The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Protecting the Troops

H.R. 1016 Is a Real Victory But the Only One for the Foreseeable Future

Well, now we know part of the source of the holdup, as a decision remains forthcoming from President Obama regarding Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been personally overseeing a series of war games meant to predict the likely responses of the Taliban and al-Qaida to introducing different troop levels into the current situation.

The simulations are doubtless part of an attempt to break a deadlock between military and civilian leaders regarding the best course in Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in the field, is requesting an immediate forty thousand additional troops. He is adamant that nothing less will allow the United States to be successful there. On the other side, senior Administration and Congressional personnel, such as Vice-President Joe Biden and Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, insist a smaller, phased approach is preferable.

Meanwhile, as violence in Afghanistan persists and U.S. deaths continue to mount, public support for the war there is fading, with many, especially those on the far left, calling on Obama to bring the troops home now.

Largely, Republicans have taken a hawkish view, arguing the need for more troops is a no-brainer. Leading this charge is former Vice-President Dick Cheney, who last week told the Center for Security Policy that Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan was endangering troops there as well as U.S. national security. “Make no mistake,” warned Cheney. “Signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries.”

“What Vice-President Cheney calls ‘dithering,’ President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public,” countered White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. “I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously.”

For his part, Obama vowed before a collection of service personnel at a Naval Air Station in Jacksonville Florida that he would not allow critics to rush him. “While I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this . . . I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way . . . Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done.”

What we see here is the same partisan polarization that marks healthcare reform and most other decisions coming out of Washington these days. Democrats and Republican not only fail to agree on the best approach but both evoke the shibboleth of “protecting the troops” to sanctify and defend their opposing positions.

In the midst of this rancor, an actual bipartisan victory for the troops has been lost from view. President Obama signed H.R. 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, into law last Thursday. This worthy legislation secures timely funding for veterans’ health care delivered through the Veterans Administration. It authorizes Congress to approve VA medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year. An advance appropriation protects veteran healthcare against delays or denials due to political or budgetary squabbling.

At a time when each Party seems determined to block and oppose anything offered up by the other on principle, the House passed this bill with overwhelming support, 409 to 1.

This legislation comes at a time of urgent need. Speaking at a mental health summit this week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates characterized traumatic brain injuries among veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq as “widespread, entrenched and insidious.” A study published last year by the RAND Corporation estimates there could be more than six hundred thousand service members in need of services.

According to Gates, returning wounded soldiers unable to take on further burdens face a bureaucratic system backlogged by hundred of thousands of disability claims as well as paperwork that can be “frustrating, adversarial, and unnecessarily complex.”

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki noted that many veterans are returning homes with “invisible wounds” of mental illness and maintained, “Warriors suffer emotional injuries as much as they do physical ones.”

Lawmakers have been “dithering” over this legislation since February 2009. Its passage marks a real and substantial victory at protecting those soldiers who have already paid most dearly to defend this country. Obama, Gates, and Shinseki have next promised to tackle reforming bureaucracy to make it easier for the Pentagon and VA to exchange information and shorten waits for veterans to get disability benefits. We can only hope they will be equally victorious at this endeavor.

While the passage of this bill marks a refreshing pause in the usual Washington poisonous partisanship, it would be sadly naïve to assume it indicated any real precedent. Regardless of where each of us stands on the question of our future in Afghanistan, reasonable people should at least be able to agree it is a complex and difficult issue. Even this simple consensus seems unlikely.

The desire for quick and uncomplicated answers is understandable from a political perspective. Unfortunately, spin doctoring, slogans, and sound bites, much like shibboleths, make poor balm for the wounds suffered by our vets. It may well be that all sides are equally sincere in their desire to represent the best interests of U.S. soldiers. Yet significant support for whatever course of action Obama ultimately decides upon seems unlikely when the major camps cannot even agree on what is in the best interest and protection for our troops.


run75441 said...


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TheBell said...


With pleasure. Any time. Thanks, as always, for your interest.