Dr. No’s disregard for wounded vets

DR. NO’S DISREGARD FOR WOUNDED VETS…. A Senate measure to help wounded veterans is on the verge of passing, and that’s clearly a positive development. There’s just one problem.

The urgently needed legislation consolidates more than a dozen improvements in veterans’ health care — most notably a new assistance program for family members who wind up providing lifelong home nursing to severely disabled veterans. These vital caregivers — who sacrifice careers and put huge strains on their own mental health — assume an obligation “that ultimately belongs to the government,” Senator Daniel Akaka, the bill’s chief sponsor, properly notes.

The measure also expands benefits for women veterans who suffered sexual trauma on duty, extends veterans’ care in rural areas, tightens quality control at V.A. hospitals, and ensures that catastrophically disabled veterans will not be charged for emergency services in community hospitals.

Sounds great, right? Senators seemed to think so — it sailed through committee with unanimous support. But it’s currently stuck, because right-wing Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma refuses to let it advance. As he sees it, the five-year, $3.7 billion price tag for the veterans’ program is too high a price unless is offset by budget cuts elsewhere.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted the strange standards Coburn applies to these spending bill — Coburn doesn’t care about paying for the war itself, but he balks when it comes to caring for the vets when they come home. “Where was he when we were spending a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq?” Reid asked. “That wasn’t paid for. I didn’t hear him stopping the bill from going forward at that time. I think he should become more logical and understand we have people who are suffering.”

Or as the NYT editorial put it this morning, “Sheer embarrassment should drive the senator into retreat as he trifles with veterans’ needs and burnishes his petty role as Dr. No.”

I’m also reminded of something House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said just a year ago, “[T]here is a clear distinction between saying you support the troops and backing up those claims with genuine action.”

A variety of veterans’ groups have organized an effort to urge Coburn to let the Senate vote on the benefits bill. VoteVets.org has posted an online petition on the effort.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.