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Context of 'August 14, 2009: GOP Claim That Health Care Reform ‘Harms Veterans’ Quickly Disproven'

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General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. [Source: Los Angeles Times]President-elect Barack Obama selects retired General Eric Shinseki to be the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the Army Chief of Staff when, months before the launch of the Iraq invasion, the US would need to send far more troops into Iraq than were allocated (see February 25, 2003). He also warned of the possibility of ethnic rivalries erupting into violent confrontations, and of the difficulties faced by a US-led reconstruction. Shinseki was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). Obama now says of Shinseki, “He was right.” Obama adds, “We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation,” referring to World War II-era veterans. “Not just with words, but with deeds.” The announcement is made on the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Shinseki is of Japanese ancestry. Shinseki says, “Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service.” He promises to run a “21st century VA.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 12/8/2008; Democratic National Committee, 12/8/2008]
'Straight Shooter,' 'Stinging Rebuke' of Bush Policies - Responses to Shinseki’s impending appointment focus on Shinseki’s competence and the implied repudiation of Bush-era policies towards the military. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls Shinseki “a straight shooter and truth talker,” and says that his is the kind of leadership the VA needs after what he calls years of neglect of the agency by the Bush administration. [Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 12/7/2008] The Boston Globe echoes Leahy’s characterization, calling Shinseki a “truth teller,” and writes: “The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.” [Boston Globe, 12/9/2008] And the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne adds, “In naming Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama implicitly set a high standard for himself by declaring that truth-tellers and dissenters would be welcome in his administration.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (D-CA), says that Shinseki faces a daunting task: “The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans—from every conflict and each generation—must remain a high priority.” John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) believes Shinseki is up for the challenge: “We have no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed to make the VA a true steward of our nation’s veterans and their families. His selection certainly lives up to Mr. Obama’s promise to bring change and hope to Washington. VA bureaucrats, for whom ‘change’ is a dirty word, will learn that there really is a new game in town. Veterans of all political persuasions should take heart and applaud this choice.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]
'Lionized by Wounded Warriors' - Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes: “By restoring to grace a retired four-star general whose career was vaporized by… Rumsfeld for daring to tell the truth, Obama has delivered a powerful symbolic statement that his government will indeed be different from the last. Shinseki’s treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz is a classic of petty, meanspirited retribution.… By rehabilitating him… Obama has signaled he’s not interested in surrounding himself with toadies and yes-men. A president-elect determined to withdraw from Iraq has also helped himself with veterans. [Shinseki] is lionized by wounded warriors for his grit in persuading Army brass to let him stay on active duty after losing part of a foot in Vietnam.” [New York Daily News, 12/7/2008] And the New York Times writes, “It is heartening to know that [Shinseki] has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.” [New York Times, 12/9/2008]
Anonymous Criticism - One of the few sour notes is sounded by the conservative Washington Times, which quotes an anonymous “high-ranking retired officer” as saying: “How much time has he spent visiting the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] wards, the multiple-amputee wards, the burn wards? The major question I have is: Just what has he done for the past five years to show any concern for our veterans? I do not see any evidence of Shinseki being an agent for change.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Vietnam Veterans of America, Washington Times, Barack Obama, Robert Earl (“Bob”) Filner, US Department of the Army, Thomas DeFrank, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Patrick J. Leahy, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Shinseki, E. J. Dionne, John Rowan, New York Times, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Joe Sestak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Christopher Hill

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issues a press release claiming that the proposed health care reform legislation would hurt veterans’ health care. In his statement, Buyer says, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” He claims that under the legislation some veterans would be subjected to “penalty” taxes for failing to have “acceptable” health coverage. The White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy, Matt Flavin, himself a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, quickly counters with a statement contradicting Buyer’s claims: “I’m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA [Veterans Adminstration] health care, you will remain eligible. There is no impact on VA health care. So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts. There is no effect.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy rear admiral, confirms Flavin’s rebuttal, and goes further, noting that the Obama administration’s budget restores VA care for some 500,000 veterans kicked out of the system during the Bush administration. “President Obama’s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system,” he says. “Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. Now, it’s 500,000 that are denied. And President Obama’s budget in the next four years brings them all back in. Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans.” Sestak adds: “I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it’s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they’re talking about. It states it just like that.” [US House of Representatives, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Bush administration (43), House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Steve Buyer, Joe Sestak, Veterans Adminstration, Matt Flavin

Timeline Tags: US Military, US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

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