Fourth Anniversary of Iraq War --Veterans' Care, VA Funding

Mr. President, today marks a somber milestone. It was 4 years ago today that President Bush ordered our military to launch a preemptive invasion of Iraq. I can recall the vote on the Senate floor--I have spoken of it many times--which led to that decision by the President. We cast thousands of votes as Members of the Senate, the House, and most of them are hard to remember. One can never forget a vote cast about war. You know people will die as a result of that decision.

We focus on eliminating the enemy--as we do in our war in Afghanistan--but we know good American soldiers will give their lives as well, and innocent people will die.

I can remember well that decision. It was a tough one, a very difficult one. But now we face 4 years of this war having been completed. As of today, we start the fifth year of this war, a war that has lasted longer than World War II.

Yesterday, on the ABC News program "This Week,'' Stephen Hadley, the President's National Security Adviser, was asked: If the President had known 5 years ago how much this war would cost--in dollars and in lives--would he have still ordered this invasion of Iraq?

Mr. Hadley replied:

I think he would. The point is, this war has made the U.S. safer.

Those were the words of Stephen Hadley. Unfortunately, they are wrong.

A National Intelligence Estimate released last spring warns that the war in Iraq has helped create a whole new generation of terrorists around this world.

The latest report from the Defense Department confirms our troops are now trapped in a civil war. For the longest time, we danced around using the words ``civil war.'' But even that term does not adequately express the complexity of the deadly situation we find ourselves in today.

Before our military was diverted to fight this war of choice in Iraq, they had driven the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and splintered the leadership of al-Qaida. We were in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. We knew who was responsible for 9/11, and we were determined to get him and those who worked for him. We were on track to demolish the terrorists who brought such grief to our Nation on 9/11.

What is the story today? According to Mr. Hadley in his comments yesterday on television, the war has made us ``safer.'' The fact is, today al-Qaida is regrouping and the Taliban is still fiercely fighting for control of Afghanistan.

Our military--especially the Army--is stretched to the breaking point. There is not one Active or Reserve Army combat unit outside of Iraq and Afghanistan today that is rated "combat ready''--not one. If we were called on to respond to another military emergency in the world with our great military, they would be hard pressed to respond because they have been depleted in terms of personnel and resources and training and equipment by this war in Iraq.

National Guard units in Illinois and across the Nation have about one-third of the equipment they need to respond to a domestic crisis or to train for an overseas mission. A recent audit by the Department of Defense inspector general found the Pentagon has failed to properly equip the soldiers it already has in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many soldiers have found themselves short on guns and ammunition, body armor, communications equipment, armored vehicles, and electronic jammers to disable IEDs.

Two hours ago, I was at Walter Reed Hospital. I make visits there and try to meet with soldiers and talk to them about how they are doing. I go to the rehab unit where amputees are trying to learn to walk. Some have lost one leg, some two. Some have lost an arm. They are struggling to get their lives back together. These are real heroes for America, and they are profiles in courage, as they struggle every single day to try to put their lives back together again.

I sat down with a group of these soldiers, all of whom had lost a leg, in this rehab room. I went around, and I said: What happened to you? Each one of them said the same thing: Well, it was an IED that hit my humvee. It was an IED that hit my humvee. It was an IED that hit my humvee.

I thought to myself: When this war started, in my first visit to Walter Reed, I met a member of the Ohio National Guard who lost his left leg. He could not wait to get back to his unit. I doubted if he ever would. I asked him what happened? He said: Well, this homemade bomb, this IED, hit my humvee. That was 4 years ago, and we still have soldiers coming into our hospitals with similar injuries without the protection they need.

The President's response to this terrible situation is to order 30,000 more troops into battle.

We will pay for this war for the rest of our lives. But the people who have paid the highest price, by far, are the men and women of the military and their families. Many soldiers and marines, sailors and airmen in Iraq are on their second, even their third or fourth tour of duty. We are pushing them to the absolute limit. They have endured great danger. Their families have endured great hardships.

