We’ve just celebrated another Veteran’s Day, and it was a very special one – the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour. World leaders gathered to remember those who served in the war to end all wars, as is fitting and proper.
On this special Vet’s Day, I could not help but recall Corporal Frank Buckles, who was the last surviving American military veteran of that great war. I cannot help but ache for him, whom we lost in 2011 at the age of 110, knowing he was the last member of that earlier greatest generation. And so, I also cannot help but wonder who will become the last surviving American military veteran of World War II. That man or woman, likely in their 80s or 90s, will one day become the last icon of those horrific years of suffering and sacrifice. On the one hundredth anniversary, in 2045, of the end of that war, no doubt world leaders will again gather and remember that greatest generation, likely all gone by then. We’ll follow the same path for all our wars, with the final Korean War vet, Viet Nam Vet, and Gulf War/Afghanistan vet, in the decades to come.
As a nation, we are usually quite good, finally, at thanking and respecting veterans. I’m often thanked for my service, which is always a tad awkward for me, given the greater sacrifice of so many more, but I accept the kind words, knowing that the person saying them is not really thanking me personally, but rather the entirety of those who served. As I say, we are good at thanking them. We are, unfortunately, not quite as good at keeping our word to them.
If you dig into the news, past the stories about the election, the recounts, the new Blue Wave or why it isn’t really a Blue Wave, you may find a small story somewhere about a problem with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the administration of the GI Bill. It seems that in 2017 President Trump signed the Forever GI Bill that significantly expanded many benefits for vets but did not include any funding for enhancing the VA’s technical ability (computers, staffers, etc.) to deal with the new rush of applicants for benefits. Therefore, today in 2018, more than 80,000 veterans are awaiting monies owed to them for housing and other benefits.
This is a very real and very important crisis for vets in Colorado and across the nation. Back when I was working for Senator Bennet, I often worked on cases for vets whose payments were missing or incorrect. But then it was a case here and a case there, often due to some error made by the VA in something as basic as data entry. But this current problem, impacting tens of thousands of vets, is systemic and deeply troubling. Vets are losing their homes, having to drop out of school, and more, due to the VA’s inability to get them the money they were promised.
I wish I could say I’m surprised by the sound of crickets in the White House and the GOP about this problem. I can’t help but think that if Mr. Obama was still in office, and 80,000 vets were getting the runaround, that congressional leaders would be yelping on high, filled with righteous indignation. But now, with the GOP in charge of all three branches of government, nothing.
In addition to the more than 80,000 already promised benefits, as of the end of August, the VA has roughly 240,000 claims pending, up 100,000 from when the bill was signed. The one VA staffer, a deputy undersecretary charged with overseeing the program, warned of IT dangers, before retiring. The Trump administration promptly cut his position and his entire office, previously responsible for economic opportunity development for vets.
After the heartbreak experienced by far too many vets returning from Vietnam, we as a nation have become much better at thanking vets and treating them with respect. The president has often said how he is the best friend vets ever had in the White House. But the actions of his administration paint a very different picture. He’s fond of saying “promises made, promises kept.” But those are empty words to the Colorado vets now forced from school and from their homes. I’m waiting for the GOP to make this issue as important as they would have in a previous administration, but I’m not holding my breath.