On Friday, November 11, Americans will observe Veteran's Day. This is a day set aside to honor our war veterans. I cannot think of a more worthy purpose for a holiday.
Now let me guess: this Veteran's Day, George W. Bush will strut his way into a specially choreographed photo opportunity and smirk and say some carefully crafted yet predictable and hollow-sounding words about how the American people appreciate the sacrifices that our veterans have made in the noble quest to defend freedom and democracy.
And he will be right. We the people do appreciate the sacrifices that our veterans have made.
After all, our brave veterans made those sacrifices while Dubya's congressman dad pulled enough strings to get his boy out of harm's way and into the elite Texas Air National Guard to avoid Vietnam.
Our brave veterans made those sacrifices while Dick Cheney arranged for five separate deferrals because he had "other priorities."
Our brave veterans made those sacrifices while Congressman Tom DeLay managed to draw a high draft number and then orchestrate some convenient deferrals, while stating that he really wanted to serve, but that all the slots were taken by blacks and Hispanics.
Our brave veterans made those sacrifices while House Speaker Dennis Hastert avoided duty due to bad knees - the same knees that didn't stop his college wrestling career.
And so on.
Okay, so these guys don't have what it takes to earn the title of veteran. But they do seem to have what it takes to be hypocrites and punish those veterans who actually had the nerve to serve, while at the same time praising them for their selfless sacrifices.
Yes, these self-proclaimed "compassionate conservatives" are punishing our veterans.
Earlier this year, Republican leaders in Congress blocked $2 billion in emergency funding for veterans' health care from the $82 billion supplemental funding bill. They felt that the money would be better spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we're producing more and more injured soldiers for whom we cannot afford adequate medical care.
Then the Bush administration requested a mere 2.7 percent increase in Veterans Affairs (VA) spending, even though the VA's under-secretary testified last year that the VA health care system needs a 13 to 14 percent increase annually to maintain their current level of services.
Thousands of veterans of the first Gulf War are suffering the effects of exposure to depleted uranium, or have died from that exposure, yet the U.S. government denies the effects and continues to ship depleted uranium munitions for use in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Some wounded U.S. soldiers have returned home from the current war in Iraq only to learn that they are being referred to credit agencies who want the soldiers to pay for equipment they lost when they were injured; or for charges for military housing.
And about one-fourth of all homeless Americans are veterans. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Two percent of them are female. Most of these cases are attributed to lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
This is how our government treats those who have so bravely fought for their country. It's no wonder that the military recruiters are finding it so difficult to meet their quotas, even in the "red states."
The Bush administration would be wise to consider the words of George Washington, our first Commander-in-Chief, who said: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."
Happy Veteran's Day.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.