Conservatives Aim to
Kneecap Veteran’s Benefits
Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash
(May 23, 2022) — As veteran writer and social commentator Randy Gould recently pointed out, the conservative movement is doing what would have once seemed unthinkable; putting disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in its crosshairs.
Over the past few years, conservatives have succeeded in the partial privatization of services provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the serves about nine million patients and operates the largest public health care system in the country.
In 2018, Republicans and Democrats approved the VA MISSION Act, which, Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon wrote a few years back, will “siphon billions of dollars away from the VHA’s budget and direct that money toward private doctors and for-profit hospitals often ill-prepared to treat veterans.”
According to Early and Gordon’s recent review of the book Wounding Warriors: How Bad Policy is Making Veterans Sicker, co-authored by Daniel Gade, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel and former Trump administration official who lost his right leg and suffered other extensive injuries in an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq, and ex–Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Huang, conservatives are declaring war on veterans benefits.
Denouncing what they term a “disability-industrial complex,” Gade and Huang state that the “only veterans for whom employment is not a reasonable option are those few whose brain injuries are truly devastating and impossible to overcome.” The rest, many who may be suicidal, “we pay veterans to be sick and then we wonder why we have so many sick veterans.”
No recognizing or wanting to support veterans goes back at least as far as the Civil War. “Early and Gordon write: “As Richard Severo and Lewis Milford note in their book The Wages of War, hundreds of thousands of demobilized Union soldiers had great difficulty supporting themselves and their families after the Civil War. Only the severely disabled were eligible for care in a few newly created soldiers’ homes.”
Nevertheless, the Army and Navy Journal, a military publication, advised veterans to avoid becoming “dirty loafers” if they wanted to succeed in civilian life. Those who developed “new muscular habits,” rather than succumbing to personal despair and reliance on charity, would eventually find jobs and housing; those who sought any special help would end up fatally dependent on it.
It wasn’t until some 25 years after the Civil War that “soldiers who served in the Grand Army of the Republic were finally awarded pensions not tied to death or disability resulting from active duty,” Early and Gordon pointed out.
Early, a longtime union activist and author of four books about labor or politics, and Gordon, the author of several books about health care and patient safety, including Nursing Against the Odds, point out that, “Conservatives have long worked to dismantle the American welfare state. They’ve been so successful that some are even turning their sights on a formerly sacrosanct group: combat veterans returned from war.”
“Up until now, few Republicans, or their allies like the Koch brothers–funded Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), dared to attack the VA-run Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), a sacred cow even for conservatives,” write Early and Gordon. “Nearly six million veterans currently receive payments for service-related medical conditions that left them partially or totally impaired; among them are 1.3 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their total compensation, plus pensions, costs the public about $110 billion per year.”
Gade maintains that the way the VA is organized it encourages veterans, especially noncombat veterans, “to play disability.” Early and Gordon note that ”Gade and Huang argue that VA disability ratings have been ‘misapplied to mental health disorders like PTSD, which have been repeatedly demonstrated to improve with effective therapies.’ In their view, such ratings are ‘an appropriate designation’ only ‘for veterans with disabilities that are truly static and unlikely to improve — amputations, spinal cord injuries, etc.’”
Obviously the greatest hazards face by military personnel is in combat. Frontline men and women are subject to gunshot wounds, lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD or MST (military sexual trauma), and respiratory problems from burn-pit exposure. However, Early and Gordon note, “During noncombat duty, even more military personnel suffer job-related injuries or illnesses similar to those experienced by millions of blue-collar workers in civilian life.”
The “only veterans for whom employment is not a reasonable option are those few whose brain injuries are truly devastating and impossible to overcome,” Gade and Huang write. As for the rest, including those who may be suicidal, “we pay veterans to be sick and then we wonder why we have so many sick veterans.”
The authors’ bottom line: “monthly checks from the VBA foster a costly and unhealthy culture of dependence among veterans — and should be sharply restricted, not expanded.”
In 2020, Gade ran and lost for a Senate seat in Virginia. Since then, he formed the New Mission PAC to support other Republicans who want “to better serve our nation’s veterans.” In February, newly elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, appointed Gade as his new commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services.
Youngkin called Gade a man “dedicated to caring for our veterans, championing their concerns, connecting them with resources [and] getting them the proper care.”
However, as Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon pointed out in The Washington Monthly, Gade “is part of a growing Republican faction that strongly supports the privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Worse yet, he also favors cuts in disability pay for the nearly 6 million veterans with service-related medical conditions.”
Early and Gordon conclude their review of Gade and Huang’s book by stating: “Gade and Huang are the tip of the spear for a new wave of right-wing attacks on one of the few models of public health care provision that we have, the VA. Their book is indicative of a new willingness on some parts of the Right to go after a once-sacrosanct group in American society, veterans and their families.
Not content with trying to gut welfare state programs that benefit nonveterans, they’ve set their sights on former soldiers, who are often poor or working class and dependent on publicly funded services.”
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