Saturday, March 17, 2007


In the wake of the Walter Reed scandal, John Ydstie reminded us yesterday on NPR that the GOP leadership has been tight-fisted and vindictive for years with regard to military health care.

Unfortunately, Ydstie's report is available only as audio, but here's a partial transcript:

YDSTIE: For twenty-four years as a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey fought hard for adequate health care for America's veterans. He was dogged, tireless, and unapologetic....

But in 2004, as casualties from the Iraq War began to mount, Smith, by then the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, argued a little too hard with the Republican House leadership. He told Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay that the money in the veterans' health-care budget was about three-quarters of a billion dollars short of what was needed.

SMITH: And I refused to call it enough. It's what led to my ouster as chairman, because I refused to accept an inadequate number, because that means veterans would go unattended to in our hospitals, and that's just totlly unacceptable.

YDSTIE (to SMITH): So, because you were pushing too hard for veterans' medical care, you lost your chairmanship.

SMITH: I lost my chairmanship and then Mr. DeLay invited me to his office and said, "We want you off the committee."

YDSTIE: Other Republicans allied with Smith also lost seats on the Veterans Affairs Committee and some lost appropriations for their home districts....

(The money Smith wanted eventually did find its way into a supplemental appropriations bill.)

It may sound as if Smith is tooting his own horn, but groups such as the VFW and the Paralyzed Veterans of America loudly protested his ouster at the time, regarding him as one of the best advocates for veterans.

As for the White House, an administration flack appears in Ydstie's report to boast that funding for veterans' health care has gone up 9% a year during the Bush presidency -- but, er, we've gone from zero wars to two in that time, and veterans of other wars are aging as well. (And does 9% a year even keep up with health-care cost inflation?)

Then there's this:

YDSTIE: [California Democrat Bob] Filner, who's now the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, also says the president's proposed $37 billion VA budget for 2008 is inadequate. It increases spending by about 6% over 2007, but then reduces spending over the next four years.

Oh, yeah -- the need for this care is just going to decrease, right? Give me a break.

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