A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Veterans need real support from Congress, voters

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 29, 30 or 31

As Monday’s small-town parade marched from the cemetery to the square, veterans on an ATV toted a sign reading “Freedom isn’t free.”

Indeed, society owes vets more than a debt of gratitude, respect, and help with school or a job. The country owes them what was promised, including care.

Citizens look like we’re willing, but politicians seem to prefer playing politics with patriotism.

In the United States, we love to have parades, wave the flag and at least go through the motions of honoring the military. But we keep electing Congresses who don’t honor veterans.

Yes, Americans sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” and pay tribute to veterans at sporting events, and we celebrate not just Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day, but also National Military Appreciation Month in May and Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day (March 30), and can also recognize the following “birthdays,” according to Coast Guard Reserves (Feb. 19), the Naval Reserves (March 3), the Air Force Reserves (April 14), the Army Reserves (April 23), the U.S. Army (June 14), the U.S. Coast Guard (Aug. 4), the Marine Corps Reserves (Aug. 29), the U.S. Air Force (Sept. 18), the U.S. Navy (Oct. 13), the U.S. Marine Corps (Nov. 10), and the U.S. National Guard (Dec.13), plus others.

Veterans Administration Inspector General Richard Griffin is investigating 26 sites to see whether veterans endured long waits at medical facilities, the Justice Department has become involved, and some politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Adam Kinziner (R-Rockford), have called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

However, veterans themselves aren’t blaming Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran. sought veterans’ opinions, and in a poll of 3,300 randomly selected vets or military family members, the group found that 17 percent thought Shinseki should resign; 60 percent said he should not, and 23 percent said they weren’t sure.

Since American Legion leaders called for Shinseki to step down, too, also polled American Legion members, and, again, 17 percent backed Legion officials’ call for Shinseki’s resignation while 64 percent said he should not, and 19 percent were unsure. Finally, polled veterans who actually receive care from the VA, and results were comparable: 14 percent favor Shinseki quitting; 62 percent said he should stick it out, and 24 percent weren’t sure.

This snapshot seems to indicate that veterans may not be happy with what happened at some VA facilities, but they don’t blame Shinseki.

“I don’t think the American Legion, or the Koch-backed Concerned Veterans for America, are really representing how veterans feel,” said Jon Soltz of “It’s very likely that the Legion isn’t even representing its own membership.”

Therefore, it certainly seems wise for the media to be more thoughtful and thorough concerning Shinseki, and balanced beyond repeating allegations and relegating this true tragedy with trumped-up outrage about Benghazi, “brain-damaged” Hillary Clinton or the Affordable Care Act.

Delays that happened at too many VA facilities are outrageous and deserve investigating and addressing. But Shinseki isn’t the fall guy.

Instead, look to our do-nothing Congress, the ultimate authority for funding Veterans Affairs. Federal courts at every level for seven years have repeatedly laid the blame for VA shortcomings on Capitol Hill.

“While Shinseki might have been guilty of mismanagement, Congress is the real cause of this crisis,” commented former diplomatic employee and writer H.A. Goodman, author of “Breaking the Devil’s Heart.”

In July of 2007 – during Bush’s administration, when Jim Nicholson was Veteran Affairs Secretary – Veterans United for Truth and Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) filed suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs, citing “decades of underfunding” as one reason the “VA remains mired in crisis.”

A federal court in 2012 acknowledged chronic delays and denials of treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other injuries by the VA, but nevertheless decided not to try the case. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that “Congress and the President are in a far better position” to address such issues, and in 2013 the Supreme Court also agreed, declining to hear the case.

The VCS reacted to that decision by calling on Congress to “make sure VA has the funding, staffing, laws, regulations, training and oversight urgently needed so no more veterans die while waiting.”

We’re all still waiting.

The cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan together could top $4 trillion, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, but “lawmakers today are for some reason reticent about using the same credit card that funded the wars to adequately fund veterans’ health-care costs,” Goodman said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday said, “We are going to need more funding if we’re going to do justice and provide the high-quality care that veterans deserve.”

[PICTURED: John Boyd Martin's 2003 portrait of Shinseki during his service as Army Chief of Staff.]

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