23 May 2010

Rand Paul: Better Than Bunning

So it appears the Tea Party actually managed to field a candidate on a major party ticket. With Rand Paul's win in Kentucky's recent Republican primary for Senator and MLB hall of famer Jim Bunning's seat, someone with Tea Party (and Sarah Palin's) support might actually go to Washington. I guess the apocalypse is coming sooner than I thought. Just kidding...sort of.

(Before I get to Paul, let me start with Bunning. The guy is borderline senile. Although once a fearsome presence on the mound, he has been arguably one of the weakest and most ineffectual Senators in history, except when it comes to single-handedly blocking unemployment benefits. Also, I'm pretty sure the only legislation he ever introduced had something to do with retired baseball players. In 2006, Time Magazine named Bunning one of America's five worst senators. He hasn't done much to improve his reputation since then. His retirement couldn't come soon enough, but I digress...)

Rand Paul is not a bad guy. Neither is his dad. They just have some radically impractical ideas based on a vision of how our founding fathers would have wanted America to turn out. I realize the Pauls just want to go back to simpler times, when most Americans were farmers, we basically produced everything we consumed and the federal government largely stayed out of certain affairs over which it now has influence. I can understand that. But, for better or worse, those days are gone and they aren't coming back anytime soon.

Over time, America has grown and with this growth has come experience through crisis and knowledge about how best to keep our country safe, stable and strong. At certain points along the way, our predecessors felt it necessary to give the Federal Reserve the power to regulate the financial industry, establish a federally regulated education system, limit corporate expenditures in elections and make it easier for historically oppressed minorities to enter the workforce. These things happened, and for Mr. Paul to openly criticize some and call for the abolishment of others is both impractical and insensitive but most importantly a waste of time. Don't even get me started on his use of free market principles to defend BP, a massive foreign corporation whose regulation-skirting caused one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In American waters.

What scares me most about Rand Paul is that his message strikes a chord with people, even me sometimes. Most Americans want fresh faces in Congress who won't uphold the status quo and follow the party line. We want new decision makers making new decisions. (I'm trademarking that.) But I don't think some people realize that although they agree with Paul's take on America's problems, they really aren't going to like his solutions. What we need are realistic minds representing us in Washington, not backwards idealists too wrapped up in colonial nostalgia and anti-government passion to actually be an effective lawmaker at the national level.

I have to give Rand Paul credit for sticking with his gut now that he is in the limelight instead of falling in line with the Republican establishment. But I don't think he is good for the country at a time when we need real solutions and not what-if pipe dreams. Hindsight's 20/20, Mr. Paul. Let's hear some practical ideas.

10 May 2010

A Dark Place: WTUs "Worse Than Iraq"

Ensuring the medical and mental (I would argue even financial) stability of veterans should be a basic and essential function of the United States government. It's really not that difficult: No man or woman who has ever served in combat wearing an American uniform should have to worry about proper medical care or homelessness. Ever. So why are so many veterans not receiving the medical attention they need? How is it possible that almost one quarter of America's homeless are veterans?

Ever since the Washington Post exposed the despicable conditions and practices at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (unfortunate naming, Walter Reed was an American pioneer of modern medicine) people have been paying more attention to how we treat our veterans. We've come a long way since our regrettable treatment of soldiers returning from Vietnam, but our government still has work to do. A recent New York Times story shined a light on what the Army has created in the wake of scandal: Warrior Transition Units, or WTUs.

Instead of a traditional hospital setting, WTUs were intended to offer a more relaxed and personal rehabilitation experience for soldiers suffering from both physical and psychological battle wounds; an apparently novel concept for the VA. Problem is, they don't seem to be working. Reports indicate that instead of receiving adequate and individual care, soldiers are being neglected and abused, pumped full of meds and left to aimlessly watch TV, drink or use illegal drugs. What kind of rehab centers are WTUs supposed to be?

These might be isolated incidents, but is it really normal that one of these WTUs in Fort Carson, Colorado has had seven patient suicides since it was established in 2007? Is it just coincidence that numerous patients and doctors have reported seriously injured and traumatized veterans are being treated as harshly as if they were still in boot camp? Reports of over-medication and even illegal drug abuse also seem to be common in WTUs. This is not the environment in which our injured veterans should be preparing to return to society as healthy and stable citizens.

War is serious, and helping veterans of war should be taken just as seriously. We should expect that ALL returning veterans need our help; if they don't, that's great, good luck to them. But if they do, the U.S. government should do everything reasonable in its power to make sure they get proper treatment, care and attention on an intensive and individual level. Regardless of their condition, addiction or financial situation, we should have the best of the best making sure all veterans who reach out for help are met with respect and open arms.

Instead of forcing returning soldiers-in-need to enter time-specific and sometimes inadequate VA care programs, the government should be flexible around individual needs and provide more alternatives, such as footing the bill for certain private doctors, psychiatrists or treatment centers if they aren't willing or able to provide these services. Maybe we can start paying for it by firing some of the bitter scumbags currently staffing WTUs and disrespecting injured Army veterans.

You can tell a lot about a people by the way they treat their returning soldiers. These are the men and women who physically, not metaphorically, protect us from harm. If you are willing to risk your life for your country and its people you deserve the full benefits of the state. Far less worthy expenditures of tax dollars clog our fiscal drain on a daily basis; I think we can make some room to spend here.