purchased on their own – armor that should have been provided to them by the military in the first place, but…
  • In January of 2006, a secret Marine Corps report determined that 80% of the Marines killed in Iraq and Afghanistan between April of 2004 and June of 2005 could have survived if their body armor was more effective.  Some troops have complained about the body armor issued by the military, the “Interceptor OTV” system, arguing that it limits mobility and has gaps in critical areas.  Many have opted to use their own money (about $6000) to purchase a different brand of body armor, Pinnacle’s “Dragon Skin”, which they consider to be far superior in both ballistic protection and in mobility. However, the Bush Administration has actually threatened our troops that, if they are killed in battle while wearing any body armor other than the “Interceptor OTV” body armor issued by the military, their families “could” lose the $400,000 death benefit they would normally be entitled to.
  • UPDATE (9/17/07): In a brazen act against our troops, Defense Secretary Robert Gates went on Fox News Sunday yesterday, where he said he would advise President Bush to veto a proposal by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) to require our troops to be given as much time at their home station as they serve on the war front. Adequate rest between deployments is especially needed for our troops now that their deployments have been extended from 12 to 15 months, and the Defense Secretary should be supporting the troops on this.  If the measure passes the Congress, President Bush should sign it – if he vetoes this bill, it will be clear for all to see that he does not support our troops!  [UPDATE (9/22/07): The Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking this bill from even coming up for a final vote in the Senate, by preventing “closure” (the end of debate).  Although 56 Senators voted to end debate and vote on the bill, 44 Senators voted against ending the debate, thereby preventing the bill from even being voted upon – much less passing (It takes 60 votes to end debate).  Every Democrat voted for closure, along with Independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and John Sununu of New Hampshire.  Every other Republican Senator voted against our troops, as did Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut!
  • UPDATE (10/5/07): The Bush Administration continues to demonstrate its outrageous lack of support for our troops; they have now manipulated the rules in order to deny our longest-serving troops on the ground in Iraq the educational benefits to which they would otherwise have been entitled under the G.I. Bill. A National Guard unit from Minneapolis, Minnesota just recently returned home after serving the longest tour of any ground unit in Iraq (that’s right: the longest-serving unit on the ground in Iraq is a National Guard unit, not regular military – this alone is testament to how badly the Bush Administration has run this war!).  Their tour had been extended as part of the “surge”, to a total of 729 days – just about 2 full years.  Upon their return, they were informed that they had not served a long enough tour to qualify for the educational benefits under the G.I. Bill.  As it turns out, their tour needed to last 730 days – just one more day than they served – in order to qualify for those benefits!  The members of this heroic unit, including their commanding officer, have made clear their belief that this is no coincidence; they believe that the Bush Administration purposely ended their tour one day shy of qualifying for the benefits in an effort to save money.  Minnesota’s entire Congressional delegation, including both United States Senators, have petitioned the Pentagon, and the Army Secretary is personally looking into the matter.

 

All of this is in addition to the Bush Administration policy of pre-emptive war, which sent our troops into harm’s way without sufficient cause.  A simple test we can use to determine whether there is sufficient cause for war is that the reason for going to war should be obviousit should not take a year-long “PR” campaign to convince the American people that we need to go to war!  After Pearl Harbor, no one doubted the need to go to war.  After the attacks of 9/11, no one doubted the need to go to war (I supported – and still support – the war in Afghanistan, but I wish President Bush would have put the effort he has put into Iraq – a troop level around 150,000 and $300 billion spent over three years – into Afghanistan and the search for Osama bin Laden instead).

 

The above list does not include the Bush Administration’s poor handling of the Iraq occupation, the apparent inability to eliminate the insurgency, or the complete lack of a plan for getting the troops out of Iraq.  President Bush keeps saying we are going to stay in Iraq “until the job’s done”, but he has offered no explanation as to just what that phrase means.  How will we know?  What benchmarks have to reached for the job to be considered “done”?  We (and the Iraqi people) have already reached the big ones:  the January, 2005 election was an incredible success (seriously – kudos to the Iraqi people on that one!).  Phenomenal turnout.  The new Iraq Constitution has been drafted, and was then ratified in yet another amazing turnout.  Great!  On December 15th, 2005, the first Parliamentary elections under the new Constitution took place – the Sunnis even participated in large numbers this time – and from that Parliament a new Prime Minister has been chosen, and he has set up a Government.  Wow – Democracy has taken root in Iraq!

 

The Mission has been accomplished!

 

So why aren’t we be able to leave yet?  Is there some other benchmark that must be met?  No one in the Bush Administration seems to be able to give specific answers on this, and Haliburton is currently building 14 “enduring” (meaning “permanent”) bases in Iraq.  It kind of makes you wonder if we’re ever leaving, eh?  Why won’t President Bush give our troops a straight answer?

 

All of these policies are widely known and have been published in the press, meaning that anyone who supports President Bush also supports, by extension, each and every one of the policies listed above, and therefore cannot possibly claim to also support our troops.  If you voted for Bush in 2004, you voted to continue these policies, and you have done great harm to our troops in the process.  Perhaps you didn’t know – you didn’t realize how significantly your vote would harm the troops serving our country.  Perhaps you believed the now-discredited “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth”, or just couldn’t stand John Kerry.

