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Veterans decry cost of war, cutbacks

Thursday, November 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:51 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The recent “carnage” in Iraq brought back Thomas Hovey’s nightmares about war. Only veterans can understand how terrible war is, he said.

Hovey devoted 34 years, seven months and 17 days of his life to the military. He’s a disabled veteran. He fought in Korea. He fought in Vietnam. And this Veterans Day, those memories are in his thoughts.

“Veterans don’t want war, because they’ve been there,” Hovey said Wednesday in a telephone interview from the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Columbia. Today, Veterans Day, some U. S. veterans are most concerned about the war in Iraq. They’re also concerned about the care today’s soldiers will receive when they return from fighting, as well as the care given to veterans of past wars.

Hovey is against the Iraq war. He strongly dislikes President Bush and his administration.

Hovey said he can’t understand how veterans supported Bush in the Nov. 2 election. Polls showed that Bush enjoyed strong support both among veterans and the active military.

“All the veterans that I’ve talked to are against this war,” Hovey said. “They think it’s the dumbest thing in the world.”

Dennis Gayer calls himself a “pro-military veteran.” He, too, served more than 30 years in the military and he’s a board member of Columbia’s American Legion.

Gayer, who supports Bush, stressed the role of veterans as people who know war.

“I don’t think anybody likes war, especially veterans,” Gayer said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t really know what’s going on, and don’t have any idea how they got their freedom that they enjoy every day.”

For Gayer, that means making health care for veterans a top priority.

He said Veterans Administration health care needs to be better supported and that the government “needs to take care of us (veterans) for taking care of the country.”

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of veterans in need of care, said Stephen Gaither, spokesman for the Truman Veterans Hospital. Although the budget for VA health has been increased every year, it hasn’t kept pace with increasing numbers and rising health-care costs. He said the VA hospital in Columbia accommodates 29,000 veterans, a number that has almost doubled since the mid-90s.

The VA prioritizes veterans by war-related injuries and financial status, Gaither said, and the past year the VA had to cut care nationally for the lowest priority group: veterans without service injuries who are above the financial threshold.

Benefits have been another concern for veterans. Hovey said that as a disabled veteran, he can’t receive both a disabled veterans’ check and a full military pension. If he were a disabled government employee, he could receive disability and retirement pay. However, most veterans don’t receive both benefits because of a long-standing law banning from “concurrent receipt.” VA disability checks are subtracted from military retirement pay.

World War II veterans Howard McGee and George Whertvine marched in front of the war memorial at the Boone County Courthouse at 11:11 a.m. Wednesday, and then passed the duties to members of the Air Force ROTC.

As the cadets marched in uniform, the attitude was one of respect toward those who serve.

Paul Rieckhoff, director of Operation Truth, an organization of returning Iraq veterans, said public support for the troops has remained strong in the face of growing opposition to the war.

“The lesson that America has learned from the Vietnam War is not to blame the warriors for the war,” he said.


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