This year’s proposed Federal budget has been a great source of controversy, making news in every corner of the country. Overshadowed by some of the more attention-grabbing aspects are meaningful cuts to benefits for disabled elderly veterans. While it’s true that this new budget will increase overall funding to the Veterans’ Affairs department, the prospective reductions in benefits to some of the most vulnerable vet groups are an unconscionable idea. A cut to the compensation these brave troops have earned by sacrificing their own health would be a grave mistake.
The cuts would kick vets out of the Individual Unemployability (IU) program when they become eligible for Social Security, typically between the ages of 62 to 65. Those who already are at that age when the proposed initiative passes will lose their IU benefits immediately. While the fact that they will be switched over to a new set of benefits might sound acceptable, the reality is that Social Security benefits are frequently not enough to cover even basic living expenses. This goes especially for former service members who have been disabled for long periods of time, as they have not been paying into Social Security, meaning that these recommended changes will reduce their monthly earnings drastically, a striking blow to their quality of life.
The justification for this drastic cut is part of the bolstering of the Veteran’s Choice program, which provides money for private doctor visits instead of VA hospital care. While the idea of expanding access to care is a positive one, to enact it at the price of eliminating this vital source of support is a net loss. Our veterans, a source of stability to our nation since its very inception, are having their own financial steadiness threatened by these proposed changes. It is a shameful insult to their service to have their benefits cruelly taken away when they need them most.
Prominent veteran’s groups are pushing back. The Veterans of Foreign Wars have gone on record in Congressional testimony condemning the idea, saying “We are very concerned the administration’s request to make the Veterans Choice Program a permanent, mandatory program could lead to a gradual erosion of the VA health care system.” The VFW, an essential bridge between veterans and the government, have long been a trusted voice to speak up for vet’s rights. They’re joined in this cause against the unjust spending decreases by advocacy groups like AMVETS and Vietnam Veterans of America as well as the American Federation of Government Employees.
Sadly, these aren’t the only unkind cuts for veterans under consideration in Washington. Another proposed slashing of veteran’s benefits comes in a bill from the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs that will require soldiers to pay into a fund, totaling $2,400 per vet, in order to receive GI Bill benefits like college tuition and assistance with real estate purchases. After so many years, the idea that the GI Bill will be so fundamentally altered is unreasonable. This legislation has been a great boon to our servicemen and women by supporting them in higher education and home buying-two traditional entrances to the middle class. This is part of the bargain we make with our veterans. After providing our country with the benefit of their heroism, the idea of garnishing their salaries in order to pay them back is illogical and unfair.
Reducing an oversized federal budget is one thing. While difficult choices frequently must be made, they simply cannot result in the unjust reduction of the compensation we give to the brave men and women of the armed forces. They gave years of their lives, and in some cases their mobility and well-being, to the calling to defend our nation at home and abroad. While we can never repay them completely, what we can do is assure them that they will receive the best care possible upon their return to civilian life. Meeting this promise won’t always be easy, but we owe it to these noble souls. We all understand that our government must endeavor to be fiscally responsible, but to take essential funding away from our troops deprives them of their justly earned recompense. Surely, there are better ways to achieve financial stability than to deprive our most courageous citizens of what they’ve more than earned.