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Senator Murray: Keep the bargain with our veterans

– (CCL Bruno Sanchez)

If you serve or have served in the U.S. military, you can get a free meal at Applebees, Chili’s, Golden Corral, or McCormick & Schmick’s; a free donut at Krispy Kreme, a free Bloomin’ Onion and Coke at Outback Steakhouse and a free six-inch sub at Subway. Home Depot and Lowes are both offering you 10% off purchases. Thousands of car washes around the country are offering you a free car wash.

And Congress is offering to cut the health care and retirement benefits they promised you when you signed up.

Happy Veterans Day.

America’s all-volunteer Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have waged a multi-theater war with an increasingly insane ops pace for ten years now, at tremendous personal cost. At tremendous cost to their families.

In return, a grateful Congress is looking at:

  • increasing health care premiums for military retirees by as much as 300 percent;
  • increasing prescription co-pays for troops, their families and retirees;
  • increasing fees or simply cutting off access to VA health care to certain groups of veterans, including some low-income veterans;
  • cutting the military cost-of-living allowance to military members and retirees by 50%;
  • freezing military pay;
  • replacing the military’s 20-year-retirement plan with a 401(k);

Earlier this year, Presidential candidate and Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann proposed freezing VA health care spending and cutting veteran disability benefits.

Yes, we’re in dire straits financially. But we made a commitment to our men and women in uniform. We asked them to do a job that 99% of our country has chosen not to do. And, in return, we promised them all a living wage (a promise we haven’t kept to our junior enlisted personnel), health care for life and a pension at the end of twenty years.

Now personally I don’t think some of that was such a great idea.

Paying retirement to a healthy forty-year-old is ridiculous. And I think there should have been a distinction made in benefits between those who have borne the battle, as Lincoln said, and those who sat at a desk in an office somewhere and pushed papers for twenty years just like their counterparts in the civilian world.

But 3.3 million active duty personnel and family members, and 5.5 million retirees, family members, and widows of retirees, have planned their lives around the promises we made.

To pull the rug out from under them now is unconscionable.

Yes, VA health-care costs have skyrocketed in the last ten years, from $19 billion in 2001 to $53 billion currently. Duh. That’s what happens as Viet Nam vets get older. That’s what happens as increasing numbers of soldiers return from combat with staggering injuries that would not have been survivable in previous wars, staggering disabilities with which they will be living for the rest of their lives.

They did what we asked them to do. Now we need to do what we told them we would do.

But, in a letter to herself last month (snicker, snicker), Washington State’s own Senator Patty Murray (writing, in her capacity as chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to the debt super-committee, which she also chairs) expressed her willingness to cap the VA budget. She wrote:

We believe no constituency better understands the challenge America faces, and no constituency is better suited to, again, lead by example by putting country first.

 Let me translate: No constituency is better situated to be thrown under the bus.

In Senator Murray’s Veterans Day news release, she says:

 When these brave men and women signed up to serve our country, we agreed to take care of them.

They kept their part of the bargain.

Now we need to keep ours.

 She goes on to boost the feel-good veterans jobs bill the Senate passed yesterday, the first bit of the President’s new jobs stimulus plan.

Senator, a jobs stimulus bill wasn’t part of the bargain. The pay, health care and retirement benefits that you and your colleagues have signaled a willingness to cut were.

You are absolutely right. They kept their part of the bargain. Now you need to keep yours.

In the words of President Abraham Lincoln,

[L]et us . . . care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.

♦  ♦  ♦

Thank you Grandpa (WW1), Daddy (WW2), Uncle Bob (WW2), Harold (post-WW 2), Randy (Desert Storm/Southern Watch twice, Northern Watch twice, Noble Anvil, and 26 years USAF special ops and combat search-and-rescue) and Dan (Army combat medic, Iraqi Freedom, two tours, and Enduring Freedom Afghanistan).

Happy Veterans Day.

This Veterans Day, please consider honoring our veterans by taking a moment to write Senator Murray (D-WA), chair of both the Deficit Super-Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and remind her that a new veterans job bill doesn’t keep our part of the bargain. Continuing to provide the wages, health care and retirement we promised does. Here is her contact form.