Thursday, March 10, 2005

Congressmen Speak On

Mass Media - News
Issue: 3/10/05
Congressmen Speak On
By Kristen Deoliveira

Two years ago this month, American forces descended on the nation of Iraq. Since then, thousands of U.S. soldiers have been called for duty as a result of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and Noble Eagle. In order to open dialogue about the ongoing war, The William Joiner Center hosted "Symposium: Iraq and Afghanistan, the View from the Ground" last Friday.

As its title suggests, the six-hour event sought not to focus on ideological views, but the realities of the war for both those within the veteran community and those members of the communities from which they come.

"This is part of the university's mission," said Joiner Center Director Kevin Bowen. "We're looking at the view from the ground, the view from the people in the community whose sons and daughters were sent off to this war and other wars...We're trying to find ways to make peace," he continued introducing the leaders of the veterans community that were on hand for the event.

Massachusetts Congressmen Martin Meehan, Barney Frank, and Steven Lynch began the discussion that drew experts from state, community, and campus level veterans and advocate organizations.

Meehan criticized the Bush administration budget sent to Congress last month that proposed spending billions of dollars on defense, but cut benefits to the nation's veterans.

"It's inexcusable and indefensible that we can find billions of dollars for tax cuts, but can't find the money for VA health care," said Meehan continuing that as a country the United States does not dedicate enough focus to the impact of the war.

"It's time for us to start serving veterans the way they served us," the Congressman added.

Meehan, who traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq this past January on a congressional fact-finding mission and has made several visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., stressed the importance of the work done by organizations like the Joiner Center to assess the aftermath of war.

"For every soldier whose injury you can see there are more below the surface," said Meehan, referencing the increasing number of amputees that occupy the halls of Walter Reed.

"I don't think it's enough to send them off with yellow ribbons. We need to welcome them with gratitude and support and benefits," he continued.

Meehan further cited statistics calculated by a recent New England Journal of Medicine survey that found that 94 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq had seen dead bodies, 86 percent had known someone who had been killed or seriously injured, and one in six returning soldiers suffered from depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder.

Similarly to Senator Edward Kennedy who delivered a speech concerning the war in Iraq on the UMB campus last month, Meehan suggested that the Bush administration announce an 18 month exit strategy for Iraq that would further legitimize the country's new government, increase the morale of the Iraqi people, and raise the credibility of the United States around the world.

Fourth Congressional District representative Barney Frank, echoed Meehan's call for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq.

"The time has come to leave unless we're ready to say we're there forever," said Frank.

Frank continued, submitting that while the war in Afghanistan was a "war of self-defense," he characterized U.S. involvement in Iraq as "a war of choice."

The congressman cited the dozens of other places in the world that are not democratic, and posed the pointed question, "What about Saudi Arabia, is Saudi Arabia a democracy?"

Frank contended that having unseated Saddam Hussein and helped to set up an interim government, both yielding unfulfilled predictions of optimism, both the United States and Iraq would be better served by an American exit.

If Iraq, a country of millions, is incapable of defending itself against 15,000 poorly armed rebels then maybe the United States should have never gotten involved, continued Frank.

Frank offered that the conflict in Iraq increasingly diverts funding from pressing domestic issues that are further exasperated by the Bush administration.

"In every previous war this country has had, we've raised taxes," said Frank. "Under President Bush we have had two wars and five tax cuts," he said.

Congressman Steven Lynch opened his remarks allowing that he was among those who supported American involvement in Iraq at the outset of the war.

Unlike his fellow representatives, Lynch argued that "efforts to bring stability would be undermined by a telegraphed withdrawal schedule" in the region. Lynch continued that outlining a time table for a U.S. exit would inevitably leave remaining troops as well as the Iraqi government vulnerable to insurgent attacks.

Lynch, like Meehan, focused his remarks on the increasing support needed to supplement veterans' healthcare needs. He cited the increasing number of amputees returning from war as a result of technological developments in medical treatment in the field as demonstrative of this lack of support.

"The American Defense Department is not making the resources available to address amputee prosthesis needs," he said referencing the fact that the majority of amputee needs for U.S. soldiers are met by Scandinavian companies.

Lynch offered that showing evidence of an elevated treatment of veterans could raise the likelihood of engaging new recruits. He continued that the United States must redouble its efforts and remember the value of veterans both during and after their service.

"They're treating veterans healthcare like an entitlement...which is completely wrong-headed," said Lynch. "The veterans in this country have earned that right. This is something that we owe to them," he said.

Following the remarks of the Congressmen, panel discussions including the future of veteran policy, programs, and views from returning veterans were discussed.


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