Since the Afghanistan war began in 2001, over 2,700 veterans have taken their own lives. Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs showed that in 2010 alone, 22 veterans committed suicide each day -- that's another wounded warrior gone every 65 minutes. Luckily for Army Reserve veteran Kye Hardy of Ashland, Kentucky, who served for a year in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, none of the soldiers he fought alongside have taken that drastic step yet.
"I was lucky to join a unit of men who knew how to keep younger veteran soldiers safe even after coming home," Hardy said. "I don't go a week without calling or receiving a call from someone I deployed with just to chat for a bit."
Hardy, an E-4 specialist, is diagnosed with muscle damage and potential spinal damage, and qualifies for VA services. However, the years-long backlog has kept him from applying, as he wants those with more serious injuries to get the treatment they've been waiting for rather than adding to the backlog. Hardy doesn't believe politicians' outrage over the VA backlog is genuine. Rather than the resignation of top VA officials like the recent exit of General Shinseki and a continued top-down bureaucratic structure, Hardy instead wants to see a more community-based, veteran-led approach to VA services.
"Wounded warriors who are on disability for the remainder of their lives oftentimes have serious trouble readjusting to civilian life," Hardy said. "[They] seem to improve when they're communicating with other veterans."
However, the Republicans feigning the most concern for veterans are the ones most at fault for the crisis in veterans' health care. Paul Ryan, author of three separate GOP-approved budget plans that severely cut VA services, has made no bones about his plans to privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher system. He's also called for changes in VA services that would cut off care for 1.3 million vets. Outrage over the VA scandal could also be manipulated by Ryan and his ilk to force a similar privatization over veterans' health care.
The extreme rightists who control the House of Representatives don't want to privatize the VA to help veterans - if the Republican majority truly cared about veterans, they wouldn't have repeatedly voted against bills providing jobs, homes, and health care to veterans and their families. The budget deal that Ryan and Senator Patty Murray approved last year cut veterans' pensions by $6 billion. The GOP actually wants to see the VA fail to score more political points.
By continuously cutting VA services, the far-right wants to reinforce their anti-government narrative by cementing the idea into people's heads that government is bloated and inefficient, and that private companies unaccountable to voters should seize control of public assets. This is why GOP leaders in Congress don't seem to mind that the approval rating of Congress has slipped consistently in the polls - they're counting on voters to blame the president and his party in the months before the next Congressional elections. They're also counting on voters to grow increasingly mistrustful of government and public services in general.
When Republicans held the White House between 2000 and 2008, they demanded that everyone stand with the troops that they sent overseas to fight a costly war waged on false premises. As President Bush stated, Americans could either stand with the president and his war or be considered sympathizers with the enemy. But now that troops have left Iraq and are soon to be leaving Afghanistan, veterans coming home with multiple physical and mental health issues have been left by the Republican-led House and a relentlessly-filibustering Senate minority to fend for themselves. It's similar to the GOP's belief in fighting for children while they're still growing fetuses in a womb, but cutting off their Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps once they're born. They're pro-war, but anti-vets. They're pro-life, but anti-children.
The American public must not allow themselves to be fooled by the GOP's blustering over the VA backlog. It's certainly a tragedy that 40 vets died while waiting for health care in Phoenix, but instead of blaming overworked and underpaid medical staff and an administration dealing with an uncooperative Congress that's trying its best to make the government fail the people, voters should blame hypocrites and deficit hawks in Washington who have allowed a longtime crisis to turn into a scandal. When someone runs for office on a platform of cutting government services to pieces, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that government services under their leadership have been cut to pieces.
(This article originally appeared on Reader Supported News.)