The city of St. Louis held the nation's first big parade to welcome home the troops after the Iraq war, on Jan. 28, 2012.
Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

‘Getting it straight’ on veterans’ care

The political world’s response to the VA scandal is still taking shape, but at this point, it’s off to an awkward start. For one thing, as Rachel explained on the show last night, much of the recent discussion has characterized chronic problems in providing veterans with the care they need as a new development, which it is not.
 
What’s more, Jonathan Capehart did a nice job highlighting the awkwardness of Republican rhetoric on the matter.
In the very real scandal engulfing the department of veterans affairs and the White House, the moralizing and scapegoating by the Republican House majority is too much to take. “It is time for our president to come forward and take responsibility for this and do the right thing by these veterans and begin to show that he actually cares about getting it straight,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) yesterday.
 
Yes, President Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki have a lot to answer for since the buck ultimately stops with them. And the president acknowledged his responsibility during his remarks from the press briefing room today. Yet, Cantor’s comments are galling when you consider what Congress has and hasn’t done for veterans.
Even at face value, it’s disappointing that the Majority Leader didn’t acknowledge that the problems at the VA span multiple administrations over many years. For that matter, Cantor’s complaint made no effort to suggest a solution or express an eagerness to work with the White House on solving the problem.
 
But let’s also “get it straight” when it comes to the parties’ record, not just their rhetoric, on veterans’ issues.
 
In February, Senate Democrats pushed legislation to expand VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training. Senate Republicans killed the legislation.
 
Around the same time, GOP lawmakers voted to slash food stamps, despite warnings about the cuts’ impact on veterans and their families. Republicans also cut off extended unemployment benefits, which also adversely affected roughly 200,000 veterans.
 
Wait, it gets worse.
 
Alec MacGillis added that the Republican “hypocrisy” on veterans “is truly something to behold.”
If there’s been one side pushing for greater resources for the Veterans Administration in the age of austerity these past five years, it hasn’t been the Republicans. It was the much-maligned economic stimulus package of 2009 that included $1 billion for the V.A. While the V.A. itself was protected from the budget sequestration that Republican fought to keep in place last year, many other veterans programs – providing mental health services and housing, among other things – were hit hard by the sequestration cuts. […]
 
But there is a whole other level of context to consider here as well. There is a pretty basic reason for backlogs at V.A. facilities and in the disability claims process, the other ongoing V.A. mess. Put simply: when you go to war, you get more wounded veterans, and in a country without a universal health care system, they are all funneled into this one agency with limited capacity. Every one of the Republican leaders quoted above attacking Obama for the V.A. backlogs strongly supported launching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in nearly 7,000 fatalities and a huge surge in medical needs and disability claims.
Anyone who fails to recognize the seriousness of the VA scandal is blind to a painful reality. But before President Obama’s conservative critics treat the controversy as their new partisan toy, it’s worth considering whether their rhetoric matches their record.
 
“Getting it straight,” to use Cantor’s phrase, is important.
 

Veteran's Issues and Veterans

'Getting it straight' on veterans' care