Little Rock Politicians on both sides of the aisle like to talk a good game about whether they may have been veterans, how much they care about veterans, and what they are doing for veterans, but talking to Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early on Wade’s World, it’s clear that there’s little action behind the talk, and, worse, a lot of the action is not helping veterans, but undermining their eligibility, benefits, and general conditions. Gordon and Early are among the co-authors of Our Veterans: Winners, Losers, Friends, and Enemies on the New Terrain of Veterans Affairs. Visiting with them and reading the book is almost an overwhelmingly, depressing experience as one abuse, outrage, and contradiction after another pours off the page.
Admittedly, some might see some irony in progressives advocating for veterans’ rights, but it has long been a principle of the left to “oppose the war, but honor the soldiers.” On the right, it’s becoming almost the opposite, “support the war, not the soldiers.” It took forever to get the protection for veterans injured through Iraq and Afghanistan burn pits that recently was signed by President Biden with some Republicans still complaining about money, rather than relief for men and women in the armed forces. Another current example is the rampant problem of sexual abuse and harassment of women, and some men, in the military where now 14% of our force is female. New York Senator Gillibrand has argued session after session that there can’t be any resolution in these cases until military commanders are removed as the final arbitrator of justice, and the passage of a bill leaving them at the top was so weak, she was forced to disavow her own bill. Gordon and Early also cited a series of California “rent-a-vet” schemes where veterans were paid to front for anti-veteran initiatives on housing and other issues.
Front and center in their argument, long championed by Gordon, not only in this, but other books and the nonprofit, Veterans Health Care Policy Institute, is the erosion of the nation’s largest healthcare operation, Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics. Contrary to what many civilians believe, only 9 million of the 19 million US veterans are actually eligible for VA health coverage in no small part due to often scurrilous uses of so-called “bad paper” discharges for less than honorable discharges for any number of things, many trivial and picayune, just to prevent coverage. For those covered, the relentless privatization of VA services is crippling and costly, even as politicians, including the Biden administration, claim to be doing more, they continue to outsource service to the private sector with less quality and more cost. Not surprisingly, Gordon and Early advocate fuller participation and a beefed-up VA, rather than allowing continued shrinkage.
Early, long a union representative, took heart that CWA’s Texas affiliate has responded to the demand for unionization by some of the National Guard members caught on a ridiculous political mission along the border wall, largely for Governor Abbott’s election campaign. Nonetheless, the real message is that veterans need all of us to advocate for less politics and more programs to support veterans and military families, because they need more than thanks for their service, they need real services for their sacrifices.