Speaking off the cuff is something everyone in the Teleprompter Administration really ought to avoid. Earlier, we had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggesting (correctly, actually) that the national debt that’s gone out of control under Obama is a threat to our national security. She was right, but that’s surely not the party line. What Veterans Affairs assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs Tammy Duckworth said while campaigning for Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois today may have been closer to the party line, but it was farther from the truth. Duckworth, a combat injured Iraq veteran herself who unsuccessfully ran for office before being appointed to her high Veterans Affairs post by President Obama, told a fellow disabled vet that in the VA health care system, she’s more equal than he is.
One of the veterans at the session, Jason Wheeler, 39, of Champaign, was injured eight years ago in training at Fort Polk, La. In a wheelchair, he still suffers from a nerve condition that makes it feels as if his hands and legs “are on fire,” he said.
“There’s not the same help for the guys who were injured stateside,” Wheeler said.
“This unfortunately is the result of dollars. It’s money,” Duckworth said. “I think that we as a nation would want to take care of all of our veterans. But it means that we’re going to have be willing to get the folks in Washington to spend the dollars on all of our veterans. And as long as there aren’t enough dollars, then they are force to prioritize veterans.
“And combat-connected, disabled veterans are the highest priority. That is why when you and I go to the VA they will take care of me first because I am combat-connected,” noted Duckworth, who lost both of her legs when the helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq in 2004 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“The difference is how did you get hurt. Unfortunately that’s just the way that … it’s a bureaucracy that was put into place in previous administrations in order to prioritize veterans because they didn’t spend enough to take care of everyone,” Duckworth told Wheeler.
This is Grade-A Bravo Sierra, and it shouldn’t come from anyone with any actual knowledge of how the VA works. Assistant Secretary Duckworth has such knowledge, but here she is actually engaging in a sort of passive-aggressive, rank partisan “Blame Bush” attack, with the whole “previous administrations…didn’t spend enough to take care of everyone” line.
How do I know? Because I called up the VA’s public affairs group in Washington and asked them about it. According to the VA, combat-injured veterans do get a higher priority rating for care, but that rating only impacts whether a veteran has to pay any co-pays or not. That rating has no bearing whatsoever on how long it will take to be seen by a doctor, and has no bearing at all on the level of care a veteran may receive. So Duckworth took one very small grain of truth — the fact that a combat injury yields a higher priority rating — and turned that into a cold statement to an injured veteran that he can’t get the same level of care as she can because her injuries resulted from combat. The fact is, as more than one VA employee has told me, once you’re enrolled in the system, everyone in the system is entitled to care on the same terms.
That’s good news for Mr. Wheeler, the veteran whom Duckworth coldly misinformed.