Military/Veterans' Issues Talking Points for Project Blue Fence 2004As of late summer 2004, more than 950 American servicemen and servicewomen have died in Iraq and approximately 6,000 have been wounded. At the same time it praises the valor of US armed forces, the Bush Administration has consistently advocated cutting benefits for US military personnel and veterans. John Kerry and John Edwards have a plan to honorably support veterans, military personnel and their families.
Fewer combat veterans than in past conflicts are dying thanks to quicker evacuation and improved medical techniques, but more are returning severely injured. Bush's proposed 2005 budget for Veterans Affairs had just a 2% increase for medical care, even though the war in Iraq is projected to swell demands for health care. This same budget proposed increasing costs for veterans by introducing an annual $250 enrollment fee to access the VA system and by doubling co-payments for prescription medicine. Both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars termed Bush's health care budget for veterans inadequate, with VFW leader Edward Banas Sr calling it "a disgrace and a sham."
Nearly one fifth of America's veterans lack full health care coverage. Under Bush, the VA has suspended care for over 160,000 new "Category 8" veterans or those with nonservice-related health problems whose incomes exceed $25,000. For those still covered by the VA system, many wait six months or more for appointments. According to VA estimates, in 2002, one year before the US entered Iraq, 235,000 veterans waited six or more months for medical appointments.
The White House has expressed strong opposition to efforts to expand TRICARE, the military health care system, to reservists and National Guard members. Reservists and National Guard members comprise approximately 40% of US troops in Iraq, and the General Accounting Office estimates that 20% of Army Reserve and National Guard personnel have no health insurance at all.
Citing "privacy" concerns, the Pentagon put the Disabled Veterans of America, a nonprofit group that counsels wounded veterans about government benefits entitled to them, on restricted access to patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where many of those most severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are sent to recover. DAV leader Dave Gorman has argued to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that his organization is being prevented from carrying out its congressionally chartered mission.
On October 1, 2003, the Bush Administration proposed cutting soldiers' combat bonus pay 33% while cutting assistance to their families by 60%. This would have reduced the monthly Family Separation allowance from $250 to $100 and monthly Imminent-Danger pay from $225 to $150 for troops in combat.
John Kerry and John Edwards have vowed to ensure mandatory health care funding for all veterans and military personnel. They will fight to extend TRICARE eligibility to members of the Reserve and the National Guard.
Military retirees with disabilities are the only category of federal employees who lose some of their retirement simply because they are disabled. John Kerry and John Edwards are committed to “full concurrent receipt,” or making certain disabled veterans receive the full amount of their retirement pay while receiving the full amount of the disability compensation.
John Kerry and John Edwards will reimburse those families forced to purchase body armor for their loved ones who were sent to war by the Bush Administration without vital personal equipment.
While Bush tried to cut the Family Separation allowance, John Kerry and John Edwards will make it a permanent benefit and index it to inflation. This is just one aspect of the Kerry/Edwards proposed Military Family Bill Rights. Other aspects include:
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