Friend or foe?

The Bush administration has persistently advocated higher pay for the active military and has regularly requested military pay increases in excess of the amount it has requested for civil servants. But it doesn't appear that the president's support extends to our country's veterans.

Case in point: When Congress recently approved $275 million in supplemental funds for veterans' medical care, Bush refused to release the funds. The money was intended to increase funding for veterans with mental illnesses triggered by, or exacerbated by, combat.

Expressing disappointment with the president's decision, James Goldsmith, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, said that the funds would have prevented "the rationing of VA health care to eligible veterans and will begin to make a dent in the current backlog of 300,000 plus veterans waiting for medical care appointments."

How much worthier a cause can you find? And yet Bush nixed it. Why? Budgetary reasons? Maybe, but that hasn't stopped him from asking for military pay increases in the past.

In another example, the Senate approved an amendment to a Defense Department appropriations bill June 21 to authorize abortions on demand at U.S. military facilities in the United States and overseas. Clearly, this was something servicemen and women wanted and lobbied Congress for. But Bush opposed it, and the House of Representatives rejected a similar amendment to the Defense authorization bill.

Without Bush's support, this amendment doesn't stand much chance of passing. So GIs can thank Bush for the fact that they are unable to obtain abortions while civil servants can get abortions on demand by simply leaving the base.

Also consider the substantial reduction in the 2003 budget request for veterans housing and the Department of Veterans Affairs fiscal 2002 budget, which fell far short of providing essential resources needed to keep the nation's commitment to honor the men and women who have served in uniform.

Four independent veterans groups said that the 2002 VA medical care budget "falls $1.5 billion short of what is recommended by the Independent Budget [a policy document prepared by veterans groups]. The brave men and women called to service after the tragic events of Sept. 11, to defend our interests here and abroad, will be tomorrow's veterans. We implore you to ensure that these service members and those who have served before them in defense of our nation will have the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve."

So what can we infer from these events? Is Bush insincere or can his behavior be explained? Is he supporting active military personnel because he needs them to fight the war on terror while shortchanging veterans because he doesn't need them? I don't know, but I wanted to present this information to you so you could ponder it and share your thoughts with me.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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