Ryan, McConnell, Trump to Our Military Vets: Screw You

"I'm the Speaker of the House and I have two words for our veterans!"

We’re only in the third week of this administration. As of Jan. 31, the President has signed 18 Executive Orders. Let that sink in: he’s been in office two full weeks and already he’s on his way toward beating President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s record-breaking total of 3,721. So much for Trump’s argument that President Obama was guilty of “overreach.” As Kellyanne Conartist would say, “alternative facts” are the backside of facts.

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Trump’s swift, uncontrolled signing hurricane makes me wonder if he thinks that just signing Executive Orders and working without legislative oversight is how his boss — President Putin — works. Except that, unlike in Mother Russia, dissent is as ingrained in the American soul as complaining about traffic, weather and subway delays. (OK, subway delays are what elite, snooty New Yorkers complain about.)

Kellyann Conway as a Toy Soldier
Kellyanne Conartist, dressed as a toy soldier, attending the inauguration. Alternative fact: Kellyanne Conartist wearing off-the-shoulder taffeta to Studio 54 in 1979.

The two massive protests in those same two weeks — the Women’s March and at airports across the nation — took our ill-informed Chief Executive-Order-Signer completely by surprise. The Women’s March had an estimated three times the people than at his sparsely attended inaugural — much to Trump’s disbelief and consternation, as we know all too well. As for those airport protests in response to a Muslim ban that his administration won’t acknowledge to be a Muslim ban, those rose up organically through his favorite communication method, Twitter.  How could Trump not have known?

At the same time, the velocity of this president moving to fulfill his campaign promises may give other, more complicated actions short shrift. Protests, after all, are click-bait and cable-ready; the image of children detained in airports is both newsworthy and headline-grabbing. But what awaits us is other, even more insidious actions.

Last December, House Speaker Paul Ryan put forth a monstrosity called the Congressional Budget Office Options for Reducing the Deficit 2017-2026. This is the budget-reducing plan that Ryan and his co-conspirator in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have wanted to issue for years. Lucky for them we have a president who doesn’t care to read books — let alone a 300-page snoozer. Success!

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The rest of us should read at least two sections under Chapter Two: Mandatory Spending Options.

First, pay careful attention to Option 11: Eliminate Concurrent Receipt of Retirement Pay and Disability Compensation for Disabled Veterans. It notes that, starting with legislation back in 2003,

…two classes of retired military personnel who receive VA disability compensation (including those who retired before the enactment of those laws) can now receive payments that make up for part or all of the VA offset, benefiting from what is often called concurrent receipt.

What is “concurrent receipt”? As a result of the US being embroiled in two wars during the past 16 years and two administrations, combat veterans who are hurt, disabled or had existing medical issues exacerbated by their tour of duty may receive both disability and retirement payments. That’s called concurrent receipt.

Ryan will change all that. From a man who has never served anyone or anything but himself and his personal ambitions, this is what happens in Option 11:

….Military retirees now drawing CRSC or CRDP would no longer receive those payments, nor would future retirees. As a result, the option would reduce federal spending by $139 billion between 2018 and 2026.

So, $139 billion is real savings, right? Well, consider that, for the current fiscal year, the federal budget is approximately $3.54 trillion — or $28.3 trillion over eight years if spending somehow stayed steady. What Ryan aims to “save” is a tiny grain of sand in the fiscal bucket (so small, even Trump’s teeny-tiny fingers couldn’t, um, grab it). We’re talking about spending on veterans — the very same veterans that Trump pledged in the campaign to do far better by than the Obama administration. Option 11 alone is but a chance for Ryan, McConnell and Trump to look veterans in the eye and utter two words:

Screw You.

Let’s move on to Option 24: Narrow Eligibility for Veterans’ Disability Compensation by Excluding Certain Disabilities Unrelated to Military Duties.

In this option, the idea that service members should retire in dignity and with financial security goes out the window. It does affirm, of course, that

…Veterans may receive disability compensation….for medical conditions or injuries that occurred or worsened during active-duty military service.

It even acknowledges “service-connected disabilities,” such as migraines, treatable hypertension and loss of limbs, and notes that the Department of Veterans Affairs additionally provides “dependency and indemnity compensation — payments to surviving spouses or children of a veteran who died from a service-related injury or disease,” which is all separate from disability compensation offered by the Department of Defense.

