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Troops Die While Bureaucrats Blunder: The Fight Against Red Tape

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Time and time again, we've seen troops and veterans suffering at the hands of an inept government bureaucracy. Wounded troops have been forced to repay their enlistment bonuses. Amputees fell through the cracks at Walter Reed. And 400,000 veterans are still waiting months (and even years) for their disability benefits.

Well, here we go again:

Christopher M. Simmance helped keep the peace as an American Soldier in the Middle East, but when he returned home and later suffered a breakdown, he was turned away from the VA hospital because the government didn't acknowledge his overseas duty.

The whole story is here. Overall, at least 2,000 veterans across the country are struggling to correct mistakes on their military records - mistakes that have cost some of them their jobs and their health care coverage. The wait to correct these errors can stretch for as long as three years. In the meantime, the veteran is not eligible for any of the services or benefits to which they are entitled.

But the battles against the bureaucracy are not only fought by the wounded.

Army Sgt. Kendell Frederick, who had tried three times to file for citizenship, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq as he returned from submitting fingerprints for his application.

There are roughly 7,200 service members or veterans waiting on their citizenship applications, despite a 2002 pledge from the Bush administration to fast track paperwork for immigrant members of the U.S. military. They have to wait months, and sometimes years, for their applications to navigate lengthy background checks, misplaced paperwork, confusion about deployments, and a plethora of other bureaucratic obstacles.

Troops in Iraq getting shot at right now are also bearing the burden of bureaucracy. Our slow acquisitions process and the inadequate oversight of military procurement can have dire consequences for troops in theatre:

Casualties could have been reduced by half among Marines in Iraq if specially armored vehicles had been deployed more quickly in some cases.

That's according to a new blockbuster report to the Pentagon.

This is just unacceptable. For every bureaucratic snafu and oversight failure, there are thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans paying the price--with their lives and limbs. That's why Government Accountability is so important, and why we have included it as one of the five key areas of IAVA's 2008 Legislative Agenda.

But accountability isn't very popular in Washington right now. The fate of one of our successes from last year's Legislative Agenda has just been thrown into jeopardy. The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act established a new Wartime Contracting Commission to investigate fraud and waste by defense contractors. But in his signing statement, President Bush has objected to this new "Truman Commission" on the grounds that it might tie his hands as Commander-in-Chief.

Senator Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran whose son served in Iraq, championed the new commission, and has sworn the commission will go forward. He rammed it home on the Senate floor stating:

"If the Administration would like to explain to us what their constitutional issue is with a piece of legislation that the President has just signed, we would be happy to hear that. In the meantime, we are moving forward with this Commission. It is vitally important to accountability in the government, and I'm very proud to have introduced it. We are marching forward."

Troops and veterans will be marching alongside Senator Webb on this. And we need the American people to do the same.