As of this morning, it is sad but must be reported that 3,210 American soldiers, including 123 from my home State of Illinois, have given everything. They have given their lives in Iraq.

This is a hallowed rollcall. These are the names of every Illinois service member killed in Iraq since the start of this war. As we begin the fifth year of this war, I ask unanimous consent to honor these great men and women by having printed immediately after my remarks in the Congressional Record this list of those Illinois brave soldiers and marines, airmen and sailors who have given their lives in Iraq.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)

Mr. DURBIN. In addition to these fallen heroes, thousands of our troops have come home with serious injuries, disabilities--blindness, amputations, and the signature injury of this war, traumatic brain injury. We have been outraged in recent weeks to read about the shabby way some of these wounded veterans have been treated.

I went out today and I asked to finally see this infamous Building 18, which is about a block away from Walter Reed Hospital. It is a rundown, old motel that our military took over. Under Secretary Rumsfeld, they had this passion to privatize--taking the men and women who were responsible for maintaining this building and removing them and bringing in a private contractor. That is when the worst happened. The men and women who were involved in the private contract clearly did not do the job.

As a result, the Washington Post ran this well-publicized series about mold and mice droppings and evidence of bugs and the general rundown condition of Building 18--an outpatient facility for our soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital.

Every day, we learn--as I have learned back in Illinois--of wounded soldiers who have been denied proper medical care, housed in substandard and even deplorable living conditions, and forced to fight a massive bureaucracy and endure long waits for decisions about disability compensation. Meanwhile, their families suffer and many of the wounded soldiers go without medical care.

Sadly, these problems are not unique to Walter Reed, nor are they new to many of the top Pentagon officials.

Mark Benjamin is a reporter who has written some of the groundbreaking stories on the veterans health care crisis. He wrote an article in 2003, 4 years ago, about wounded National Guard soldiers being housed in sweltering cinder-block buildings at Fort Stewart in Georgia.

The Pentagon pledged then, in 2003, that no wounded soldier would be subjected to that shabby treatment again. That was 4 years ago. Yet 2 years later, in 2005, Jeff Romig, a physician's assistant from Danville, IL, and a captain in the Army National Guard, found himself living in similar conditions at a military base in Indiana after he ruptured his Achilles tendon during training.

Captain Romig had a cast on up to his hip following surgery, but he had to walk a half a mile on crutches every day to eat lunch. When it rained, mud washed into the cinder-block barracks and coated the cement floors where he was asked to live. His foot became infected. He has had five surgeries on it. He still has a hole in the back of his foot and his foot drops. He needs a brace to walk properly.

When he was released from active duty, the Army told Captain Romig the VA would pay for the brace. But then the Veterans' Administration refused. They told Captain Romig he was not entitled to VA health care until he received a disability rating, which takes 2 years. In the meantime, he would have to pay the bills himself or go without the brace and any other VA health care.

Now, who is Captain Romig? He happens to be a soldier who has served 23 years in the military--12 in the regular Army and 11 in the National Guard. He was one of the lucky ones, though. Through his employer he had private health coverage. They paid for the brace and his medical care when the VA and our Government failed him.

He worries about other wounded veterans. In an e-mail he sent me recently, he said:

Who is going to help pay the bills for a soldier's family if he or she is disabled? The mortgage companies won't wait two years to receive their payment and the VA made it perfectly clear to me that if I didn't pay my bill, they would send me to [a collection agency]; they don't want to wait two years for payment, either. So why should a soldier be expected to wait two years for care and financial assistance?

There is another story I would like to share. It is about SGT Garrett Anderson of Champaign, IL. He and his wife Sam share a similar worry. He is 30 years old. She is 29. They have a 6-month-old daughter. On Wednesday, they will celebrate their second wedding anniversary.

Three months after they were married, he went to Iraq with the Illinois National Guard. Four months after that, an IED exploded next to his armored humvee in Baghdad.

