Bush’s cloaked patriotism

Eric Hitchcock is a physical therapist and disability evaluator at Enloe Medical Center and Chico resident

“Support Our Troops.” We see and hear it often, and for good reason—it’s the right thing to do. More than 23,000 vets live in Butte County, and hundreds more of our NorCal soldiers are struggling overseas now. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush and the Republican Party cloak themselves in patriotism while undercutting our military when the camera is off.

As a health care provider, I frequently see veterans’ medical coverage and options squeezed by their HMO, TriCare. Few MDs and specialists here take their insurance, and vets frequently have to drive long distances to receive health care. Even then the care they need may not be available. We hear Mr. Bush push for privatization in health care, but we don’t hear about insurance companies like USAA dropping veterans’ secondary medical coverage.

Major veterans groups informed Mr. Bush that his 2003 budget fell $1.5 billion short for adequate care, and the American Legion calculated his 2004 VA funding at “$1.9 billion short of maintaining an inadequate status quo.” His new budget also calls for tripling co-pays for veterans’ prescriptions and shrinking the number of military personnel who qualify for disability benefits by narrowing the definition of service-connected disabilities.

Yet when Democrats tried to replace $1.3 billion of Bush’s shortfall in VA health care, the White House threatened a veto. Additionally, the Bush administration sent a memo to regional VA facilities that forbade VA employees from proactively informing vets about the services available to them in order to reduce the number of vets using VA facilities. And the GAO estimated 20 percent of the National Guard and Reserves have no health insurance, yet Bush formally opposed a proposal to give these Americans access to the Pentagon’s health insurance program.

Mr. Bush and his “chicken hawk” administration are comprised of privileged elites who never went into combat. That is why it is easy for Mr. Bush to invite violence upon our soldiers with his “Bring ’em on” bluster. A commander-in-chief who was a true soldier would know better.

And to add insult to the injured, the House Republicans blocked an amendment to Mr. Bush’s $87 billion package that would have made certain that soldiers in combat had Interceptor Kevlar vests. Families across the country are taking it upon themselves to buy and send this body armor, and we still cannot get the White House to explain this. Meanwhile, Halliburton and Bechtel are given carte-blanche expense accounts.

Support Our Troops: Let’s bring back our soldiers as soon as possible, give them and all veterans the health care they deserve, and vote for those who walk the walk, not just talk tough then act cheap.