Republicans don’t seem to understand relativity, causation, or math.
They claim that the problem at the Veterans Administration (VA) isn’t one of not spending enough, because the budget has gone up. This is cover for Congress giving Obama less than he asked for, and reminiscent of their argument that their refusal to fund embassy security to Hillary Clinton’s request had nothing to do with the failure of security, even though she warned them that such a thing could happen.
When the GOP fingers start pointing, their “responsibility” is negated before it’s even argued. To wit, Hot Air tries to argue that since budgets have gone up, the problem at the VA isn’t a lack of resources (my bold):
Over the last few days, some have suggested that the issue at the VA has been a lack of resources, by which the US has shortchanged the VA in budgets and in patient spending. While one can argue whether resources within the VA have been adequately focused — which is a leadership issue — one cannot argue that the VA has lacked for resources from Congress in the form of budgets or per-patient spending.
OMB historical data on budget outlays by department are easily available at the White House website, and the spreadsheet tells a very interesting story. Since 9/11, the VA budget has increased by 235%, from FY2001-s $45 billion annual budget to FY2014-s $150.7 billion.
Yes, the budget has gone up. Any guesses as to why? Do you suppose two wars started by the Republican President have anything to do with increasing budgets for the Veterans Administration? Aw, shucks. It can’t be, because wars are free. Bush told us so when he left them off of the budget.
Hot Air then tried to blame Obama for the 2009 budget since he “signed” it, but it was Bush’s budget — drafted under Bush before Obama ever took office, and implemented before Obama took office. Bush proposed spending $3.1 trillion (“not including TARP, Other Bailouts, And Other Emergency Spending”) in 2009 and he signed all of the spending bills. Federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. In other words, Bush spent the money. Not Obama.
Naturally, Bush did not request funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. He left that task to Obama, and Republicans blamed Obama for it.
Furthermore, even Bush knew that with the rise in wars, there would be a rise in veterans, thus he requested $38.7 billion for veteran medical care. Mind you, the wars were still ongoing and not in drawdown phase at this point, and injuries sustained during active duty are handled by TRICARE, not the VA.
So when PolitiFact begrudgingly admitted that yes, Congress has spent less money on the VA than Obama requested, on average about $2 billion a year less, they thought it a mere drop in the bucket. Not relevant.
But also, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to increase VA funding by $21 billion this February. “The bill contained provisions that would restore the COLA for vets, and protect them from losing their benefits in the event of another government shutdown. It also would have authorized the construction of 27 new clinics and medical facilities, and it would have provided tuition assistance to post-9/11 vets.”
Oh, sure, that’s nothing – just protecting vets from Republican obstruction via another temper tantrum shutdown and new clinics. Nothing.
It’s nothing until one recalls that Bush started two wars and wars make veterans. Yes, the VA was already struggling to meet the new demands resulting from the “War on Terror”. In December of 2004, the VA faced a funding crisis that kept it from providing disability ratings to veterans. Funding matters.
And it’s not like Republicans were unaware that there was a problem when they blocked funding. In March of 2013, some vets were waiting up to 506 days for benefits. It was found then that “As the population of new veterans has swelled in recent years, the annual number of claims received by VBA has gone up. Compared to the past, these claims have a higher number of disabling conditions, and some of these conditions, such as traumatic brain injuries, make their assessment complex.”
I’ll make this simple: New wars made new veterans which resulted in more claims, additionally, more than in the past, these new claims presented with a higher number of disabling conditions.
In addition to over 4,000 American lives, the “War on Terror” costs will keep rising for the next 30-40 years and medical and disability costs will total between $600 billion and $1 trillion, according to a Brown University 20111 Costs of War report.
And most importantly, “Finally, although veterans’ care comprises the fourth largest category of government spending, the magnitude of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ costs is grossly understated in government projections.”
So you see, by filibustering veterans benefits and giving the President less funding than he requested for the VA, Republicans are “starving the beast”. To say that funding went up does not equate to the funding was enough.
So no, we can’t run around cutting funding to the VA. If we can’t afford the VA in the long term, then this conflict needs to be resolved before we invade a country based on a lie. Not after. A responsible party would have raised revenues to pay for this, instead of cutting taxes and giving corporations government subsidies.
Dr. Michael F. Roizen, who trained at a VA hospital, opined that the VA problems were related to funds, “And my guess is that is the VA’s problem as well – when these wars were started, our government didn’t plan for the VA budget to treat the soldier victims. And Congress still hasn’t allocated enough funds to adequately do so.” Bingo.
The truth of the matter is that both parties are to blame for the failures of the VA (as is our culture of ignoring veterans while flag waving for war), but at this specific time in history, the biggest fault lay in the fact that we had 2 wars that were not planned for or paid for in any way prior to entering them, nor were any efforts made to fund their costs during the entire Bush years. Instead, Republicans cut taxes and found no alternative method of providing revenue for their “deficits don’t matter” spending.
Wars cost money. They continue to cost money long after they are over, only these costs do not go to contractors so they are ignored. Pretending that this isn’t the case is the real scandal. The most distasteful thing about the Republican attacks right now is for years liberals have been trying to get Republicans to pay attention to our nation’s veterans. Who knew it would take a Democratic president that they could blame in order for them to see.
But now that they have, there’s no excuse for turning away.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct “Senate Republicans blocked a bill to increase VA funding by $21 million” to “billion”.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.