Personally, I was shocked, shocked, I tell you, when I heard about Defense Secretary Gates' firing of Walter Reed Medical Center director Major General George Weightman. It is conceivable that the selection of Robert Gates as SecDef is the single solitary reasonable thing that Bush has ever done. God knows, Rummy would not (and didn't) fire the man responsible for such shoddy treatment of our "troops."
Of course, it took a "liberal" newspaper to bring the abysmal condition of our military's health system to the greater public's attention and start a serious attempt to do something about it. In other words, the liberal press kicked the administration's ass.
As a veteran who has been banged around in the VA system for the last several years, the appalling wait times, aftercare, and domicillary conditions rampant throughout the VA system aren't news to me, nor to the countless veterans that I have run into at various VA facilities in the last six years. Everybody who has ever been anywhere near a VA facility has a tale of woe. And I am not confusing the issue of Walter Reed Hospital with the Veteran's Administration, two separate entities.
The issue at hand, piss-poor aftercare, long wait-times for appointments, a visciously adversarial position on the part of even low-level beaurocrats who make life and death decisions on veterans' eligibility for disability benifits, etc, is prelevant across the board.
Increasing the misery is the fact that the veterans Admiistration is consistantly underfunded even in the face of ever higher mounting casualty numbers in the Middle East. While some sources have claimed that VA funding was increased by 77% under Bush, when you unpack that statement the numbers tell a different story. In the last six years, the VA's budget has increased due to funding for "benefits," survivors' benefits, construction, and disabilities insurance. Actual medical care funding only increased by 18%. The record is clear that while overall veterans assistance has increased in the last six years, the fact of the matter is that even these increases fail woefully to meet demand, and the administration's lying about the number of casualties doesn't help matters much.
From Bob Woodruff's recent ABC special on his experience with The System:
WOODRUFF: According to the Department of Defense, there have been about 23,000 nonfatal battlefield casualties, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
PAUL SULLIVAN, VETERANS ADVOCATE: These are the big numbers, Bob. 200,000 have already gone into VA for medical care.
WOODRUFF: The official number is that there are only about 23,000 soldiers and Marines who have been injured in this war.
SULLIVAN: What you have are two sets of books. The Department of Defense saying there are 23,000 wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Department of Veterans Affairs is actually treating 205,000 veterans from these two wars.
WOODRUFF: You think Americans fully understand how many injured there are in this war?
NICHOLSON: I think it — I think it cuts both ways. I think Americans are always very surprised to know the number of amputations, for example, which is fewer than 600 in total. They’re probably also surprised to know that 200,000 come to the VA for some kind of medical treatment. That’s probably more than they think.
WOODRUFF: You have mental disorders — 73,000; diseases of nervous system — 61,000; symtpoms, signs of ill-defined conditions — 7,000; diseases of musculoskeletal system — 87,000. These are numbers beyond the 23,000.
NICHOLSON: A lot of them come in for dental problems, others come in for a lot of the normal things that people have. We’re providing their healthcare. Some I suppose are because of their service over there. But they weren’t evacuated for that.
WOODRUFF: But they got some kind of injury, some kind of problem because of the war.
NICHOLSON: That’s possible, yes.
Where did Bush find this asshole? The White House tells us:
Mr. Nicholson earned a master's degree from Columbia University in New York, and a law degree from the University of Denver. He practiced law in Denver, specializing in real estate, municipal finance and zoning law. In 1978 he founded Nicholson Enterprises, Inc., a developer of planned residential communities, and in 1987 he bought Renaissance Homes, which became an award-winning builder of quality custom homes.
In January 1986, Mr. Nicholson was elected committeeman from Colorado for the Republican National Committee (RNC). In 1993 he was elected vice-chairman of the RNC, and in January 1997, he was elected chairman of the RNC, where he served for four years, through the elections of 2000
Oh, I see - he sold houses and votes. Well, gee, that qualifies him to run the largest health care system in the world, doesn't it?
Anyway, Bush's latest budget calls for cutting funding of the VA for the next two years, even as war casualties mount. Shameless.