US Honors Veterans with Stirring Speeches and Painful Austerity

  • submit to reddit

iStock

The US has a rich tradition of putting our veterans on a pedestal, praising them as heroes, effusively thanking them for fighting to preserve our liberties and then turning our backs on them and completely ignoring their real-life problems.

This Veterans’ Day is no exception. Across the country, politicians are giving speeches about the importance of honoring our vets and parades are streaming through big cities and small towns alike. And while all of these celebrations are underway – while the bunting is up and the flags are flying – the cult of austerity that has Washington, DC — and half of our state houses — in its vise-like grip is kicking our veterans in the teeth.

Consider a few ways that’s happening…

Heath Care

According to Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post, about one-in-ten veterans are uninsured, a lower rate than the population as a whole because of the VA program but still a national disgrace.

Kliff writes that “about 40 percent of uninsured veterans earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line (about $15,000 for an individual) and would therefore qualify for Medicaid, if their state had opted to expand the program.”

Kliff then cites Jennifer Haley and Genevieve Kenney, two researchers at the Urban Institute…

Haley and Kenney came up with an estimate, back in March 2013, for how many veterans could be left out of the Medicaid expansion. The researchers estimated that 250,000 veterans potentially eligible for Medicaid lived in a state committed to expanding. Another 144,000 veterans, who were below the poverty line, would be left out, as they lived in non-expansion states.

Unemployment

If Congress doesn’t act to renew the federal government’s emergency unemployment program, about half of the 4.1 million Americans who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks will lose their benefits over the next five months: 1.3 million will see their assistance dry up at the end of this year and another 850,000 will exhaust their regular benefits in the first quarter of 2014.

According to a study by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, 3.1 percent of all veterans (and 3.5 percent of veterans of the “war on terror”) were among the long-term unemployed in 2012, up from less than one percent before the recession began.

Extrapolating from Census data on the total population of working-age vets, and assuming they’ll lose their lifelines at the same rate as non-vets, we can estimate that around 180,000 of those who served their country will lose their extended unemployment benefits between now and next April.

Thanks for your service!

Food Stamps

According to Mother Jones’ Erika Eichelberger, households with a a disabled veteran are twice as likely to require nutritional assistance as the national average. She writes:

At least 900,000 veterans rely on SNAP. The House Republican version of the farm bill, the five-year piece of legislation that funds nutrition and agriculture provisions, would slash funding for the food stamps program by nearly $40 billion and boot 2.8 million people off the program next year. That includes 170,000 veterans, who would be removed through a provision in the bill that would eliminate food stamps eligibility for non-elderly jobless adults who can’t find work or an opening in a job training program.

And that’s just a tip of the iceberg. While the VA was exempted from the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration in 2013, our nation’s veterans rely on all manner of programs that have been or will be cut – from housing assistance to Head Start to job training assistance to foreclosure prevention. And the VA itself will likely face cuts if the next round of sequester cuts go ahead as scheduled early next year.

But, hey, at least they’ll have the lasting appreciation of a grateful nation!

Joshua Holland was a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com and now writes for The Nation. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @JoshuaHol.

  • submit to reddit