Thursday, August 9, 2007

Chutzpah toward Veterans

Once again I face the question of whether it is too early in the week to commit to the Chutzpah of the Week award. However, on the basis of a report filed on the ABC News Blotter site by Alexandra Bahou and Anna Schecter Report, I would say that we have a very strong candidate in Keith Wilson. For those unfamiliar with the name, this is the guy who oversees the education benefits program at the Veterans Administration; and it would appear that he cares about as much for the education of veterans returning from Iraq has his "ultimate boss" (otherwise known as The President of the United States of America) cares about health coverage for poor children. Since the latter earned George W. Bush his second chutzpah award, it seems fitting that Wilson now receive one. Here is the basic story as reported by Bahou and Schecter:

Senate Democrats, led by Virginia's Jim Webb, want the government to pay every penny of veterans' educational costs, from tuition at a public university to books, housing and a monthly stipend.

Such a benefit was a major feature of the historic 1944 G.I. Bill, which put more than eight million U.S. soldiers through college and is now credited by historians as fueling the expansion of America's middle class in the post-war era.

But in recent years the benefit has dwindled; under the current law, passed in 1985, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan can expect Uncle Sam to cover only 75 percent of their tuition costs. That's not enough, say Democrats and veterans' advocates.

More than 450,000 used the benefit last year, at a cost to taxpayers of $2 billion, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which administers the program. The Democratic proposal would cost an additional $5.4 billion a year, the VA estimates -- and that's too much, it says.

Wilson, in turn, responded with the usual jargon of the mindless bureaucrat:

Keith Wilson, the VA official who oversees the education benefits program, told senators last Friday the proposal would make "administration of this program cumbersome," and its costs would "tax existing VA resources."

If we unpack these reasons, then we should, by all rights, ask whether or not the administration of the education benefits program is any more "cumbersome" then the current administration of our troops in Iraq and whether or not the budget for returning veterans should be consistent with the budget for members of the armed forces on active duty. Unfortunately, since we know a thing or two about that latter budget, particularly with how well armed and protected those armed forces actually are, the second half of the "unpacking" may tell us more about why things are just as much of a mess for the veterans. Nevertheless, this is such a blatant case of adding insult to injury (without even using those words metaphorically) that it deserves the Chutzpah of the Week award, even if the week has not yet finished!

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