The blast tore off Sergeant Anderson's right arm below the elbow, shattered his jaw, severed part of his tongue, took away much of his hearing, and punctured his body with shrapnel.

He spent 7 months at Walter Reed, and he praises the care that was given him there recently in Ward 57. He said the amputee ward could not have treated him better. I have heard the same thing. There are many outstanding individuals at Walter Reed who should not be lumped into the critical articles about Building 18. These are men and women, medical professionals, who are literally working miracles every day on these soldiers. So criticizing the situation at Walter Reed should not bring them in as well. Many of them are extraordinary and receive the highest praise from men and women who are treated there.

But after the treatment at Walter Reed for Sergeant Anderson, the months of outpatient care that followed were filled with ``massive paperwork and red tape.'' After 3 years in the Army and 4 in the National Guard, Garrett Anderson finally retired from the military last June.

Last week, 9 months later, he received his disability rating from the VA. You will recall the injuries I told you he sustained. His disability rating, after waiting, 90 percent. His wife Sam said the VA ruled that some of her husbands's shrapnel wounds were not service related because Walter Reed had not taken the time to document each and every one of them.

The Andersons are appealing the rating. They are hoping for a 100-percent disability rating, which would make Sergeant Anderson eligible for better health coverage and other benefits. Do you know how long that appeal will take? Two years--2 more years for Sergeant Anderson to wait to determine whether the VA is going to rate him as 100 percent disabled.

In the meantime, he is looking for a civilian doctor with experience treating amputees, and doing without the speech therapy and PTSD counseling he needs.

He is also going to college. His wife is trying to finish law school. They are both speaking out to try to change the system. Here is what his wife Sam says:

Each obstacle renews our desire to fix the system so that future soldiers can serve proudly and take comfort knowing that their country will take care of them just as they took care of their country.

I applaud Defense Secretary Gates for the decisive steps he has taken to fix the problems at Walter Reed and to determine how widespread they are. But firing a few people--even a few generals--is not enough. The stories about wounded soldiers being mistreated raise serious questions about our planning for this war, about the capacity of the Pentagon and the VA to deal with the long-term health needs of our soldiers--post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, amputations. Ten years ago, the VA could never have anticipated all these challenges. Today they face them.

Every year since the war in Iraq began, the President has failed to request adequate funding for the VA. The President's proposed budget for next year would enable the VA to serve 54,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans--54,000. It sounds like a large number. It is. But it is 50,000 patients short of the VA's expected demand.

The President's budget provides for half of what is needed. Unbelievably, it would cut funding for defense health facilities such as Walter Reed by 13 percent. I think about that $12 billion in cash--$12 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars--that was flown into Iraq and cannot be accounted for, sent to Mr. Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority. How far would that money go to help the VA?

Here is another great statistic. In late January, the Army Times reported that in the last few years, the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement decreased by more than two-thirds--from 642 in 2001, to 209 in 2005. Think about that: a two-thirds drop in permanent disability ratings in the midst of a war? It does not make sense.

With the horrific wounds our troops are suffering--and thanks to the outstanding care they receive in the field--surviving, how can permanent disability rates be declining?

Declining disability rates are part of the pattern of failing to plan properly for this war.

I know Dr. David Chu, who is an economist and mathematician by training, and he holds one of the top positions at the Pentagon. He is the Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He is one of the two top Pentagon officials responsible for making sure that returning vets receive prompt outpatient care and fair compensation.

In January 2005, Dr. Chu told the Wall Street Journal that America was spending too much on benefits for soldiers and veterans. He said:

The amounts have gotten to the point where they are hurtful. They are taking away from the Nation's ability to defend itself.

The truth is, health care and disability benefits for wounded soldiers are not threats to our national security; they are an essential part of the cost of war and part of our national security. Somehow the Pentagon has to come to realize this.

