ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Martin Schram: Veterans become political pawns

From the commentary: And so it goes in this city. Today, many thousands of military veterans who are suffering from the same exposure that killed Bill Florey are coping with their latest reality: While it is nice when Republicans sincerely thank them for their service, “obviously it doesn’t help” them as they struggle to pay their medical bills and survive.

Jon Stewart speaks to the press before a news conference about the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act on Capitol Hill on Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Jon Stewart speaks to the press before a news conference about the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act on Capitol Hill on Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)
We are part of The Trust Project.

It was four in the afternoon on March 10, 1991, when the first planned explosion of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons went off at the U.S. weapons depot in Khamisiyah, Iraq, and the first gray-white smoke cloud that would come to be called The Plume wafted skyward and drifted over the troops. There would be many blasts that day.

WCT.OP.Commentary.jpg
More Commentary:
From the commentary: In striking down Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court embraced extremism. American voters are likely to recoil from it. ... And that's bad news for the one party that has, as of late, on one issue after another, made extremism part of its brand: the GOP.
From the commentary:
From the commentary: So don’t assume that this raid means the federal government will prosecute Trump. The odds still remain low of any such criminal prosecution. ... The risks associated with Trump’s reaction are still very great. A prosecution could backfire in numerous ways ...
From the commentary: The public school system, increasingly dominated by left-wing political and social ideology, has long been in need of reform, or burial. The trend seems to be headed in the burial direction, like previous aging monopolies.

Bill Florey, a young and proud-to-serve E4 Specialist, had just parked his truck after a day’s work.

Francesca Yabraian, who would become his friend and would fight the losing battle to save his life (at a time when it seemed horribly clear the Department of Veterans Affairs wasn’t), was just a student half-a-world away. She was in Dallas on that day.

Pat Toomey was also half-a-world away on March 10, 1991. Pennsylvania’s future Republican senator was all into the rich expectations of his first career (in international currency swap transactions and derivatives) when his hopes were shaken. Deutsche Bank acquired the London-based investment bank where he worked, and he didn’t know what to expect. So, he returned to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and began a career rich with a different sort of expectations: politics.

What Toomey couldn’t know back then was that, in the summer of 2022, he’d be in a position to shake up the hopes and expectations of thousands who also served in Iraq with the same pride Bill Florey felt on that 1991 day.

ADVERTISEMENT

Florey was Yabraian’s friend and work colleague when she became concerned about the bump near his right temple that seemed to be growing. His VA doctor said it was just an infection and injected penicillin. It kept growing. So she went to the VA with him and told the VA doctor Florey had to get an MRI that day or they’d have to drag her out! Florey got his MRI. It showed a tumor had penetrated into his brain.

Next it became a problem Washington actually should have solved. The VA denied Florey benefits for a service-related injury, claiming it was “less likely than not” that his cancer was caused by The Plume from Saddam’s chemical weapons. Then Yabraian contacted me about her friend’s plight. It turned out a VA study showed it was actually TWICE as likely as not that Florey’s cancer came from exposure to Saddam’s exploded chemical warheads.

Bill Florey died on New Year’s Day, 2005, before the VA could grant him the benefits he’d earned. And the VA’s bureaucratic rules were that when military personnel die, their unpaid claim for compensation owed dies with them. His tragic story became the beginning of my 2008 book, “Vets Under Siege: How America Deceives and Dishonors Those Who Fight Our Battles,” published by Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press.

Sadly, “Vets Under Siege” told many similar tragic tales. But it also proposed solutions; and other investigations and hearings produced many more. One was the Vietnam War-era reform in which the VA began assuming all who served in Vietnam are now presumed to have been exposed to the dangerous defoliation chemical Agent Orange. Vietnam War veterans no longer have to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange to get benefits for illnesses the chemical is known to cause.

And this summer, a new veterans reform bill was being approved with overwhelming bipartisan Senate and House support that assumed that all who were in Iraq — and who suffered cancers or other illnesses known to be caused by Iraq’s chemical weapons — would be presumed to have been exposed to plumes from what the military now calls its “burn pits.”

But suddenly on Wednesday 25 Republican senators reversed their earlier “yes” votes and blocked final passage of that veterans' care reform bill — just weeks after they’d joined Democrats in approving the bill with 84 votes.

