Columns, Opinion

Modern Musings: George W. Bush is being given an award for… his commitment to veterans?

The National Constitution Center announced Oct. 10 that former Vice President Joe Biden will present former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush with the Liberty Medal for their “commitment to veterans.” This is a shameful move on the part of the National Constitution Center, given George W. Bush has largely shown utter disregard for veterans of wars he himself got the United States involved in. Awarding him such a prestigious honor will do nothing but degrade the award’s esteem.

The Liberty Medal is an annual award which, according to the Constitution Center’s website, is given to “men and women of courage and conviction who have strived to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe.” Over the past few years, the award has been given to people like Congressman John Lewis, the Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai — activists and proponents of peace who have stood up against injustice and oppression and have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others. By comparison, George W. Bush seems undeserving of such a distinguished honor, especially when it comes to his track record with veterans.

So what exactly does the Constitution Center think the Bushes have done to show their “commitment to veterans?” In their article about the 2018 Liberty Medal, the center referenced the Bushes’ creation of the Military Service Initiative, part of the Bush Institute, founded to help veterans of post-9/11 wars. The initiative works to help veterans readjust to daily life by helping them find employment and healthcare.

This is, of course, wonderful and honorable work that deserves attention, but I am not convinced it is work that is worthy of such a prestigious award just yet. After all, Bush’s last year in office was just 10 years ago, and when you look at his presidential track record when it came to veterans, he did little but create more of them.

For one, his administration mounted the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a conflict in which hundreds of thousands of American soldiers served, and as of 2017, 8,400 were still serving there. The Iraq War was also started under his leadership (because of Saddam Hussein’s “massive stockpile” of weapons of mass destruction, which didn’t exist, according to an investigative report put out by the U.K. government in 2016.)

Not only did Bush’s leadership get the United States involved in conflicts it arguably should not have been involved in to begin with, but after injured and traumatized American soldiers returned from these wars, his administration failed to provide them with necessary resources. Under Bush’s administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which offers healthcare services to veterans injured while serving, miscounted the number of soldiers wounded-in-action in Afghanistan and Iraq. The VA failed to account for soldiers injured while serving, but not necessarily injured in combat, leaving out two-thirds of the casualties of those conflicts.

This ridiculous oversight could have easily been avoided if a little more attention and care had been paid. Instead, it left the VA unprepared to help veterans, and as such, it took much longer for veterans’ claims to be processed.

To add insult to injury, Bush also cut funding for veterans’ healthcare several times during his presidency. In 2003, the VA cut healthcare access to high-income veterans in part due to the longer claims processing times other veterans were experiencing.

In recent years, a campaign of sorts to rehabilitate Bush’s image post-presidency has emerged. People seem to want to forget his “mistakes” (if you can call decisions that cost thousands of Americans their lives “mistakes”) and portray him as a nice old man who now spends his days painting political figures and war veterans and “photobombing” his daughters’ pictures.

A CNN poll from earlier this year found that 61 percent of Americans now view Bush favorably, compared to the 33 percent approval rating he had when he left office (which is probably due in part to the daily embarrassments of the Donald Trump presidency that make Bush’s presidency appear better). Now this award too seems like part of that campaign to sweep the errors of his presidency under the rug and improve his reputation.

Bush’s presidential record when it comes to caring for veterans is deplorable, and painting a couple of portraits of veterans in his post-presidency downtime does not make up for the countless ways he failed them. It is wonderful that he seems to be working to remedy his mistakes by creating initiatives for veterans, but I am still not convinced that he deserves the Liberty Medal. The policies of his administration had too many negative and life-altering impacts for veterans, and it is much too soon for us to simply forget that.

Instead of giving Bush the award, I’m sure the Constitution Center could find someone more worthy — might I suggest Tarana Burke — the woman who launched the #MeToo movement — which has motivated women around the globe to speak out against men’s abuse of power? Or how about the students who survived the Parkland shooting and inspired thousands around the country to march against gun violence? If they don’t like these suggestions, they could always donate the money that would be spent on the ceremony to veterans who could indeed use it more.

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