I want to tell my colleagues one more story and then turn the floor over to my colleague from Arkansas. This is about an Illinois soldier, Army 1LT Terry Peterson of Warrenville, IL. I first met Lieutenant Peterson in January 2006 when he was recuperating at Walter Reed. I invited him to come to the President's State of the Union Address last year as my guest. He was 23 years old. He is a graduate of the Citadel. From the time he was a little boy, he wanted to be a soldier.

On December 8, 2005, 3 weeks after he arrived in Iraq, an IED ripped apart a humvee in which he was riding in Baghdad. The blast killed one soldier in the humvee and nearly killed Lieutenant Peterson. It shattered his right foot, ripped three knuckles off his right hand, and severed an artery in his left arm. He has had 20 surgeries so far. If he is lucky, he will only need two more surgeries. He has five screws in his foot, and he deals with pain all the time. He can't stand for more than 30 minutes, and it will take a miracle for him to ever be able to run again.

Lieutenant Peterson received outpatient care at Walter Reed for 9 months. Someone from home was always with him--usually his mother, his girlfriend, or his sister--trying to cut through the redtape, trying to make sure he received the very best care. His mom spent $8,000 flying back and forth between Illinois and Washington to be with her son. Lieutenant Peterson spent $10,000 out of pocket to rent hotel rooms near Walter Reed for 6 months because there was no room for him in the infamous Building 18. He has yet to be reimbursed for that expenditure. The Army says he still needs to turn in more paperwork.

Terry Peterson suffers from PTSD. He didn't see a psychiatrist until months after his injury, and then only because his father insisted. When he went back for a follow-up appointment a month later, they told him his records had been lost.

Today Lieutenant Peterson is back at Fort Stewart in Georgia waiting to finish his surgeries and get his disability rating to leave the Army. He says:

It took me a long time to stop making excuses for the system.

Some days he says he feels like he was abandoned by the Army. But he is determined to try to fix this system so other soldiers won't go through the same thing.

Before the State of the Union Address, some 15 months ago, Terry and I met with some reporters. Terry said: I don't know if I ought to say this, but I am a conservative and a Republican. He said:

What I'm really looking forward to is just hearing that the President is behind us.

He said he didn't want the sacrifices that he and other soldiers had made to be for nothing.

As we enter the fifth year of this war, America needs to demonstrate to all our troops and families that we are behind them, and that takes more than words. It requires that we stand with our soldiers on the battlefield and when they come home wounded, for as long as they need our help.

I yield the floor.

Exhibit 1

Operation Iraqi Freedom Casualties Listed in Chronological Order
Marine Corporal Brian Kennedy, 25, of Glenview, IL.
Marine Captain Ryan Anthony Beaupre, 30, of St. Anne, IL.
Marine Private Jonathan L. Gifford, 30, of Decatur, IL.
Marine Corporal Evan James, 20, La Harpe, IL.
Army Specialist Brandon Rowe, 20, of Roscoe, IL.
Army Reserve Specialist Rachael Lacy, 22, of Lynwood, IL.
Marine First Sergeant Edward Smith, 38, of Chicago, IL.
Army Staff Sergeant Lincoln Hollinsaid, 27, of Malden, IL.
Marine Lance Corporal Jakub Henryk Kowalik, 21, of Schaumburg, IL.
Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Brian Kleiboeker, 19, of Iuka, IL.
Marine 1st Lieutenant Timothy Louis Ryan, 30, of North Aurora, IL.
Army Staff Sergeant Andrew R. Pokorny, 30, of Naperville, IL.
Army Private First Class Shawn Pahnke, 25, of Manhattan, IL.
Army Specialist Cory A. Hubbell, 20, of Urbana, IL.
Army Private Matthew

