On Wednesday Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) joined a crowd of three, counting himself, to vote against a bill which would give our veterans more access to private medical care and allow the VA to build and staff more clinics to better serve the needs of veterans. The bill is virtually identical to a bill which passed unanimously in the Republican-controlled House on Tuesday and was crafted by a bipartisan team led by Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ).
Sessions defended his vote saying that it is an “entitlement” that we cannot afford. While that assessment may be technically correct, in that an entitlement is a benefit granted to a particular demographic by law and which may be enforced through the courts if necessary. But we all know what it really means when a Republican uses the word “entitlement” in the current political climate. To them it is a slur meaning that the recipient is a “leech” demanding something for nothing.
“I feel strongly we’ve got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don’t think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program now.”
No one has a better claim to an entitlement such as the care that our veterans are entitled to through the VA, they have surely earned it by putting themselves in harms way when the nation asked them to do so.
Contrary to Sessions characterization of the bill as a “blank check” what the bill does is allow them to seek treatment outside of the VA system at the expense of the VA when they face a long wait for an appointment or when they live more than 40 miles from the nearest facility. It would require an appropriations bill for about $2 billion but the bulk of that money would be to fund an additional 26 clinics to better accommodate the 8.9 million veterans the system serves.
Although Sessions seems to be speaking of this bill as if it were something brand new and just another liberal social program it is far from it. The notion that we should care for our veterans predates the official founding of the nation by 140 years, the Plymouth colony passed a law in 1636 when they went to war with the Pequot Nation under which it was the responsibility of the colony to care for wounded veterans.
While it is typical of the far right to tout their “patriotism” with bumper stickers, support the troops ribbons and American flag lapel pins, that support seldom goes any further, they do not want to pay for their medical care after they have served their purpose, just as they do not wish to participate in the wars that they are always eager to send others to wage. The unwillingness of Sessions and the other two who voted against this bill, Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Bob Corker (R-TN) is nothing more than a further confirmation of their lip service only support for the troops.