In general, when you see a car with American flag and bald eagle stickers all over it, there’s also a “Support our Troops” ribbon sticker to go along with them. For some people, nothing says “patriot” like a “Support our Troops” sticker and nobody loves to wrap themselves in that patriotic swag more than Republicans.
But, for some Republicans, that support for our men and women in uniform ends the day they return home and are in need of healthcare services. That faux support was never more clear than yesterday when Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said we just can’t afford a bill to help out veterans dealing with the tragedy of unnecessarily long waiting periods to get treated at VA hospitals:
The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan measure aimed at easing healthcare delays for veterans by giving them more access to private care and allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs to open more clinics and hire more medical staff.
The 93-3 vote in the Democratic-led Senate followed unanimous passage on Tuesday in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives of a similar bill to address a crisis that has embarrassed the Obama administration and prompted Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to quit. [...]
I feel strongly we’ve got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don’t think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program, now.
Certainly veterans benefits are an “entitlement” in terms of the technical definition of the phrase:
The kind of government program that provides individuals with personal financial benefits (or sometimes special government-provided goods or services) to which an indefinite (but usually rather large) number of potential beneficiaries have a legal right (enforceable in court, if necessary) whenever they meet eligibility conditions that are specified by the standing law that authorizes the program… The most important examples of entitlement programs at the federal level in the United States would include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, most Veterans’ Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and agricultural price support programs.
Though that definition is accurate, the term “entitlement” has taken on a different meaning in recent years coming out of the mouths of Republicans. The meaning has shifted to take on a negative connotation; something undeserving people get that the rest of us are forced to foot the bill for. That’s what makes Sessions’ use of the term so offensive.
What Sessions seems to be suggesting is that this is somehow a new program. Guaranteed healthcare benefits for veterans isn’t new or some sort of liberal plan to expand government. It’s something we’ve done since the founding of the United States of America. The Veterans Administration itself is well over 80 years old. The new legislation passed by the Senate yesterday – with Sessions one of only three people to vote against it – is simply intended to solve a problem that has prevented our country from fulfilling its promise to those who serve our country in the military.
But, according to Senator Sessions, we simply can no longer afford it no matter how “strongly” he feels we must “do the right thing for our veterans.”
Apparently “Support the Troops” has a different meaning in Alabama.
[CC image credit: Gage Skidmore | Flickr]