The Bush administration is either incredibly out of touch with the medical care of America's troops, or it knows about major problems but simply doesn't care.
In January, when the President actually had the decency to visit wounded troops, he said: "Having been here and seeing the care that these troops get is comforting for me and Laura. We should and must provide the best care for anybody who is willing to put his or her life in harm's way. And I can report to the American people that these five soldiersbadly injured in the line of serviceare getting the best possible care. And our government is providing it to them." That same day the Washington Post reported that the White House cut 164,000 veterans access to health care benefits. Score one for not caring.
One month after visiting Walter Reed, the President went to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and proposed billions in aid for the military. Criticizing living conditions at the sprawling base, he exclaimed with typically vague gusto, "You deserve a military that treats you and your families with respect." He promised to "improve military housing and military health benefits."
Here's what that meant for Fort Stewart. Last month Mark Benjamin, an editor at United Press International, wrote a scathing exposé of the "substandard" living conditions at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where many troops await medical care. When you read this excerpt from Benjamin's report, keep in mind we are talking about sick and wounded troops, some of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan: "Soldiers make their way by walking or using crutches through the sandy dirt to a communal bathroom, where they have propped office partitions between otherwise open toilets for privacy. A row of leaky sinks sits on an opposite wall. The latrine smells of urine and is full of bugs, because many windows have no screens. Showering is in a communal, cinder block room. Soldiers say they have to buy their own toilet paper." This makes it two-for-two on the not-caring count.
The President returned to Fort Stewart in September as part of the effort to manufacture a connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. To his credit, the President did call for "resources" and "additional money"this money was for Iraq, of course. And I'm sure Iraq's new army will have fine barracks and adequate medical care because of it. Trifecta.
Talk about kicking 'em when they are down. What did the military ever do to George W. Bush to receive such "compassionate conservatism?" Wasn't it the "military vote" that carried W. to victory in the 2000 election? Haven't the armed forces done everything requested of it by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice, and Rumsfeld?
I suppose we shouldn't be disgusted and appalled that the White House's 2004 budget proposal advocates a $1.5 billion dollar cut of funding for military families' housing and medical facilities. Nor should we raise an eyebrow at the Children's Defense Report from June that claims, "one million children living in military and veteran families are being denied child tax credit help." We shouldn't be surprised at an Army Times report that the administration "wants to roll back recent modest increases in monthly imminent-danger pay (from $225 to $150) and family-separation allowance (from $250 to $100) for troops getting shot at in combat zones."
No, given the track record of this administration in caring for the nation's armed forces, all of these developments fit a sad logic of callous exploitation.