Battling for veterans’ health care

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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans says that one of the issues sure to be debated in the coming months is the need for improved health care for military veterans.

(Seamans) The battle is over for the more than 580 G.I.’s who thus far have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for the more than 2,900 wounded or otherwise injured counted up to now – their battle continues after they are discharged from the hospital and from the service and seek follow-on medical care from the Veterans Administration – the care they were promised and the care that we owe them for their suffering. They are fighting for the medical attention that the Veterans Administration is finding increasingly difficult to give them because of the lack of adequate financial support from the Bush administration.

The nation’s veterans organizations have joined forces in a campaign to change the way veterans’ health care is financed. It is now a discretionary budget item some of which can be diverted to other uses for political reasons. The vets want the system changed to make the annual VA budget an adequate and untouchable mandatory allotment.

The lineup of veterans power in this battle is impressive – The American Legion, the Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Amvets, the Blinded Veterans Association, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Two weeks ago, Joseph Fox, president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, testified almost unnoticed by news media before the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees. He said, The administration’s budget request for health care is a shocking one providing again a woefully inadequate funding level for sick and disabled veterans.

The latest issue of the American Legion Magazine charges that VA health-care funding has failed to keep pace with veterans’ needs. The VA has been forced to ration health care leaving thousands waiting in line – some for up to a year. And the VA is being forced to close down some hospitals and clinics and has been unable to purchase needed. state-of-the-art medical equipment.

Now as a veteran of World War Two who has, as a journalist, seen this story repeated after Korea and after Vietnam, I have often heard the cynical saying that our military people are praised as heros while in the service and forgotten when they are out. This time I hope our veterans’ anger is really heard because their voice this year has a powerful political dimension and John Kerry has been paying attention. He promises that as president he would give the VA the adequate and stable mandatory funds needed to assure the veterans’ health services – care that is a national moral obligation.

The loud and clear message from those who have served the nation is for whoever wins the White House in November – it’s time to end this shameful lack of support for our disabled and ill veterans.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and Bureau Chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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