 

Whatever.

 

All I can say is, if you truly support our troops, then you need to be better informed about how our troops will be treated when you cast your vote.

 

It matters.

 

Frankly, I find the misuse of the “Support Our Troops” sentiment by our elected leaders (and their appointees) to be outrageous and disrespectful to the troops – as stated earlier, it is an attempt to use the well-intentioned support we all feel for our troops for partisan political gain.  Those who would manipulate the honorable sentiments of well-intentioned Americans as a means of actually harming our troops should hang their heads in shame.

 

What policies would support our troops?  That’s easy – the following list is fairly obvious and straightforward:

  • Pay the troops as much as our nation can possibly afford.
  • Give our troops every tax break we can think of.
  • Provide the troops with the best training ever devised by military minds.
  • Arm them with the best equipment and weapons we can develop – before they enter a combat zone.
  • When troops are wounded in combat, provide them with world-class medical attention, at no financial cost of any kind to the troops.
  • Support our military families at a level that guarantees that, at the very least, no military family will ever have to declare bankruptcy as a result of serving our country.
  • Most important, we should honor our troops’ willingness to put their lives on the line for our country by only asking them to go into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary – and never just for our leaders’ economic or political gain.

 

The Bush Administration has done none of these things, and our troops are paying the price.

 

You have a choice to make:  Do you support our troops, or do you support President Bush?

 

You can’t support both.

 

UPDATE (3/7/2007): The absolutely appalling living conditions and bureaucratic nightmares faced by our severely wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital (recently disclosed in the Washington Post – kudos to reporters Anne Hull and Dana Priest for their important investigative work on behalf of our veterans!) sheds light on how the Bush Administration actually treats our troops.  Despite all their empty rhetoric about “supporting our troops”, the Bush Administration has created and tolerated these conditions – their budget proposal for the coming year once again cuts veteran’s health care!  In addition, the staff assessing the condition of these wounded soldiers have been strongly encouraged to understate the level of disability to make sure that these troops are designated as being less than 30% disabled.  This saves money, because if any of these heroes are more than 30% disabled, they receive a lifetime pension and lifetime medical benefits; if they are less than 30% disabled, they only receive a one-time payment and no ongoing medical benefits (other than standard VA benefits).  This is abominable.

 

While it’s good to see top brass being held accountable – the Army Secretary is gone, the commanding officer of Walter Reed has been relieved of his command, and the Army Surgeon General (who was the commanding officer at Walter Reed until 2004) may be next [UPDATE (3/20/2007): He was next.] – I would have to ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates why he had to find out about this in the newspaper.  He’s been the Secretary of Defense for four months and hadn’t yet gone to visit the severely wounded soldiers right down the street (Walter Reed Army Hospital – the “crown jewel” of the military hospital system – is in Washington, D.C.).

 

Why the hell not?  Did he have “other priorities”?

 

This is a true scandal for the Bush Administration, one they can’t “spin” their way out of.  President Bush and Secretary Gates have both called the situation “unacceptable”, but what is truly “unacceptable” is that this was allowed to happen in the first place.  They can claim they didn’t know, but this was happening right under their very noses – why didn’t they know?  There is no excuse, no justification, no acceptable explanation.  There have even been reports before; the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, released a report last year, the Republican-led Congress held hearings last year – and did nothing, and Salon.com (among others) ran a story as well.  Many in the Bush Administration and the Army were clearly aware of the problems.

 

Maybe now there will finally be some true “support” for our troops from this Administration.

 

Nah.

 

Knowing this Administration, the best bet is they will clean up the now-notorious “Building 18″, have President Bush and Secretary Gates show up for a staged “photo op”, and then they will hope the American people forget about it.

 

We can not – must not – forget.  We owe our troops too much to allow this to be forgotten.  We need to say to the Bush Administration, in a loud and unified voice:

 

“This will not stand!”

 

UPDATE (9/27/2007):  The unacceptable situation at Walter Reed Army Hospital has not improved significantly in the six months since the Washington Post exposed deplorable conditions and care for our wounded soldiers there, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan investigative arm of Congress.  The GAO report found a shortage of nurses and social workers in key units, and noted that proposals to streamline the disability evaluation system were behind schedule.  Members of both parties from the House Committee which conducts oversight over the military and VA hospitals decried the continuing problems, placing the blame on the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs and on the Army bureaucracy.  The ranking Republican on the committee, Representative Thomas Davis (R-VA), said, “After so many promises but so little progress, we need to see more concrete results.”  Representative John Tierney (D-MA) said the problem was caused by an “utter lack of urgency.”

 

While it is not surprising that members of both parties want to be seen supporting the troops, what is surprising is that this situation has been allowed to continue at all.  How is it that the care provided to our wounded veterans is allowed to be so poor?  How can we tolerate this? 

 

© 2007 by David Bleidistel.  All rights reserved.