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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Guardsmen need more than ribbons

The Spokesman-Review

Our country is using an unprecedented number of National Guardsmen and reservists to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Placing these troops on the front lines has serious repercussions back home, and lawmakers are scrambling to keep up.

Many of these troops were not properly prepared for unfamiliar assignments and were inadequately supplied with weapons and armor. Plus, they’ve had to cope with extended tours.

The country shouldn’t heap more indignities upon them when they come home and try to return to their normal lives.

Some Guardsmen testified in front of Congress recently, and the stories they told were appalling. Injured soldiers get little help with confusing bureaucratic rules as they try to see a doctor. Some lose access to health care when their active duty status expires. They say it can take months to get that rectified. In the meantime, they have to drain their savings or go into debt to get treatment. Some just give up.

The Government Accountability Office reports that as of last April, more than a third of injured soldiers were denied an extension of benefits. The thing that used to keep them off the front lines – part-time status – is now being used to deny them care. The GAO also says the Veterans Administration lacks resources to give returning troops timely mental health counseling and treatment.

Hundreds of thousands of Guardsmen and reservists have been mobilized for war. The federal government hasn’t planned well for their homecoming. Many states, including Washington and Idaho, are doing what they can with laws and proposals to provide life insurance, render help in navigating available government services, grant tuition and tax relief and address myriad other problems that arise for families when somebody is suddenly called up.

In Congress, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., are pushing a bipartisan bill that would allow part-time soldiers to buy into the military’s TRICARE system, which would grant them access to health care when not on active duty.

All these legislative changes would be expensive, but we’ve been trying to fight these wars on the cheap for too long. War is expensive. All citizens should shoulder the burden. Yellow ribbons are commendable, but these soldiers need more than moral support.

Intentionally or not, we’ve shifted some costs to Guardsmen and reservists. It’s a shameful way to treat fully 40 percent of the troops who make up the war effort.

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