Congress Needs to Stop Using our Veterans as Political Bargaining Chips: Holding up Voting on Critical Healthcare Legislation is an Embarrassment for our Nation
The controversy in Congress about legislation to maintain healthcare coverage for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits has exposed a moral dilemma for our Nation and our commitment – or lack of – towards those who have put their lives and the well-being of their families at risk to serve our country and preserve our democracy. We hadn’t learned from the mistakes we made when it came to our treatment of our veterans who served during the Vietnam war. When did it become acceptable to use our veterans as political pawns to settle partisan arguments in Congress?
Why does it take advocates like Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show, and Long Island’s own John Feal to go before news cameras to call out members of Congress who believe it’s acceptable to use veterans as bargaining chips? This pollutes our politics and undermines the respect of our foreign allies. In 1972, most veterans who served in Vietnam believed America had turned its back on them. There were no parades, no acknowledgement about P.T.S.D. and the need for comprehensive mental health or substance abuse treatment, and no recognition that they were heroes who served our country honorably. Fifty years later, we’ve come a long way – or at least I thought we had.
Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen more women in the military, and today our military is more diverse. We’ve elevated our understanding of the effects of P.T.S.D. on our veterans and their families. We’ve expanded educational opportunities for those who served and offer a living wage for veterans to achieve the American Dream.
Suffolk County has the second largest population of veterans in the United States, second only to San Diego, California. There are enough nonprofit organizations whose mission is to provide comprehensive services for our veterans and their families, and there are community events that raise money and awareness to respond to their needs. Yet, some in Congress are willing to delay their votes for a bill that would ensure access to healthcare for veterans.
Stewart and Feal’s anger is justified. Too many veterans on Long Island are struggling. Nearly 1,800 of them are known to our regional food bank. They visit Long Island Cares’ six satellite locations monthly to access food, personal care products, household supplies, and pet food. More than 250 veterans have found gainful employment through our Vets Work program, and many of the 88 households that receive home delivery of groceries are veteran households. Most recently, we’ve added care coordination services for our veterans to avoid having them fall between the cracks trying to navigate the myriad of services they are entitled to. Veterans have suffered enough physically, emotionally, and socially. The least we can do is make sure they are never used as political bargaining chips when it comes to their health and well-being. It’s actions like these that are reasons why our Nation is experiencing a shortage of recruits and why we might be unable in the future to protect our Nation from foreign adversaries – or ourselves.
Paule T. Pachter, A.C.S.W., L.M.S.W.
Chief Executive Officer
Long Island Cares, Inc.