Commentary

As more and more soldiers return from Iraq they are discovering help is limited. When dealing with the stress of returning to everyday life, many feel the Bush administration has failed to prioritize veterans services.

While the Veterans Administration (VA) is being criticized for its strained budget, VA officials claim budget shortfalls resulted from calculations made in haste during the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) appeals process. The OMB is under direct control of the Bush White House.

The VA suffered a $1.3 billion budget shortfall last year. After the fiscal year 2006-07 budget projections were published, Republicans and Democrats both called for congressional investigations by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is the bipartisan investigative and auditing arm of Congress.

GAO investigations found that the VA’s budget was based on unrealistic assumptions, estimating errors and insufficient data. As a result, the VA ended up underfunded.

Not only is the VA underfunded, but over the past 10 years the need for veterans services has increased 49 percent. World War II, Korean and Vietnam War vets are often not factored into the VA’s budget. Unfortunately, budgets aren’t just numbers. They can mean the difference between mental illness and stability. When soldiers are discharged and finally go home, they realize life as they knew it is remarkably different.

“Historically soldiers are sent off to fight. They get medals and we call them heroes. But then we don’t take care of them,” Michael McPherson, national executive director of Veterans for Peace (VFP), told the World. “This has happened since the Revolutionary War.”

One of the biggest disabilities veterans face is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a psychological disorder affecting individuals who have experienced or witnessed profoundly traumatic events, such as wartime combat. The symptoms are characterized by recurrent flashbacks of the traumatic event, nightmares, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, forgetfulness and social withdrawal.

“Veterans work hard to return to normality. They don’t have adequate money or support, and dealing with PTSD in addition to putting their lives back together is painfully difficult,” said McPherson. Due to the lack of PTSD programs and VA hospitals, many veterans end up homeless.

With the cuts in VA services and the closure of veterans hospitals, vets are seeking treatment through civilian facilities. Instead of federal funding, state taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for vets’ services. And while working-class people don’t mind caring for vets, the rich are expecting permanent tax breaks from the Bush administration, adding to the VA’s budget shortfall.

As President Bush pushes to increase funding for the war in Iraq and decrease funds for veterans, the number of vets forced to seek help at civilian facilities is also going to increase.

The Bush administration needs to prioritize funding for veterans services. It’s their responsibility to care for returning soldiers.

Adding insult to injury, President Bush recently said, “A budget is much more than a collection of numbers. A budget is a reflection of a nation’s priorities, its needs and its promise.” Apparently, the president is not only misguided, he has also failed to keep his promise. And veterans are paying the price.

Julia Weaver is a media communications major at Webster University and an intern with the PWW in Missouri/Kansas.

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