By Steve Banko
The recent scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs has touched off a virulent response from a broad spectrum of our nation. And well it should. With this nation’s vast experience in war and health care for warriors, we should be experts in the treatment of war-wounded bodies and minds. But we’re not. We stumble from one experience to the next, seemingly relearning elements prior experience should have taught.
Given the rarefied political climate characterized by the politics of contention and the lack of an objective mediator to sort out fact from fiction, it’s not surprising that a Fox news commentator recently called the scandal “a gift from God.” Some are more concerned about the political ramifications of this sad story than about the men and women who have paid the blood tax in service to the nation in wartime.
In February, Senate bill S.1982 would have provided for significant improvements in veterans’ health care and education. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA), the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vets First and the American Legion all endorsed the legislation and urged its passage. But 41 senators voted against it, effectively killing it and the best chance to improve care for our veterans. With the resignation of the VA secretary, then isn’t it consistent that the 41 senators who killed the bill resign also?
This nation went to war on two fronts to start this century. It did so keeping the costs of both wars off the budget books. We are only now beginning to understand the financial costs of sending our men and women into harm’s way over and over and over again.
It is disingenuous to now claim that this nation didn’t know that veterans’ health care costs would escalate. Now, with the fighting winding down, there seems to be more concern about the cost of health care than there was about the cost of warfare.
That should come as no surprise. Vast fortunes are made and multiplied by providing the tools of war. Bullets, bombs and battleships are all made in some congressman’s district, so war is always an economic boon to someone.
Healing is another story. There isn’t nearly as much profit in bandaging the body or healing the mind or soothing the soul of a war-wounded warrior. That’s why bills like S.1982 get defeated without much fanfare. It’s always about the money: what it is spent on and what costs too much.
Steve Banko served two combat tours in Vietnam and counts the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars and four Purple Hearts among his combat awards.