Watching the indescribable sacrifices of America’s infantry in the trenches of World War II, legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle made a plea in print.
Pay for enlisted men overseas made no distinction between those dodging bullets and those in the typist pool. That was wrong, he wrote. Those with mud on their faces deserved additional combat pay.
Pyle didn’t assume anyone would hear his plea, but Congress did. A combat bonus was enacted mere weeks after he suggested it.
In a similar vein, I wonder if anyone in Congress was listening when new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald said that the VA health system needs 28,000 added medical professionals to respond to runaway needs.
Yeah, fat chance.
Maybe someone in Congress was listening, but since McDonald hails from the executive branch, again: Fat chance. It doesn’t matter if veterans’ care is on the line. Republicans on Capitol Hill have a feud to wage and scores to settle.
Whatever number is needed, and some Republicans say McDonald overstates it, vouchers and privatization aren’t going to patch the holes that caused the VA wait-list scandal.
When it comes to battle, it’s, “Go, go, go.” Then survivors return home, and it’s, “Take a number.” Over the last 11 years we wouldn’t haven’t blinked twice to send 28,000 bodies to Afghanistan or Iraq. But 28,000 added medical professions to help heal the returning? Can’t do it.
You say the VA is too costly? Ah, but we spent $1.57 trillion to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without a cheap peep from today’s deficit hawks. That includes $92.3 billion this year when, for all intents and purposes, on both fronts, the war was over.
That we can spend so much on war yet run from what it costs to mend the resulting wounds indicts us as a society, and reveals many of our policy makers to be shysters.
There is spending we need, and spending we want.
Many — too few, unfortunately — questioned the need to roll tanks into Iraq. Well, there’s no questioning the need to help the wounded war veterans. Yet out of political expedience we will figure out ways to prolong their suffering.
It’s just a fact of life that often our needs as a nation are set aside for the “wants” of political forces.
Back in the ’80s, with Ronald Reagan leading the charge, Congress passed a massive restructuring of the tax code. It flattened rates. It closed loopholes. And what did Reagan and Co. do with the revenue freed up by these measures? Use the money to reduce the deficit? Help schools, highways, waterways? Heck, no.
The measure was revenue-neutral by design. To do anything else would be to feed the beast: the federal government. So from tax reform there would be no gain whatsoever to the commonwealth, except for happier returns for those at the upper reaches of the tax code.
Indeed, if those lawmakers had wanted to, they would have erased the federal deficit entirely at that historic moment. But they didn’t. The anti-government crowd needed the deficit to continue to say we couldn’t afford to help those who needed a little extra help.
Wants and needs: They needed that deficit in the campaign to asphyxiate that which the Roosevelts, Kennedy and Johnson had wrought.
Today we are told we can’t afford to provide subsidies to Americans who previously had no health insurance. We can, however, afford to build whole cities overseas to wage war, to clothe, to feed the people we send. We provide the world’s best battlefield triage, because those who wage our battles need our support.
Those who should come home after the battle? Well, a nation must watch its spending.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: email@example.com.