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Cutbacks Planned: Vets Fight V.A.
In the face of the current economic crisis in the country, vets from New York to California are fighting back against the government's inability to deal with their vital needs. Even as President Ford was vetoing the current GI Bill increases, vets were taking direct action to protest the inhuman treatment forced upon them by the Vietnam Administration. In Los Angeles, one vet found it necessary to hold three hostages at gunpoint so he could get to talk to a VA doctor. In Chicago another bet barricaded himself in a VA office, broke windows and set fire because the VA would not find a doctor to talk to him.
On November 18th, approximately 300 angry veterans went to Washington DC to demand that Ford sign the GI Bill. These veterans marched down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue without permits, towards the White House despite attempts by the weak-kneed organizers and police to keep them on the sidewalks. Demonstrations have occurred in city after city by VVAW/WSO chapters in organizing veterans and non-veterans into the fight for decent benefits for all veterans and for a single-type discharge.
VETS GET CRUMBS FROM GI BILL
Last month Congress passed a new GI Bill that would increase payment for full time institutional training for vets. The increases would include raises in the monthly payments from $220 to $270 for single veterans, $261 to $321 for veterans with one dependent, $298 to $336 for two dependents and an additional $22 for each other dependent. The Bill also would allow vets to borrow $600 per year for school tuitions, while at the same time extending school payments from 36 to 45 months.
President Ford, showing utter contempt for all veterans, vetoed the Bill saying that it was inflationary. Congress overrode the veto and the bill became law. But while Congress will fall over themselves saying they are the friends of veterans, the bill, which increases the payments by 22.7%, is totally out of line with the Bills passed after World War II. The president GI Bill would have to be increased by 300% to match post WWII payments. And even as this bill was passed, another bill was in committee which would, for the first time, put a tax on the payments given to disabled veterans of all wars!
Not even the recently passed bill increasing pension payments for veterans is adequate given the crisis in the economy. Although the increase would be by 12%, that is also the rate of annual inflation, which means that next year vet pensions will be falling behind again. It won't even give vets on pensions time to breathe before it again begins to bite into their pockets.
THEY SAY CUTBACK...
While the situation facing veterans is bad enough, the government is cutting back on payments to others as well. Recently Ford proposed cutbacks in payments to the elderly; unemployment compensation is being cut back; there are buts in food stamp payments and other services. As the crisis of imperialism deepens, these cutbacks will fall on the heads of the working people.
Some of these cutbacks are being directed towards the VA facilities. While the patient-to-staff ratio is one to the lowest in the country in VA hospitals the VA plans to begin layoffs to part-time personnel beginning on January 1st. Already it is known that the Woods VAW Hospital in Milwaukee will be letting go 13 part-time workers. These payoffs, coupled with the policy of not hiring people for vacated positions in the hospital will cause an already disastrous situation to become even worse. These cutbacks are seriously threatening the safety of the VA patients. At the Woods Hospital, for instance, the hydro-treatment facility has been reduced from about 5 workers to one. Several nurses and therapists' assistants were laid off leaving two full-time therapists. When one had a stroke, it left the facility with only one therapist who must take care of 43 patients a day. In many instances these patients must remain in the whirlpool baths unattended as this one worker is also responsible for taking the patients to the elevators. In the event that something happened during his absence, it could result in the death of a patient. And the administration at Woods won't hire anyone to help the therapist and the patients, because to do so would put the hospital in 'red', according to the VA Administrator.
As the economic crisis deepens, the system will try and pit VA workers against veterans, blaming layoffs on the 'inflationary' increases in care for vets. It will do the same elsewhere to all workers, blaming layoffs on striker's demands, etc. But this will not work.
WE SAY FIGHT BACK!
Recently in Chicago, about 300 veterans angrily questioned a panel of people including representatives of the city office of Manpower, the VA, a State's Attorney, the Red Cross and the American Veterans Committee. The vets wanted to know why they couldn't get their discharges upgraded, and why they found it almost impossible to get loans through the VA. One speaker on the panel who is a banker also, told one bet that he wouldn't give him a loan because the VA only guaranteed 90% return on the loan. This response thoroughly exposed the sham of the presentation to a great majority of vets. The officials had no answers and were afraid of the angered vets. All the officials could say was to have faith in the system. The vets knew that they were being handed a bull story and the answers didn't change any real problems in their daily lives. Many walked out.
Armed with the knowledge that the system doesn't work and understanding that the fight for decent benefits for all veterans must be linked up with a demand for no VA workers layoffs, veterans, VA workers and others can unite to win these demands. VVAW/WSO chapters around the country have begun to seriously take up the struggles of all veterans. The struggle of veterans is a very real thing, that effects the lives of millions of vets and their families. It is a struggle against the imperialist system; the system that is responsible for inadequate medical care, massive layoffs, wars of aggression and domination in Indochina and the Middle East. It is a system that will try and split vets from VA workers, as it will try and split blacks from whites. The only real chance that people have is to unite to fight the system. As shown by the spontaneous demonstrations and the outrage of the vets in Washington DC and Chicago, and the support for the countless demonstrations of VVAW/WSO chapters, people are fighting for real -- around the struggles of all veterans.
DECENT BENEFITS FOR ALL VETS!