Illinois Army National Guard Specialist Brandon Ramsey, 21, Calumet City, IL.
Army Pfc. Christopher A. Sisson, 20, of Oak Park, IL.
Army Spc. Ryan G. Carlock, 25, of Macomb, IL.
Illinois Army National Guard 1st Lt. Brian Silavenas, 30, of Genoa, IL.
Army Spc. John R. Sullivan, 26, of Countryside, IL.
Army Spc. William D. Dusenbery, 30, of Fairview Heights, IL.
Army Pvt. Scott M. Tyrrell, 21, of Sterling, IL.
Army Spc. Uday Singh, 21, of Lake Forest, IL.
Michigan Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Michael Sutter, 28, of Tinley Park, IL.
Marine Corps Captain Adam Miller, 29, of Midlothian, IL.
Army Sergeant First Class James Hoffman, 41, of Palatine, IL.
Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. Ivory L. Phipps, 44, of Chicago, IL.
Marine Pfc. Geoffrey S. Morris, 19, of Gurnee, IL.
Army Cpl. Forest J. Jostes, 22, of Albion, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Phillip E. Frank, 20, of Elk Grove, IL.
Army Reserve Spc. Gregory R. Goodrich, 37, of Bartonville, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Stoffel-Gray, 19, of Patoka, IL.
Army Pfc. Shawn C. Edwards, 20, of Bensenville, IL.
Army National Guard Sgt. Landis W. Garrison, 23, of Rapids City, IL.
Army Staff Sgt. Oscar D. Vargas-Medina, 32, of Chicago, IL.
Army Capt. John E. Tipton, 32, of Collinsville, IL.
Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class William D. Chaney, 59, of Schaumberg, IL.
Army National Guard Spc. Jeremy L. Ridlen, 23, of Paris, IL.
Pfc. Jeffrey R. Wallace, 20, of Hoopeston, IL.
Army Maj. Paul R. Syverson III, 32, of Lake Zurich, IL.
Army 1st Sgt. Ernest E. Utt, 38, of Hammond, IL.
Army Sgt. Christopher A. Wagener, 24, of Fairview Heights, IL.
Army Pfc. Collier E. Barcus, 21, of McHenry, IL.
Army Pfc. Torry D. Harris, 21, of Chicago, IL.
Army Corporal Demetrius Rice, 24, of Chicago, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan W. Collins, 19, of Crystal Lake, IL.
Marine Cpl. Christopher Belchik, 30, of Jersey, IL.
Army Spc. Charles L. Neeley, 19, of Mattoon, IL.
Army National Guard Sgt. Shawna Morrison, 26, of Paris, IL.
Army National Guard Spc. Charles Lamb, 23, of Casey, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Drew M. Uhles, 20, of DuQuoin, IL.
Marine Sgt. Benjamin K. Smith, 24, of Carterville, IL.
Marine 2nd Lieutenant Ryan Leduc, 28, of Pana, IL.
Army Sgt. Jack T. Hennessy, 21, of Naperville, IL.
Army Spc. Jessica L. Cawvey, 21, of Mahomet, IL.
Army Spc. Jaime Moreno, 28, of Round Lake Beach, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Branden P. Ramey, 22, of Boone, IL.
Marine Cpl. Joshua D. Palmer, 24, of Blandinsville, IL.
Marine Sgt. David M. Caruso, 25, of Naperville, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas D. Larson, 19, of Wheaton, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Aaron C. Pickering, 20, of Marion, IL.
Marine Cpl. Peter J. Giannopoulos, 22, of Inverness, IL.
Marine Cpl. Matthew A. Wyatt, 21, of Millstadt, IL.
Army Sgt. Donald B. Farmer, 33, of Zion, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Neil D. Petsche, 21, of Lena, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos, 20, of Aurora, IL.
