George W. Bush said Tuesday night that Americans should support the troops by flying a flag on the Fourth of July or lending a hand to the families of soldiers serving in Iraq. We've got another idea: How about making a responsible plan for taking care of injured soldiers when they come home?
That's the moral obligation of the administration that sent them to war in the first place, and it's not doing a very good job of it. Just before the president spoke Tuesday, his administration acknowledged that it's short on money for providing medical care to veterans because it vastly underestimated the number of soldiers who would need it.
According to today's Washington Post, the Department of Veteran Affairs predicted that just 23,533 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan would need medical treatment this fiscal year. A more realistic projection? The VA now says the number is more likely to be 103,000.
We're not so hot at math, but the administration's initial projection was off by, what, a factor of four? How could they have gotten it so wrong? VA Secretary Jim Nicholson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday that the initial estimate was based on data from 2002, which would explain a lot. Back then, Dick Cheney was telling Americans that their soldiers would be "greeted as liberators" in Iraq, and Donald Rumsfeld was telling the soldiers themselves that the war "could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
So maybe it's not surprising that the administration was unprepared for the number of injured veterans it would have on its hands. After all, the Downing Street memo, dated July 23, 2002, tells us there had been "little discussion" of what would happen after an initial invasion.
But why not revisit those initial estimates somewhere along the line? Why wait until now -- three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year -- before telling Congress that the projections weren't even close to right? Members of Congress want some answers, and they're not all "liberals" who want to coddle terrorists while putting the troops at "greater risk." Republican Sen. Larry Craig, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, expressed anger Tuesday that "the information provided to me thus far has been disturbingly inaccurate." And the Post quotes Jerry Lewis, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, as saying that the use of the bad budget numbers "borders on stupidity" -- or worse. "Somebody was hoping they could hide the ball for a while and talk about it later, and frankly in this arena you can't afford to do that," Lewis said.