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Wineke: We owe veterans what we promised

Published On: Jun 12 2014 04:49:02 PM CDT
American flag, soldier's hat, Memorial Day, Veterans Day

Karen Barefoot/SXC

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson was one of three senators to vote against the bipartisan effort to solve many of the Veterans Administration’s medical care problems.

The bill which, if adopted by the House of Representatives and signed by President Barack Obama, will allocate money to hire more medical personnel for VA hospitals and allow vets to seek care from private physicians on the government’s dime if they can’t be seen conveniently and relatively quickly at a VA facility.

It was co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and John McCain (R-Arizona). Wisconsin’s other senator, Tammy Baldwin, voted with the 97 supporters.

Now I think Johnson is an idiot in general, but no politician goes out of his way to aggravate veterans so perhaps we ought to consider his reasoning.

His reasoning seems to be that the proposal costs too much. Johnson prefers his own bill, which would pay for veterans’ care by cutting other people’s benefits.

“The legislation doesn’t fix the systemic problems or ensure that veterans get quality on-time health care,” Johnson said. “It does spend more money to expand a broken system.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost $35 billion for the first two years and $50 billion each year thereafter. That’s a lot of money.

But until the VA problems became national news a few weeks ago, Congress couldn’t be bothered to pass any legislation to help sick veterans. Sanders introduced the gist of the new plan back in February and it went no where. If we’re going to help the veterans, now is the time to act.

It is now too late to worry about veterans’ benefits costing a lot of money. The time to have worried about that was back in 2003 and thereafter when we were busy sending men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan and creating new veterans who would one day need benefits.

That was back when our national leaders were assuring us the wars would be brief and inexpensive. We didn’t even put their costs in the national budget. Critics kept warning that wars create veterans and veterans need health care. No one listened.
Now, the bill is coming due. We need to pay it.

In the meantime, the civil war we helped launch by our invasion of Iraq is spiraling out of hand. We really don’t know what will happen in Afghanistan once we leave.

What we do know is that whatever happens, it will be expensive.

Decisions have consequences. When we spend money, it has to come from somewhere. But I think the veterans have already paid their fair share.