Marine Cpl. Nathaniel K. Moore, 22, of Champaign, IL.
Marine Cpl. Jonathan S. Beatty, 22, of Streator, IL.
Cpl. Christopher E. Zimny, 27, of Cook, IL.
Lance Cpl. Sean P. Maher, 19, of Grays Lake, IL.
Sgt. Jessica M. Housby, 23, of Rock Island, IL.
Marine Cpl. Kevin M. Clarke, 21, of Tinley Park, IL.
Marine Cpl. John T. Olson, 21, of Elk Grove Village, IL.
Army Staff Sgt. Daniel G. Gresham, 23, of Lincoln, IL.
Army Spc. Jacob C. Palmatier, 29, of Springfield, IL.
Army 2nd Lt. Richard B. Gienau, 29, of Peoria, IL.
Army Spc. Adriana N. Salem, 21, of Elk Grove Village, IL.
Army Sgt. Kenneth L. Ridgley, 30, of Olney, IL.
Army Pfc. Wyatt D. Eisenhauer, 26, of Pinckneyville, IL.
Army Spc. Brian M. Romines, 20, of Simpson, IL.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas C. Hull, 41, of Princeton, IL.
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Terry W. Ball Jr., 36, of East Peoria, IL.
Army Spc. Miguel Carrasquillo, 25, of River Grove, IL.
Army 1st Lt. David L. Giaimo, 24, of Waukegan, IL.
Army Spc. Jeffrey A. Williams, 20, of Warrenville, IL.
Army Staff Sgt. Gary R. Harper Jr., 29, of Virden, IL.
Army Spc. James T. Grijalva, 26, of Burbank, IL.
Army 1st Lt. Debra A. Banaszak, 35, of Bloomington, IL.
Army Staff Sgt. Kyle B. Wehrly, 28, of Galesburg, IL.
Army Sgt. Joshua A. Terando, 27, of Morris, IL.
Pvt. Christopher M. Alcozer, 21, of DeKalb, IL.
Sgt. 1st Class Eric P. Pearrow, 40, of Peoria, IL.
Sgt. Grzegorz Jakoniuk, 25, of Schiller Park, IL.
Lance Cpl. Adam W. Kaiser, 19, of Naperville, IL.
Lance Cpl. Andrew G. Patten, 19, of Byron, IL.
Spc. Brian A. Wright, 19, of Keensburg, IL.
Sgt. 1st Class Shawn C. Dostie, 32, of Granite City, IL.
Lance Cpl. Jonathan K. Price, 19, of Woodlawn, IL.
Pfc. Sean T. Cardelli, 20, of Downers Grove, IL.
Lance Cpl. Philip J. Martini, 24, of Lansing, IL.
Sgt. Edward G. Davis III, 31, of Antioch, IL.
Spc. Ronald W. Gebur, 23, of Delavan, IL.
Pfc. Caleb A. Lufkin, 24, of Knoxville, IL.
Cpl. Ryan J. Cummings, 22, of Streamwood, IL.
Petty Officer 1st Class Gary T. Rovinski, 44, of Roseville, IL.
Sgt. Sirlou C. Cuaresma, 25, of Chicago, IL.
Staff Sgt. Mario J. Bievre, 34, of Constantinople, IL.
Cpl. Ryan J. Buckley, 21, of Nokomis, IL.
Sgt. Terry M. Lisk, 26, of Fox Lake, IL.
Sgt. Bradley H. Beste, 22, of Naperville, IL.
Sgt. Steven P. Mennemeyer, 26, of Granite City, IL.
Army Spc. Kristofer C. Walker, 20, of Creve Coeur, IL.
Spc. George R. Obourn Jr., 20, of Creve Coeur, IL.
Pvt. Edwardo J. Lopez, 21, of Aurora, IL.
Sgt. Thomas M. Gilbert, 24, of Downers Grove, IL.
Sgt. Kraig D. Foyteck, 26, of Skokie, IL.
Pfc. William R. Newgard, 20, of Arlington Heights, IL.
Senior Airman Daniel B. Miller Jr., 24, Galesburg, IL.
Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer A. Valdivia, 27, of Cambridge, IL.
Capt. Kevin C. Landeck, 26, of Wheaton, IL.
Sgt. Pedro J. Colon, 25, of Cicero, IL.
SSG Paul M. Latourney, 28, of Roselle, IL.
Marine Lance Cpl. Raymond J. Holzhauer, of Dwight, IL.