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But Option 24 has a cruel side, warning that “not all service-connected medical conditions and injuries are incurred or exacerbated in the performance of military duties.” It argues that there are seven medical conditions — arteriosclerotic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, and uterine fibroids — that “military service is unlikely to cause or aggravate.” So what if you have one of those and the condition worsens during or after military service? Suck it up, vets.

Option 24 does outline arguments, pro and con, against the idea. Here’s the pro:

…it would make the disability compensation system for military veterans more comparable to civilian systems. Few civilian employers offer long-term disability benefits, and among those that do, benefits do not typically compensate individuals for all medical problems that developed during employment.

Here’s the con:

…military service is not like a civilian job; instead, it confers unique benefits to society and imposes extraordinary risks on service members. By that logic, the pay and benefits that service members receive should reflect the hardships of military life, including compensating veterans who become disabled in any way during their military service.

Ryan clearly doesn’t understand that while I work for a civilian employer, my employer doesn’t expect me to go to a war zone for six months or a year to fight ISIS and al-Qaeda. My biggest fear is getting caught in a broken elevator or receiving a paper cut when I grab a document from the copier too fast. You can’t compare working in cubicles to riding Humvees amid bomb-throwing religious fanatics eager to slice your head off. But if you’re pro-business like Ryan is, you’re pro-business all the way:

Few civilian employers offer long-term disability benefits, and among those that do, benefits do not typically compensate individuals for all medical problems that developed during employment.

This is personal. My brother is a combat veteran and the person who brought all this to my attention. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He served in the military for almost his whole life and is now a retired Colonel in the US Army Reserves. He’s less worried about the financial impact of this plan on him than he is with the rank-and-file soldiers who served with and under him. These are men and women who faced incredible odds simply to make it back home. Right now, they can depend on the US government to have their back, to compensate them with concurrent receipt, to avoid slashing benefits by looking to blame pre-existing conditions. Whereas now the US government has their back, Ryan, McConnell and Trump will stab them in the back.

From the Independence Journal Review: A View of Military enlistment by state.
A view, by state, of military enlistment, circa 2014. Source: Independence Journal Review.

It’s the old Republican playbook: squeeze everything out of the lower and middle classes in order to pay for a looming corporate tax cut.

My brother also brought to my attention that the same savings could likely be achieved if the US cut the F35 Fighter Jet or simply didn’t purchase another nuclear submarine. So I looked into that.

According to FI-Aeroweb, the total cost of the F35 now stands at $379 billion; over the next 50 years, it could “exceed $1 trillion.” How about we eliminate a few of those? As a civilian, I’m clearly not one to speak more specifically about the fine points of cutting military spending, so I defer to my brother, but the math seems obvious.

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And my brother knows better than most of us that there’s nothing more important to our safety than the state of our armed forces. We ask them to go to the worst places, to do the most dangerous jobs, to risk lives, limbs and minds to be sure that all 320 million of us are safe and secure. We know that Trump’s many supporters are either active military or veterans or have family members in the military. We know most soldiers come from the red states that carried him to the White House. We also know what they probably don’t know — that there’s a plan to gut their income.

Maybe not all Trump supporters voted from pure emotion and hatred of Hillary Clinton, but I suspect most didn’t really care — they just like a loud mouth. What a rude awakening they’re in for if and when Ryan’s budget gets through.

I will end with a paragraph from a letter my brother is sending out to his fighter buddies. He is urging them to send it to their elected representatives and to the media:

…I would suggest cutting the F35 program or not buying another nuclear submarine for a while. There are many other ways to save money directly within the DOD Budget without placing an undue burden to those who have kept the United States safe. Options 11 & 24 shame our veterans and makes a mockery of those who served and sacrificed, especially from elected politicians who like to insincerely mouth the banal and timeworn “We thank you for your service”. As veteran, I ask you to look for better ways to balance the budget than by cutting CRSC and CDRP benefits from the VA’s Budget. I expect you to work with your colleagues across the aisle to honor our veterans and ensure they are able to live their lives with dignity and respect. I understand budget cuts must be made, however, hurting the men and women who have sacrificed the most is not only un-American it is a good way for you to lose your seat. Don’t just tell us you are grateful for our service, show us.