Three area veterans representing three wars agreed that the answer is "no." Ed Fairchild, a disabled Gulf War I veteran; Will Daily, an Air Force Veteran from Vietnam; and Dr. Ed Janosik, a veteran of WW II were responding to a question fom Bob Ranney, himself a vet and moderator of Peace Network of the Ozarks' forum on veterans and their treatment by the country that sends them to war. A crowd of 50 turned out Monday evening at the Library Center Auditorium in Springfield to hear their comments.
Expanding on their "no" replies, each explained that their dissatisfaction comes from inadequate funding given to the Veteran's Administration, especially for health care. "Both parties make promises, but the money isn't there in the budget to support those promises later on," said Janosik.
"$69 billion was allocated in the budget for veterans - all discretionary funding. President Bush then cut $1.5 billion from this," Fairchild added. "Then the VA was told to eliminate another $1 billion in spending. Those cuts eliminated the whole increase in the budget for the year."
Daily, who has been active in veteran's affairs for 29 years, explained further that in 1996 the VA health care population was 2.9 million. In 2003 it was 6.8 million, a 134% increase. The VA has received on average only a five per cent increase in appropriations over the last 8 years, not enough to maintain, let alone improve, services.
A pamphlet sponsored by 9 veteran's groups including the VFW, American Legion, and Vietnam Veterans of America, distributed by Daily, called for a change from discretionary to mandatory funding.
Bringing the issue home, Daily and Fairchild pointed out that the nearest VA hospitals are located in Kansas City, Fayetteville, Little Rock or Columbia, MO. However, since the VA does not address the issue of transportation, veterans must seek assistance from a private agency like the Disabled American Veterans. The scheduling of their vans can be a logistical nightmare for vets, they said.
A Springfield woman from the audience pointed out that her husband was up to #23 on a waiting list at the state-run veteran's home in Mount Vernon, but that he had been told he would still have to wait at least 6 months to get in. Daily pointed out that this facility is mostly financed by the state, and while it has over 200 beds, there are only enough staff at present to care for 100 clients.
Effects of Gulf War Syndrome
When asked about the effects of depleted uranium (DU) on U.S. soldiers, Fairchild said he continues to have a variety of health problems that remain unexplained. While most VA health centers have a clinic for Gulf War Syndrome, Daily thought there was only one U.S. facility that actually could check a patient for the presence of DU.
Depleted uranium is a waste product from the process of creating enriched uranium for weapons and reactors. Being exceptionally hard, it is used in armor for tanks and in armor-piercing shells. Many are concerned over the lingering effects of the fine dust created by DU weapons, which can be breathed in by soldiers and civilians alike, or ingested through water, leading to a wide range of health and reproductive problems. See Military Toxics Project, or The National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc. for more information.
Joan Collins, PNO coordinator, pointed out the shocking statistic that just a decade after the first Gulf War, 50% of its veterans were dead or disabled. In response to her question regarding why veterans couldn't be allowed to see their own doctors for VA-paid care, the panel members said that they preferred the independent VA hospital system, thinking it gave them better care and allowed them, as advocates, more leverage.
Are the poor classes being exploited?
When asked about the Stop Loss order from the Pentagon that has kept soldiers in the service after their term is supposed to be up, Fairchild was unsympathetic. "They should have read the contract. When you join the service you belong to Uncle Sam," he said.
To this Janosik didn't agree. "They were told the force they were sending into Iraq wasn't big enough to do the job," he said. "The civilians running our Pentagon refuse to admit they can make a mistake."
Janosik thinks that our army draws an unfair proportion of its members from the ranks of minorities and the poor, while the rest of us make no sacrifice. The audience responded to Janosik's comment with applause, but it's doubtful many of them agreed with his conclusion that we need a bigger standing army.
Daily pointed out that the armed services have long been a path to education and upward mobility for the poor. He believes that the armed services foster racial equality beyond the rest of our society.
When questioned about the educational benefits available through the "Chapter 30" or new GI Bill, the veterans agreed the services do provide good educational benefits, even though only about 50% of veterans use the funding for education. Though some of the veterans seemed not to be bothered by the fact that young men and women from the middle and upper classes are offered a much easier path to success that seldom involves risking their lives, a comment from the audience suggested an alternative.
"Maybe we should just promote education instead of war," someone said.