Last week, I read an extremely disturbing article concerning the inability of the VA system to cope with female soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Problems ranged from a lack of sufficient women’s bathrooms and other facilities to a shortage of psychological counseling geared towards women’s specific needs. Unbelievably, some VA physicians were reported as being skeptical as to whether women could indeed have battle wounds. While the article tugged at the heartstrings it was also incredibly frustrating; but not for the reasons that I think the author expected.
The difficulty in expressing my frustration is that I am not and do not want to sound unsympathetic or unmoved by the plight of these women. The suffering soldiers are real and our country owes them care. But taking care of these individuals doesn’t negate the fact that their situations as well as the article’s “call to action” demonstrate a mistaken mindset that has to change.
How could our legislators while decreeing that women could serve in combat zones, have ignored the corollary that we would have wounded female soldiers? How did their desire for social engineering suppress straightforward analysis of dealing with pregnancy and rape; women’s health issues and needs? How did they not weigh up the “right” of women to serve in the military and the fact that they could indeed make a valuable contribution versus the extra demands such service would entail? Surely a vote for including women in war-zones should have been tied into a vote budgeting for the consequences.
I found the article’s conclusion particularly disheartening. In a box labeled “How You Can Help” a link to a sample letter to your legislator was given, asking Congress to appropriate funds for a Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act. This act has already passed, but as a concept with no funding attached.
Years ago, the same magazine that is now raising this issue had an article about the tragic accident that left actor Christopher Reeve with severe spinal cord injury. A similar box appeared as part of that article, encouraging readers to let their congressmen know that they wanted more money spent on spinal cord injury research.
I remember thinking that any request like that needed a matching idea. “Please allocate more money for spinal cord research. I understand that it is a bad idea for the government to go further into debt or to irresponsibly print more money. I think that you should get the money for this by…What follows could be a number of suggestions from “raise my – as opposed to my neighbor’s – taxes,” to “cut funding from (fill in your choice)”. How absurd to ask for increased funding as if there are pots of gold being spun using Rapunzel’s hair.
It is time for Congress to take lessons in household management. Mothers understand that you don’t bring a pet into the house without completely thrashing out the details of taking care of the pet and paying for its upkeep. You also assume that there will be unexpected expenses. Similarly, it is ludicrous to pass a law while ignoring the funding and infrastructure needed to implement it.
Most importantly, we citizens must switch from a mindset that expects our government to do things based on whether they sound like good ideas and indeed may be good ideas. As a mother, I may have thought that my child would profit from music lessons and art lessons and computer classes and karate, etc., etc., etc. How much these programs could assist my child’s future success in life was irrelevant. We still could only spend the money we had. Choosing to do one thing meant choosing not to do something else, no matter how valuable or desired.
Funding for VA hospitals is in a different category than spinal injury research because we already have a commitment to those who serve us. But we need an entirely new way of looking at the government budget. Pruning here and there isn’t going to work. Right now the attempts at budget cutting in Congress are the equivalent of a financially stressed household saying, “Well, when Tommy goes to summer camp, we’ll send $15 less in spending money than we did last year.” Guess what? In real life, not only does he not go to summer camp, but that is only the first of the sacrifices made. It’s time for real people who are becoming increasingly aware of what serious budgeting means to send a message that we wish no less from our government, even as we work to support our men and women in uniform.