Although I am against the current war in Iraq, I have the highest level of respect and admiration for our men and women in uniform. Hearing their stories of commitment, courage and sacrifice for this country is always a humbling experience, and it makes our debt to them real and unwavering. Unfortunately, our nation’s debt to our brave soldiers is long overdue, and I fear that under this pathetic excuse for a president, the debt will continue to go unpaid.
Just last week during his weekly radio address to the nation, President Bush threatened to veto the tremendously popular and bipartisan GI bill circulating through Congress. This bill, sponsored by Sens. Jim Webb (Democrat) and Chuck Hagel (Republican) – both Vietnam veterans – would guarantee soldiers who serve at least three years in the Army four years of tuition to the best public university their state has to offer. The bill would also provide soldiers with a monthly stipend for housing and food costs. The old GI bill, enacted after World War II to aid soldiers returning from combat, had not been properly updated to account for the rising costs of tuition and housing.
Thankfully, it appears there is enough bipartisan support in Congress to override any presidential veto (hence Bush will likely acquiesce and begrudgingly sign it). Nevertheless, this president’s stinginess toward funding our soldiers’ education is just another example of his administration’s longtime disregard for the well-being of our troops.
I am sure we all remember when Bush’s former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked by a concerned soldier in 2004, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to armor our vehicles?” Shamefully, Mr. Rumsfeld replied, “As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want.” Translation: You soldiers want armored humvees for protection . too bad.
This same callous disregard for our soldiers’ safety also occurred with inadequate body armor provisions. According to an internal Pentagon study conducted from 2003 to 2006, nearly 80 percent of Marines killed in Iraq from upper body wounds could have survived if they had been given proper body armor. Such armor had been available since 2003, but the Pentagon and the Bush administration basically declined to supply it to troops until after the study was released.
Sadly, unarmored vehicles and inadequate body armor reveal only half of this administration’s failings; we must also look at the inexcusable aftercare our troops receive when they return home from combat. Last week, the Pentagon announced the number of troops with new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder jumped by roughly 50 percent in 2007. The increase now brings the total number of U.S. troops diagnosed with PTSD to more than 40,000 since 2003; shockingly, the current average wait time for veterans to be seen for mental health problems is more than 100 days, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Most mental health experts agree that the frightening rise in mental trauma is largely the result of our soldiers being sent on their third, fourth and even fifth tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, because of the surge in 2007, the White House extended tour lengths from 12 months to 15 months and increased “stop loss” orders (involuntary extensions of duty for soldiers) by a startling 43 percent. Clearly, these White House orders that recycle our overburdened troops are the direct result of never having enough troops in Iraq in the first place, but this fact obviously doesn’t bother the administration.
Of course, we cannot forgive or forget the atrocious physical conditions our soldiers have had to endure during their rehabilitation here at home. The revelations over the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center and numerous other substandard military hospitals around the country indicate an administration utterly asleep at the wheel when it comes to our troops. In the case of Walter Reed, this administration was directly responsible. CNN claims the Pentagon gave $120 million of privatization contracts to run Walter Reed to a company named IAP in 2006. For those unaware, IAP is the same company that couldn’t even get ice down to New Orleans to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.
Clearly, our soldiers deserve better. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than five years old, yet we still continue to hear stories of troops being let down by their commander in chief and his cronies. Our brave troops have served this country well, showing us the true meaning of the military motto “Semper Fi” (Always Faithful). I continue to pray this administration will adopt the same motto and meet all of our troops’ needs, but given their track record so far, I am not optimistic.
Patrick Molnar is a business junior and a liberal columnist for the Mustang Daily.