What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Sunday, May 06, 2007

VA Fails Katrina Area Vets

VA Fails Katrina Area Vets

No Longer Unknown: Identity of Katrina victim ‘Will’ has been verified, reported the local paper, the Sun Herald. How sad and relieved his loved ones must feel finally knowing what happened rather than being left to wonder. While walking on the beach the other week, I met a woman whose own story had a happier ending.

She told me that about a month ago, she had found her brother. Last she knew, he was riding out the storm on the roof. Since that fateful August 29the day of 2005, she had not heard from nor seen him. She had believed him not to have survived Katrina. That was not the case. He was alive in Jackson, Mississippi, at a Veterans Administration facility.

I was delighted that her grief had been lifted with the good news that her brother was alive. However, I was curious and asked, “Why didn’t the VA contact you as the next of kin?”

She replied that the VA is understaffed and underpaid. They don’t pay their folks enough to do the job that needs to be done. She smiled humbly. How incredibly kind hearted and generous this lady was in her evaluation of the VA.

Still, I thought, “another example of the Victims’ Administration”, a term I’ve heard vets referring to how this federal agency treats our nation’s men and women in uniform, especially those who are Vietnam era vets. The respect our country afforded their WWII predecessors has eluded these vets. The recent
Walter Reed scandal exposed the Bush Administration’s continuation of this disgraceful disrespect to those who wear the uniform. Paul Krugman compared the scandal to Katrina.

the parallels between what happened at Walter Reed and what happened to New Orleans . . . tell us that the roots of the scandal run far deeper than the actions of a few bad men.”

Unfortunately for the veterans in the Katrina-ravaged region, another VA storm has been brewing on Bush’s watch. The hurricane demolished the agency’s facilities in
New Orleans. In the wake of Katrina’s devastation, Bush’s VA should be alleviating obstacles to their health care needs. However, that is not the case. Just last month, The Times Picayune, the New Orleans daily newspaper, exposed the VA’s practice of sending veterans long distances, including to Texas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, for their healthcare.

In the best of circumstances, this is a ridiculous way to handle healthcare for anyone—veteran or civilian. Add to this situation, veterans who need immediate care or those living with a disability and the stew gets thicker. Throw into the pot Katrina’s devastating financial and emotional blows, and stir in White House gross mismanagement in the wake of the storm. What we have here is a recipe for another scandal on Bush’s watch.

The Times Picayune reported “veterans can go to private hospitals if they have a heart attack or other emergency, [otherwise] they have to use veterans hospitals in Houston; Little Rock, Ark.; Alexandria; Biloxi, Miss.; or Memphis.” In other words, unless a vet has an “in the moment” life and death healthcare crisis, the Bush Administration’s policy is to require vets to travel hours and hundreds of miles for their medical care.

One vet living on limited fixed income disability checks objected to the additional travel expense. A VA staff member dismissed the veteran’s objection with a sharp rebuke. “We’re paying you mileage!”

Excuse me?! Requiring vets to travel any additional and unnecessary distance for the care that they earned for their honorable military service is burdensome, more so for vets living on disability incomes. Ignoring for a moment the disrespect this staffer extended, let’s take a peek at the VA’s mileage rate the staffer so proudly proclaimed . . . as if plenty enough compensation for the horrendous burden on the veteran.

IRS mileage rate for business purposes is 48.5 cents. For medical, it’s 20 cents. The VA mileage rate? 11 cents per mile. To add insult to injury, the agency imposes a $6 deductible on the trip. Gas has gone up again and now hovers around $3 a gallon. Rather than expending all that energy creating photo opportunities to give the appearance that his administration is doing something for vets, Bush and his White House staff should expend that energy actually doing something concrete, positive, and measurably important for vets.

For an administration gung-ho on privatizing government services, the Bush White House could show some entrepreneurial leadership through temporarily privatizing VA services inside this beleaguered Katrina-ravaged region. By contracting with local doctors, healthcare providers, and facilities, the federal government would then live up to its promise to take care of these veterans and their families. At the same time, the VA will be lessening rather than increasing the burdens of these vets. That’s downright revolutionary!

But Bush isn’t listening. He just vetoed the Iraq Accountability Act. Bush’s veto denies funding for improved veterans’ services. How patriotic of him. His second veto since moving into the Oval Office over six years ago, and he uses it to insult the men and women in uniform both present and past. The compassion streaming out of the White House is a bit much to take in, isn’t it?!

Whether it’s the handling of the Katrina recovery or ending the military operations in Iraq, the Bush Administration has been AWOL in terms of integrity, honesty, and leadership. Before the Walter Reed scandal broke, Bush did a photo op at the hospital pronouncing, "
We owe them all we can give them." Nice words. Too bad he didn't mean it.

Though Bush and his Veterans’ Department choose to betray our vets, we can choose to remain faithful to our nation’s promises. We do so through bringing pressure to bear upon the situation so that we can improve it. How do we do that?

Luckily, we have at our fingertips two tools that will assist us with achieving our goal. A quick call and short email to our Congressional Representative and two U.S. Senators can make the difference. It truly is amazing how a little civic participation on each of our parts can have an amazing ripple effect on the
Washington, DC political pond. proves that over and over again.

Letting our fingers do the walking can bring pressure on Washington, DC, to demand that the White House live up to our nation’s responsibility to our men and women in uniform.
Exercising our constitutional right to petition the federal government is how we assist in bringing about the needed changes for veterans that Katrina impacted. Call and email your representatives in
Washington, DC and ask them to get vets access to healthcare locally. Ask them to work with U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Congressman Gene Taylor on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to resolve this crisis immediately. Senator Landrieu and Congressman Taylor are tireless leaders working 24/7 on behalf of their constituents.

For our part, picking up the phone or sending an email to our elected officials is the way we salute and honor our vets with the respect they earned and deserve.

Political Hell Raising Action Center:
Helping Katrina Area Veterans Obtain Health Care Locally
To call your U.S Congressional Representative and U.S. Senators,
use these sample phone scripts.

To email your U.S. Congressional and U.S. Senators,
use these email samples

For contact information on your U.S. Congressional Representative and two U.S. Senators, click here.

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