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Friday, March 15, 2013

More Sequester Pain to Compound Suffering of Soldiers, Veterans

On Wednesday, Dr. Jonathan Woodson addressed the House Armed Services Committee. Woodson is the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

He begged Congress to do something to avert the sequester cuts, saying, “We understand that the Department of Defense must do its part in regards to budget concerns, but we have a responsibility to do this smartly and judiciously. The path forward with sequestration is neither.”

What Woodson fails to grasp is that the sequester is no longerCongress’s fault. First, the House has posed several solutions to the sequester – all of which have been quashed by Harry Reid before they ever reach the Senate floor and are under threat of veto by President Obama should Reid dare to defy the Great and Powerful.

Congress also has the power to allow cabinet members to rearrange funding, pull it from one program and give it to another. In fact, Congress has been pretty much begging cabinet members to present them with just such a solution for the past several weeks if not longer. But Presidential memos warning cabinet members not to make cuts that would ease the pain of sequester for even one person have thus far been keeping the cowards-that-be in check.

So what does that all mean? It means that military healthcare facilities will face sequester cuts. Most facilities have around 40% civilian staff, most of whom are affected by 20% pay cuts and mandatory furloughs. Many facilities are older and most have equipment that is nearing the need for replacement, but because of funding cuts they will be told simply to “make do.”

Veterans benefits (to include healthcare) are exempt from sequester cuts, but not from sequester impact. If the hospitals they attend are facing reductions in staff and are unable to upgrade or even maintain necessary equipment, how can they expect to receive the same standard of care?

Add in the little tidbit that isn’t being publicized: while healthcare for veterans is technically exempt from sequester cuts, healthcare for active duty soldiers and their families is not. Which means that active duty soldiers being treated, some for injuries sustained in combat, will see a reduction in the quality of their service, could see a reduction in the services provided, and may be forced to take on some of the cost for their own treatment. They will see the same effects as veterans – hospitals with reduced staff and obsolete equipment – along with a bonus: since the veterans are “exempt” from sequester cuts, in order to maintain their standard of care they will be pushed to the front of the line. Active Duty soldiers and their families will be shuffled to the rear to wait for the leftovers.

Let me be clear: at this point, President Obama owns this sequester. He bought it and paid for it on credit, and now that the bill is coming due he’s stomping his feet and demanding that it be paid by the very people who have already sacrificed their time, their families, and in some cases their lives for him.

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