Sunday, September 26, 2010

No friend to veterans

Last week, certain US senators attacked Vietnam veterans. How did we get there?

Some background. From the VA:

Agent Orange is the name given to a specific blend of herbicides used in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971 during the Vietnam conflict. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides to remove leaves from trees that provided cover for enemy forces. Some Vietnam Veterans were exposed to these herbicides.

As is the VA's right (under the Agent Orange Act of 1991), Secretary Eric Shinseki expanded the conditions in Vietnam era veterans which can be associated with Agent Orange: Parkinson's disease, leukemia and heart disease. Shinseki didn't just wake up one day and, on a whim, make a decision. The decision was based on medical science.

Senator Richard Burr didn't get that. He never really did. But he's a Republican so we weren't all that surprised when he put money concerns (cost of payouts) over the government's obligation to pay for the costs of war. But then the crazy came over to our side of the aisle via two senators, Jon Tester and, especially, Jim Webb.

Thursday the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing [see C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" and "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Senator Roland Burris (Ava)," Wally's "Senate Veterans Affairs hearing (Wally)" and Kat's "Jim Webb: The new Bob Dole"]. And what really stood out was just what an ass James Webb can be.

He just doesn't see the relationship between Agent Orange and any of those conditions and, besides, if people live long enough, they still end up dying of something, right?

And though Shinseki testified 19 million gallons of Agent Orange were dropped on Vietnam, Webb wanted to disagree on that as well.

Jim Webb

Webb is neither a scientist nor a doctor and, judging by the hearing, unable to understand the work done by either. Michael Leon (Veterans Today) reports:

This morning, while posturing as the earnest student of empirical investigation, Webb prefaced his hostile line of questioning of witness Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki saying Webb is concerned about protecting the “credibility of our [VA] programs.”

I was hoping Shinseki would pull out a can of aerosol composed of dioxin [tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD)] and offer to spray it around the Committee room and see if anyone of the august senators had a presumptive problem with it.

That would have been something. Instead, we got Webb and Tester trying to appear concerned about something other than money. They never managed to pull that off.

What a charmer Webb is. The reality of that was possibly best captured by an anecdote Webb's third wife, Hong Le Webb, shared with The Washington Post: "He says that if [U.S. troops] hadn't rescued me, I'd be snaggletoothed and selling pencils on the streets of Saigon." Is it really any surprise that he's up to marriage three? Anyone want to take bets on whether there will be a marriage number four? Five?

Before he could ever get to marriage number six, he'll have done untold damage to veterans and this assault on Vietnam Veterans will just be the first step unless he gets the point quickly that this is unacceptable. Joe "Ragman" Tarnovsky (Veterans Today) issued a call, "I urge all Veterans and their supporters to contact Senator Richard Burr, Senator Jim Webb and all the other politicians that want to balance the budget on the backs of Veterans." If you don't answer the call?
"Today," declared US Senator Daniel Akaka this morning, "much of our focus will be on Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange. However, it is important to note that the same process is already in place with respect to presumptions related to the first Gulf War. And, as many know, we are just beginning to hear about the consequences of exposures to potential toxins in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and exposures at miitary installations -- such as Camp Lejeune and the Astugi Naval Air Facility."
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