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PEP Feb 2004
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Public Employee Press

Bush policies target vets
Soldiers left behind
Budget cuts target veterans’ hospitals and benefits, soldiers’ combat pay and more, while billions of dollars flow abroad to rebuild Iraq.

   
 

Judith Arroyo (above) with shipmates heading for Iran, right before the fall of the Shah, 1979.

 

War at Home

By JANE LaTOUR

At every possible photo op, President Bush pays public homage to the sacrifices made by the country’s veterans. But actions speak louder than words. The Bush administration has consistently worked to downgrade benefits and services to veterans and active duty soldiers.

The White House budget for Veterans Affairs cut $3 billion from VA hospitals. The administration proposed hitting Priority 8 veterans — those treated for “non-service-related illnesses” — with a $250 annual charge. The president also wants to ban Priority 8s who earn over $26,000 a year from VA hospitals, turning these facilities from a right bestowed by a
grateful nation into a welfare benefit.

The administration recently beat back a bipartisan move to put $1.3 billion of the $87 billion additional budget for Iraq into VA hospitals to treat the wounded. Veterans make up 9 percent of the national population and 28 percent of the homeless population.

Soldiers in battle zones fare no better with this administration, which is trying to cut $75 a month from their “imminent danger” pay and $150 a month from the family separation allowance. Bush’s 2004 budget also proposes $1.5 billion in cuts to military family housing.

Nurse hits hospital closings
Public Health Nurse Judith Arroyo, the 1st vice president of Local 436, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1971 as an Aeromedical Technician. She flew on military evacuation missions from Vietnam out of Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. In 1984, she transferred from the 72nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squad to the Air Force Reserve.

As a nurse, she finds the cuts to VA facilities particularly troubling: “It’s the responsibility of the government to take care of the injured. They’re closing the hospitals when the need is increasing. The VA hospital in Manhattan serves 30,000 veterans. Yet the administration has it targeted for closure.”

For Tim Young, a Local 1505 member and former member of Laborers Local 376, the closing represents disrespect toward America’s war veterans. “This is the biggest facility in New York City and it has the easiest access,” he said. “It’s a hardship for disabled vets that really can’t get around. I still have it pretty good.”

Timmy Young was one of the soldiers medically evacuated from Vietnam. Drafted at 19 in 1969, he served as a radio operator for a year, in Da Nang and other hot spots. Wounded three times, he received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, one of the nation’s highest military honors. For years, he suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress syndrome and paid for it with many personal losses. Mr. Young feels that the government has reneged on its obligations to veterans.

“Some vets like myself, we have to pay for health benefits at the VA hospitals. Now I have a bill for over $1,000. A lot of us, we get these bills and we tear them up! The government owes us this much for our service,” he said.

“When I got out of the service in the Vietnam era, you received GI benefits. Now, a GI has to pay half of their college costs. Vets on disability are getting less money than we did. They’re doing the vets of today wrong,” he said.

 

 
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