When it comes to lip service, there’s probably no group of Americans who can boast of vaster quantities than veterans.

At election time, when federal politicians wrap themselves in the flag, there’s usually a vet or two for the photo op. But when it comes to actual service for those who have served, forget it.

Like the 2005 budget, Bush’s proposed 2006 budget is fabulous for weapons contractors, but once again veterans are seriously shortchanged.

It’s a tradition that goes back to the Bonus March of 1932, when 20,000 hungry veterans of The Great War (later dubbed World War I) camped out in Washington to demand payment of a bonus Congress promised them for service over there. Under orders from President Hoover, Douglas MacArthur’s soldiers routed the veterans from the capitol area. With bayonets, clubs and sabers, current soldiers gassed former soldiers and burned their encampments. The vets never got their bonus.

Since then, subtlety has replaced that rather direct approach. Despite prodigious political puffery, callousness toward our veterans continues in George W’s nearly $2.6 trillion 2006 budget. Once again, veterans are shortchanged. As tens of thousands of new veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are created, Bush’s Veterans Affairs health-care budget falls short by $3.1 billion of what every major veterans advocacy group says is essential. The GOP budget calls for an increase of less than half of 1 percent in the appropriation for veterans’ medical care. In a time of rapidly escalating needs, this means real cuts. It’s obscene.

VFW Commander John Furgess calls the 2006 budget “shameful.” American Legion National Commander Thomas Cadmus points out, “Veterans Administration health care is an ongoing cost of war.” Of the over $200 billion spent on the Iraq War, not a penny of it goes for veterans’ care.

Words are one thing, but budgets state true values. In the Bush-Cheney budget, tax cuts for the richest are clearly a priority. But not those who have served. Growing numbers of aging World War II, Korea and Vietnam vets need, and deserve, the care they were promised. Too bad.

Consider this: While seeking to make permanent the tax cuts for the super rich, veterans are being asked to double their monthly co-pay for prescriptions. And to pay a new $250 fee to use government services.

The former director of the New Hampshire Veterans’ Council, Rick Doucy, blames the Bush administration for what he calls “hypocrisy; sending Americans into harm’s way and then refusing to take care of the ones who have done it.”

Doucy and others are armed with stories about waiting many months for treatment, then ending up spending all day for a 15-minute visit with a doctor.

Even Bush’s outgoing secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi now says the nation is simply not spending enough on its veterans. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio of the Veterans Affairs Committee figures the administration’s budget falls $15 billion short of what will be needed for veterans over the next five years.

Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, says the increased charges to vets may lead to more than 192,000 vets dropping out of the health-care system altogether. Maybe that’s the intent.

The Bush budget cuts $293 million for state-run veterans homes, which provide long-term care. Dennis Cullinan, legislative director of the VFW, put it best in saying, “These cuts, at a time when demand for VA long-term care services are on the rise, are unconscionable and reprehensible.”

Budgets state where our true values are: Huge tax cuts for those who won’t even notice the extra cash, hundreds of billions for war, and pennies for those who carry it out.

The true priorities and values of New Hampshire’s four members of Congress are about to be revealed.

Burt Cohen, a former state senator, now hosts a Portsmouth radio talk show.

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