DALLAS, August 12th, 2013— At convention for Disabled American Veterans this weekend, President Obama warned the crowd that “reckless” sequestration cuts could jeopardize their benefits. Touting himself the savior of veteran’s services, Obama painted an ominous picture: support my political position on sequestration or risk your earned benefits. He began by insinuating his administration defended veteran’s services from the budget chopping block.
“I made it clear that your veteran’s benefits are exempt from this year’s sequester. But, I want to tell you going forward the best way to protect the VA care you have earned is to get rid of this sequester altogether,” the President said to applause.
“We’ve got these reckless, across-the-board budget cuts called the sequester that are hitting a lot of folks hard. Congress needs to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces our deficit and keeps our promises to our veterans and keeps our promises to future generations.”
The president also assured, again, that progress has been made to reduce the aged claims in the VA backlog, though he capitulated that the plan hasn’t gone as quickly “as he’d like”.
Obama’s twisting of history is manipulative at best and at worst, downright deceitful. As I wrote just last spring, his administration deliberately played politics with veteran care by proposing outrageous cuts and increases that angered congressional representatives, veteran’s organizations and military personnel.
Had the administration not been forced to edit and revise their budget proposals and political narrative, TRICARE payments (the health insurance benefit program for active and retired military personnel) would have increased from 30% to 78% for the first year and 94% to 345% after five years.
Some benefits would have become “means-tested” and therefore categorized as a welfare system, not a benefit. Burdening veterans with new annual fees, increased prescription co-payments and the elimination of generic drug incentives were all pitched as absolutely necessary sacrifices for military families. The price hikes would have affected 1.5 million active-duty service members, 21.8 million veterans, and their families.
Military communities were particularly insulted because unionized Defense Department workers serving politically-connected corporations, some of which are compensated 50% more than military counterparts, were not affected. Many of these companies paid little to no income taxes, though their wealth was acquired via contracts funded by American tax-payers, contributing to the deficit which now requires cuts.
The Military Officers Association of America and the VFW were incensed, calling the proposal a “breach of faith” and warned the move would damage recruiting and retention.
When Congress presented the Budget Control Act of 2011, cuts would have slashed additional funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Chairman and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) and veteran’s organizations wrote Obama repeatedly to confirm veteran’s services were safe. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs waited nearly a year for reassurances without a single response.
Obama paints a picture of progress and promises to resolve VA healthcare backlog but the shameful reality is that the VA’s claim-processing capabilities have collapsed under his reign. Hope for the disastrous records management system at VA facilities was pinned on database reform expected to launch in 2011. The database would have simply digitized and linked VA and DoD records, easing the administrative bottleneck.
Though most private organizations could have implemented such mission critical procedures in 12-24 months, six years and $600 million later, the VA requested an additional $11 billion and delayed completion until 2018. Veterans and their families wait approximately 273 days for crucial services. Veterans filing new claims suffer for approximately 327 days. In larger cities, wait times are nearly double. 800,000 to 1 million pending cases still sit on desks throughout nationwide facilities.
Imagine the public outcry if regular civilians had to wait 619 days for unemployment, food stamps, social security, and Medicare or Medicaid payments. Justifying the dehumanizing neglect and shameful incompetence of his own departments with insincere capitulations that the “pace” is slower than he’d prefer, underscores his ignorance regarding the plight of struggling veterans and military families.
If President Obama cared about protecting veteran and military benefits, he would have fired Secretary Shinseki and top VA bureaucrats years ago. His administration would have suspend bonuses for incompetent VA bureaucrats until the backlog is resolved, demanded no more multi-million dollar conferences and no more creeping deadlines for crucial VA systems.
If President Obama cared about veterans, instead of proposing slashes to their crucial services, he would have proposed streamlining services within the DoD to save $100 billion per year. Several reports from the General Accounting Office have emphasized that simply restructuring the Department of Defense’s command structure to eliminate redundancies could save taxpayers$281 to $460 million annually.
President Obama was correct to highlight failures of Congress, but the government healthcare resources for veterans are inadequate, disorganized and in some cases corrupt, and are therefore incapable of providing for our nation’s veterans. Obama could have addressed this and proposed definitive action instead of exploiting his audience for a petty political agenda.
If President Obama wants to save this nation’s veterans from further slashes to budgets, he should never again propose destroying their healthcare while Washington continues to waste. Pretending current or future failures are a result of sequestration and not bureaucratic neglect is a shameful distortion.