They Have Borne the Battle
A couple of weeks ago, in the roiling political wake of the growing scandal surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs, the House of Representatives passed the "Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act" by a vote of 390-33.
The Senate followed suit, passing a companion bill by a vote of 93-3 last week.
Back slaps all around. Good job. Worked quickly and got a vast bi-partisan support. Hard to vote against the troops in the line of fire.
The Los Angles Times' story on the VA bill published yesterday began: "The rush to fix the VA mess is running into an age-old Washington problem: where to find the money."
It seems that the Senate version will cost about $50 billion and the House version about $4 billion more.
Let's take a closer look at this.
According to Wikipedia the President's budget request for Fiscal Year 2004 was $3.77 trillion (that's with a "T") dollars.
Of that $3.77 trillion, over half a trillion - $526.6 billion, to be more precise - was the amount targeted for the Department of Defense. Remember these are the budget request numbers, not the actual money appropriated.
526.6 billion is about 14 percent of the total federal budget.
Still with me?
The Congress was willing to spend about $526,600,000,000 to buy the tanks and the bombs; the ships and planes; the uniforms and rifles and all the other stuff we need to send young men and women service members into harm's way.
I'm not opposed to making sure we supply our service members with the materiel they need to get their work done. That's not my point.
Let's take the middle ground of the two numbers coming out of the House and Senate bills and say that we're talking about $52 billion to help veterans get the medical care they might not have needed had we not spent the $526.6 billion to send them into war in the first place.
Even I, mathematically challenged as I am, can see that $52 billion is about 10 percent of $526.6 billion.
In their zeal to get this bill done about five months shy of the November 4th mid-term elections, the members of the two chambers apparently forgot to ask how much the legislation they rushed to adopt was going to cost.
They got their press releases out. Sang their own praises at the town hall meetings. Sent their Tweets, and populated their Facebook pages. But had no idea.
Now that they have seen the price tag, there has been a collective "gulp" especially, one suspects, from the Members who make the most noise about matching any new spending, with new budget cuts.
Here's my idea: $52 billion is about 1.4 percent of the total federal budget.
Take 1.4 percent from every line item across the federal budget and get this done. Take 1.4 percent of my Social Security and 1.4 percent of the salary of every Member of the House and Senate, every employee on a personal or committee staff, every bureaucrat and every Presidential appointee.
My share comes to about $38 per month. I'm in.
A quick story:
Back in my Iraq days, on those days when I was in the Green Zone, I would occasionally accompany Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt to the Combat Support Hospital as he visited with wounded troops.
He would go to the wards and the rooms, I would stay behind and visit with the docs, the nurses, and the staff. The troops saw a lot of civilians, but they might never again have a one-on-one chat with a General Officer.
One night I came across an orderly emptying the pockets of a pair of camouflage trousers that had the legs ripped off below the knee. He didn't say so, but I was pretty sure, judging from the amount of blood on them, that the owner had been killed.
The orderly held up a ceremonial coin - it was a Congressional coin - given to the soldier by the highest ranking elected official he would ever meet.
And now he was dead and the coin would be sent home to his parents with his other effects.
I don't know who gave that soldier that coin. It doesn't matter. Every Member of the House and Senate should assume it was a coin they gave to a brave young man on behalf of all the Members as a token of respect to all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
The slogan of the Department of Veterans Affairs comes from President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."
Find the damned money and get these men and women who have "borne the battle" the medical care they have earned.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the LA Times piece, to the House Clerk's page on the vote on the VA bill, and to the Veterans Affairs page detailing the origin of the Departmental slogan. Also a license plate Mullfoto showing a plate I wish I'd thought of.