By Jon Soltz, Co-Founder of VoteVets.org, Iraq War Veteran
Do Republicans care about keeping our promise to veterans?
Looking at the recently released GOP budget, written by Rep. Paul Ryan, it's hard to see how they do. In fact, looking at the nearly 100 page document, the word "veteran" doesn't appear once. Not once.
Today is the 9th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Last night, I spoke with someone who served with me in Iraq during my first tour. And for the first time in almost nine years, she wanted to talk to me about an incident where she drove through an IED and a soldier was killed. It was a profound moment that shows how war and sacrifice stay with us, always. For those of us who served, in many ways, yesterday is today. And today, we read that the GOP doesn't even talk about veterans in their budget.
But, without saying the word "veteran," the budget tells us a lot about what they think about veterans. The budget calls for across the board spending freezes and cuts. If enacted, the Ryan GOP budget would cut $11 billion from veterans spending, or 13 percent from what President Obama proposes in his own plan.
It's unconscionable that they'd do this at a time when so many Iraq veterans have just come home and rely on veterans care. Over 45,000 US troops were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more will come who will rely on VA services, on top of veterans of other wars and eras who depend on the VA. But, this shortsightedness isn't new.
Back in 2005, President Bush underfunded the Department of Veterans Affairs by about a billion dollars, despite its need. The result? Secretary Jim Nicholson was forced to crawl before Congress and plead with it to pass emergency supplemental spending, just so it could keep the doors open. After that debacle, I have to admit, I never thought Republicans would do the same thing again, if for no other reason than that it just looks bad politically, leaving aside the horrible effect it would have on veterans in need.
Additionally, after the backlash against ending Medicare the last time Paul Ryan released a budget, they're at it again. That, too, affects veterans. I was speaking with one veteran in Missouri, who lost both of his legs in Iraq. His entire primary care now relies on Medicare. It pays for all of his primary care, as it does for so many veterans with 100 percent disability. So, no, I couldn't believe that Paul Ryan and the GOP would again propose ending Medicare.
Yet, here we are. A budget from the GOP that short changes veterans, horribly. And where does that money go? Not to reducing the debt. The debt as a share of GDP would actually increase under the Ryan plan. The money doesn't go towards anything, really. But it does go towards some people. As in $3 trillion in tax giveaways to the richest Americans and corporations. People like Mitt Romney, who already pays a tax rate lower than most of our troops.
That's the choice the Ryan plan presents to America -- do we want to fund the wealthiest Americans and corporations, or keep our promise to our veterans? Ryan and the GOP say the former. I can't believe that most Americans wouldn't say the latter.