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November 14, 2005, 7:45 P.M.

A Tale of Two Speeches: While President Bush was speaking to a handpicked crowd of supporters about his distorted view of the run up to the war in Iraq, retired Marine General Joseph P. Hoar, the former U.S. military commander in the Middle East, called on the Bush administration to strengthen the health care system for veterans. Speaking this past weekend, Hoar charged that the Bush administration, specifically President Bush, had “consistently refused to provide enough” money for veterans’ healthcare.

Not only does Hoar feel that the administration is not doing enough for veterans, he notes that “earlier this year” the Bush administration “admitted that they were $1 billion short of funding for critical health care services for veterans.” In April of 2005, the Veterans Affairs Department acknowledged that it had underestimated medical care costs. This resulted in the appropriation, by congress, of $1.5 billion in emergency funds for the current fiscal year. Hoar also says the administration “also repeatedly tried to increase the cost of prescription drugs and health care services for veterans nationwide.” He also charges that “thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will require mental health care, yet the Bush administration has not taken action to deal with this emerging problem.”

Based on my review of the White House propaganda page on veterans’ affairs, I suspect that General Hoar will be chided for his lack of support for the troops and for trying to “rewrite history”, but the cat is out of the bag on this one. There are too many real stories from real people that contradict the administration’s claims of support for veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and of all wars. There are too many stories of families struggling to get by because of the government’s failure to aid effectively in the transition from military to civilian life. These stories are particularly poignant when they involve disabled veterans or aid to families of those killed in action.

Bush chose Veterans Day to attack his critics by saying that they undermine the war effort. He chose not to address the sacrifice of the 2,067 killed and 15,568 wounded in Iraq, or the 247 killed and 652 wounded in Afghanistan in terms of what his government could or would do to insure that they had healthcare, benefits and jobs when they transitioned to civilian life, or when they returned to their lives at home in the case of Guard and reserve troops. Saying that our government supports its troops doesn’t make it so.

In his speech last week, Bush called criticism of his lies about WMD “deeply irresponsible” and claimed that these claims were undermining the war effort. It was Bush and not his critics who chose a sacred day to make a political speech, aimed at bolstering his sagging approval ratings, now at an abysmal 37%, rather than to address real concerns of those who he has a duty to respect and protect after they return home. Those rating are sagging because, despite his best efforts, the lies that led us into this war are no longer believed. Bush chose to go to Pennsylvania and make a political speech while Vice President Cheney participated in the traditional wreath laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, an honor usually left to the President. Interesting set of messages there.

General Hoar ended his speech by saying of our troops: “As a veteran and a former commander of U.S forces in the Middle East, I have seen first hand the kind of sacrifices they are making for us. It’s a debt we will never be able to repay, but we have a special duty to make sure our veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve when they return home.” Bush simply attacked his critics and vowed to “stay the course. He did not take the opportunity to discuss a plan or strategy for ending the invasion, nor did he talk about a timetable. It seems that he is resigned to leave that work to his successor.

Outside of the base where Bush gave his speech was a group of veterans, protesting the war and the administration’s justifications for the war. These were veterans, including veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they wanted their voices, not just the audience selected for the President’s speech, to be heard. Just as he avoids the bodies of our service personnel returning to Dover in flag draped coffins, our Boy in the Bubble President never got to hear from those critics at the front gate. He was sheltered from them because he left by helicopter, lifted over the scene with no concern for those critics, undermining his war effort.

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