February 25, 2007

"To care for him who shall have borne the battle"…?

That is the motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs, what many of us refer to as the “VA,” the former Veterans Administration.

Recent reports of poor conditions in outpatient lodging at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington – the primary care facility for many of our returning wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan – call that motto into question. Granted, Walter Reed is not a VA facility but a U.S. Army operation (which for many of us makes this situation even worse). Regardless of who runs the facility, there is a social contract between those who serve in the armed forces and those they serve, a belief that the wounded will be cared for.

That contract is far from reality. Read the reports of rodents, mold and mildew in quarters at Walter Reed for our combat wounded. What’s worse, Congress has failed to appropriate monies for adequate medical care and rehabilitation for these troops, be it for the Department of Defense or the Veterans Administration. If Congress had been funding medical care adequately, there would have been no need for the Intrepid Foundation to raise private money for the $50 million state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility in San Antonio, Texas. The construction of that facility was a direct response to Congress’s failure to honor our combat wounded. It is an absolute disgrace that a non-profit organization had to raise funds to provide medical care that should have come from tax dollars.

Two senators running for president in 2008, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, attended the dedication of the facility in January. Given the fact that they should have been in the lead funding medical care for these wounded troops, I am surprised they were there at the opening of a facility that is in reality a testament to their failure. Shame on you both.

Caring for our wounded is not a partisan issue. Whether they support the war or not, Congress has an obligation to provide state-of-the-art medical care for the troops.

Want to support the troops? Then “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”