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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Opinion: Wedge Issue Trumps Vets Health Funding Debate

While the Senate carries on its debate on the issue of flag-burning (in the face of other more pressing problems facing our nation including meeting the health needs of our returning veterans) I came across an opinion piece on the matter running in today's Asbury Park Press.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From New Jersey's Asbury Park Press, this op-ed is written by Janet Walsh, a former Vietnam veteran and current member of Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights:

Once again, the U.S. Senate is debating a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag. I cannot help but feel weary as policy-makers brace for yet another fight over the extent of freedom of expression. ... Proponents tout the amendment as a show of support for our troops overseas and our veterans here at home. I see it as meaningless rhetoric that distracts attention from far more critical issues affecting the quality of life for service members and veterans.

I have dedicated my life to providing quality health care for all Americans, especially for our soldiers. What I see is a looming crisis, one far more deserving of congressional attention than a constitutional ban on flag desecration.

Let me be perfectly clear: I do not in any way support flag burning. When I served at the 2nd General Army Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, during the Vietnam War, it broke my heart to see the American flag burning back home. But as a first lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, I had an important job to do: to make sure that American soldiers received the best medical care available. And now, 40 years later, I fear those same men and women are no longer being properly cared for.

What I see are policy-makers who are more interested in making headlines with a wedge issue than addressing the needs of those who put their lives on the line to defend this country and the principles it stands for.

The author points out a couple of ways veterans are getting left behind: the decades-long under-funding of the VA, and the Base Realignment and Closure plan which will leave more veterans without access to health care services in their area.

As a new generation of American veterans returns home from combat overseas, we should be grateful for their commitment to our country. We should be showing our appreciation, not using their considerable risks and sacrifices as a platform to advance an empty agenda.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has always been a strong supporter of our nation's — and especially New Jersey's — veterans. I hope as the debate over the flag-burning amendment comes to a head, he will reject this frivolous bickering and instead use the power of his seat to generate bipartisan support for adequate health care for veterans. If there is one thing that can be agreed upon in this age of partisan politics, it is that we owe a great debt to our veterans. The very least our policy-makers can do is band together to repay them with their promised care. ...

If the Senate truly supports America's veterans, I would rather see them make a real difference and turn their attention to the ongoing struggle for quality health care for veterans instead of this damaging attempt to restrict our rights.

If you have any feedback to offer on this piece, please contact the Asbury Park Press.

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