Our Opinion: We should be ashamed


Writing an editorial normally takes a lot of research and not a little bit of time to formulate a coherent argument. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those painstaking editorials, and that's because this topic is something we have written about on several occasions, about a problem that continues to fester with no resolution in sight.

Mainly, the plight of veterans of the United States' armed forces. All too often, when the men and women we ask to fight our battles return to civilian life, they are left to fight their own personal battles, sometimes alone and sometimes with family members and friends who struggle to deal with the issues that are unique to our warriors.

We're not going to get into the numbers, but here's a snapshot -- thousands of veterans are homeless, thousands who can't get evaluated quickly enough by the Veterans Administration for their immediate medical and mental health needs, thousands can't find jobs because, though their work ethic is never questioned, the skills they received in the military are not the skills they need for civilian jobs. And then, tragically, there are the dozens of veterans and active duty members who commit suicide every week.

Earlier this week, Vermont's own Bernie Sanders introduced a Veterans Affairs bill in the U.S. Senate that would address many of the shortfalls in the care we provide for our wounded warriors. At $30 billion over the next 10 years, it's not cheap, but Sanders, who is the head of the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee, said he is open to paying for the measure with savings from winding down the global war on terror (which the bean counters call "overseas contingency operations").

"Yes, it costs money, but these are sensible provisions and something that our veterans are entitled to," he said during a press conference on Jan. 22. "I think the majority of Americans would agree with me."

The legislation would also repeal a controversial pension cut for younger military retirees that Congress and President Obama approved in the budget deal last month, in addition to expanding certain veterans benefits, such as dental and medical care, education and caretaker stipends.

"I feel very comfortable saying a modest amount of this money can be used for the people who defend us," said Sanders.

However, Republicans have criticized Democrats who try to use annual reductions in contingency spending to offset new spending, arguing that the approach is nothing more than budget slight of hand. That may be so, but then we should be asking the Republicans to come up with their own plan to pay for the care all of our veterans deserve and were promised. But we know rather than offering an alternative, today's GOP is much more comfortable with attacking proposals and pointing out their flaws.

But rather than point fingers solely at the GOP, we should realize that we are all guilty in not insuring our veterans are taken care of. We should be beating down the doors of the offices of our elected representatives demanding they find some way, any way, to adequately fund the Veterans Administration.

It's time that we demand that the president and Congress find the money and order the VA to do whatever it takes to care for our veterans ... and that's all veterans of all of America's wars, past and present. It is totally unacceptable that our nation still hasn't taken the steps necessary to address this situation.

Sadly, we wrote the previous paragraph in May 2011. Not much has changed since then, except the number of veterans requiring care has increased. We should all be ashamed.


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