Now Sen. Pat Toomey enters our story. In June, Toomey had objected to an accounting procedure for $400 billion that was in the original bill the Senate had passed and sent to the House. On Wednesday, Toomey resurfaced his objection as a reason to block the bill Republicans had already decisively supported. This time, only 55 senators voted yes; but 60 are needed to prevent a filibuster.

Why did Republicans suddenly switch from yes to no? Democrats charged that for Republicans it was just political spite. Democrats gave President Joe Biden a major victory on a spending bill compromise this week, and they say Republicans didn’t want to give Biden a win on veterans’ care reform too. Toomey, of course, quickly denied that.

ADVERTISEMENT

More Opinion:
From the commentary: Speaking for myself, here's a recent use of the term I found merited, accurate and admirable. ... Cassidy Hutchinson, testifying in front of a packed hearing room and 13 million television viewers, spoke with uncommon composure as she described seeing the U.S. Capitol "defaced over a lie" and overrun on Jan. 6, 2021. "It was un-American," she said. Yes it was. Good for her for saying so.
From the commentary: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is already taking that risk, but the bigger one may be a miscalculation of the Republican primary electorate and what it may look like in two years. The bad news for DeSantis: It might well look like Kansas. The bad weather could spread for Republicans as their fondest wish — the overruling of Roe v. Wade — turns into an electoral disaster.
From the commentary: And so, in local and national elections in the coming months, to say nothing of the presidential election in 2024, that small slice of the electorate that actually considers both sides before casting their votes will be charged with determining whether a group of men and women who would undermine the foundation on which American democracy is built will be allowed to once again attempt to do so. We can only hope they make the right choice.
From the commentary:
From the commentary: If that’s the case, then we can think of the complex system of multiple points where policy ideas can be initiated or vetoed as a mechanism to force those who choose to advocate for something such as a veterans health bill into having to learn the system, bargain with others with equally legitimate private interests and work out compromises. That is, it’s a system that tries to teach the advantages of a life of public participation.
From the commentary: What is significant about the Kansas vote is that a very red state turned out to reject the kind of ban that Idaho and half the other states are likely to adopt. Or, perhaps, not so likely, knowing that voters may reject such bans and the Justice Department is ready to challenge them. If people start thinking about abortion in more realistic terms, as a necessary medical procedure and, in many cases, a life-saving one, the results change, as they did on Tuesday. And perhaps on more Tuesdays to come.
From the commentary: Immigration rights advocates are furious that Biden has weaseled out of the pro-immigration stance he adopted to get elected.
From the commentary: The measure still has some legislative hurdles to jump over before it becomes a reality. But for the evenly divided Senate controlled by Democrats, Manchin could have been the biggest hurdle.
From the commentary: Democrats appear to be in a panic three months before the congressional elections, so they are trying to pretend they are finally "getting things done" before their vacations, other time off and what could be for them judgment day.
From the commentary: And it’s the presence of Manchin that makes all this possible. His presence in the caucus ought to be celebrated rather than tolerated, and recruitment efforts in tough races should deliberately focus on building a team of Manchinist candidates who put clear distance between themselves and mainstream Democrats while also adhering to some progressive positions.

But Thursday, The Washington Post reported that the Senate’s No.2 Republican leader, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, said this veterans’ bill vote was “separate” from the overall spending deal, but conceded, about the spending compromise, “obviously it doesn’t help.”

And so it goes in this city. Today, many thousands of military veterans who are suffering from the same exposure that killed Bill Florey are coping with their latest reality: While it is nice when Republicans sincerely thank them for their service, “obviously it doesn’t help” them as they struggle to pay their medical bills and survive.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com .

©2022 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

______________________________________________________

This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: COMMENTARY
What to read next
Ditterich Mercantile recently opened to fill a need for a grocery store in Vergas, Minnesota. It's an example of community innovation and passion.
A summer trip offered a much greater appreciation of the vastness of God’s creation on earth, while also putting things into perspective.
"An 80 mph wind ripped through our farmstead near Larimore, North Dakota, toppling trees, some of which landed in inopportune places."
From the commentary: Democrats haven't given up on America. Republicans don't want people to be miserable or dead. Most Americans, whatever their politics, have universal goals, mostly concerning peace and prosperity, and only differ on the paths we ought to take to get there. All we have to do, to make things better in America, is stop listening to the people who say otherwise.