I am the national president of Veterans For Peace, an organization made up of men and women veterans of all eras dedicated to the cause of world peace and social justice. I am also a coordinator with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and a co-founder of the Jersey City Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee.
I am a member of the Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, 25th Infantry Division Association, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Back in 1967, I was sent to Vietnam where I served with the 25th Infantry Division and was wounded three times. I suffer permanent disabilities from gunshot wounds and post-traumatic stress and hold a Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star with V [for valor] device, Combat Infantryman Badge, New York State Conspicuous Service Cross and other medals.
I use the Manhattan VA Hospital when I need medical care.
I am dismayed and angry about reports that the Manhattan VA is closing many units. Moving these departments and services to Brooklyn and the Bronx will cause undue hardships and obstacles to many, especially disabled and elderly veterans.
Several months ago, I spoke to my primary care doctor about pain I was having in my right heel when I walked. I was told that it was a bone spur and advised to use a shoe pad. The doctor also recommended that I be examined by the podiatry clinic
When I went upstairs to schedule an appointment, I was told that podiatry had moved to the Brooklyn VA and it would be several months before I could get an appointment. I got the pad for my shoe but never went to Brooklyn. Instead of an examination, it was turning into an expedition.
This may be the first step in the eventual closing of the Manhattan VA Hospital. How long do you think that building will remain a Veterans Hospital when much of it becomes empty and unused?
Yesterday I was at the Manhattan VA and talked with my assigned doctor. She told me that if inpatient programs go, she will have to find work elsewhere. Her duties include teaching NYU medical students working with hospitalized HIV-positive vets, and without those beds and patients a major part of her job function will vanish.
She said that my advocating for veterans was also speaking on behalf of those hard working, dedicated doctors, nurses and other health care workers who care for us and whose jobs and livelihoods are threatened by these cuts.
The VA healthcare system has been in a crisis nationwide for the last decade. Federal budgets have never provided the funds and staffing necessary for first class medical care. The budget for next year is $2 billion less than a “compromise” agreed to by the House and Senate. Waits for doctors appointments are sometimes six months or more. Legitimate disability claims are pending for years.
The current administration has no problem asking for $87 billion more to wage war and create a new generation of veterans. What kind of treatment will the government give them when they come home, and what about those who served in the past?
Today we are involved in a continuing military conflict in Iraq. Veterans For Peace questions the wisdom and the necessity for this military adventure and believes our troops should be brought home now.
We also insist that the men and women serving in uniform receive the medical care and assistance they need. In Iraq, many GIs have suffered severe wounds; in fact the numbers are so great that the current administration has tried to misrepresent and hide these casualties from public consciousness.
Many soldiers will come back suffering from the emotional wounds of war trauma. We can expect many others to come back sick from the use of depleted uranium munitions and other deadly military toxins found on today’s battlefields.
It is the grossest hypocrisy to wave yellow ribbons and say you “support the troops,” then cynically cut the very hospitals that the wounded and disabled will need. It is shameful and it is unacceptable.
Veterans For Peace has participated in many of the antiwar demonstrations throughout the United States and we often call cadence when we march. One of them says, “If they tell you to go, there is something you should know, they wave the flag when you attack, when you come home they turn their back.”
That is what is happening today – too many politicians and bureaucrats are again turning their backs. They did it to the atomic vets after World War II. They did it to Vietnam veterans sick from Agent Orange/dioxin. They did it to veterans of the 1991 war with Gulf War Syndrome.
Will they be able to do it again?
I hope and pray that together we will not allow this to happen and will insist that America’s veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
I hope our united efforts will stop this travesty of justice.
David Cline is president of Veterans for Peace, www.vfp.org. These are excerpts from his testimony at a Sept. 16 New York City Council hearing on the threatened closing of the Manhattan VA Hospital.