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Who Is Really Supporting the Troops?

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Message Randolph Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - The recent votes in Congress on a non-binding resolution regarding President Bush's deployment of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq may be symbolic, but not for the reason you think.

Yes, the resolution that the House passed and the Senate refused to vote upon has no teeth. It amounted to no more than a no-confidence vote on the way the Bush administration has conducted the war.

But now, the Democrats have nearly all the Republicans in Congress on record as saying they support the present course, even though a majority of the American people do not.

The American people have had enough of the lies and the false optimism. They've have had enough of the "six more months, and things will turn around" nonsense we keep hearing from the supporters of this war. They are sick of the human and economic drain that this war has had on our nation. Most of all, they are sick of not having a say in this war.

Yet all but 17 Republicans in the House voted against the resolution against escalating the war. In the Senate, only seven Republicans and one independent - Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who broke his observance of the Sabbath to cast a vote - supported ending a filibuster to allow a vote on the House measure. Even worse, nine Republicans - including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. - skipped the vote.

The symbolism that now on display for everyone to see is that the Republican Party in Congress supports the status quo in Iraq.

The GOP supports seeing more of our young men and women die to continue an occupation of a country whose citizens want us to leave as soon as possible. They support having our troops caught in the crossfire of a civil war. They support sending more troops to Iraq, even though many of the reinforcements have not been fully trained or equipped to fight. They support the Bush administration's many failures in Iraq and will stand behind the president even as more failures occur.

Do Republicans really support the troops? The heartbreaking stories that appeared this week in The Washington Post and the Army Times would make one question their devotion to the morale and welfare of those who paid a high price for President Bush's war.

Both publications told stories of badly wounded men and women who had their lives saved on the battlefield, only to be trapped in what the Post called "a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas."

Walter Reed Army Medical Center has become "a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients," the Post reported. Some have languishing in crumbling, squalid buildings infested with mice and cockroaches for months, and in some cases, years, for the military to process their paperwork and determine disability ratings and future treatment for their injuries.

The Army Times reported that the military has gotten as good as civilian insurers in the area of what's become known as "denial management," or making sure clients don't get the benefits their entitled too.

A 30 percent or higher disability rating entitles a wounded soldier to a lifetime pension and medical benefits. Less than that, and you receive a lump sum payment and no medical help.

Even though there have been thousands of badly maimed soldiers from more than six years of war, the Army is handing out fewer permanent disability benefits than ever. The Army Times reported that in 2001, 10 percent of the soldiers going through the medical retirement process received permanent disability benefits. By 2005, only 3 percent got benefits. And, as of last year, the Veterans Administration has a 400,000-case backlog on new medical claims.

So much for supporting our troops.

Any Republican running for re-election in 2008 should be continually reminded of the gulf between their words and actions regarding the Iraq war and the intolerable treatment of the men and women maimed fighting it.

If the 2006 election wasn't enough of a wake-up call for the Republican Party, the GOP has positioned itself to electoral oblivion in 2008. If the Republicans still want to stand shoulder to shoulder behind a failed president and his failed war, they will pay a steep price at the polls in 2008.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.
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