The U.S. needs a new dance. It is time to go beyond the rhetoric of politicians, rise above
petty, inane social arguments and give veterans the medical and psychiatric care they need, when they need it. While written for U.S. veterans, the same can be said for veterans in Great Britain, the Philippines and Australia. I know because I lived immersed in these cultures for years.
Nine days ago, I received an email that simply inquired “Doing alright?”. A simple query, the result of my obvious internet absence over the past several months, was from a vet I admire. Like most living Americans, veterans and soldiers are integral parts of each of our souls: they are wives and
husbands, brothers and sisters, colleagues, parents, grandparents and friends. They were there for me with words of encouragement when I took my first unsteady steps on the blog scene, provided real life experience when I was sorting out who my audience was, bolstered my first gulp as I dared post my opinion, and each for his or her own reason was there when our country wanted and needed soldiers.
Across the courtyard and down the way lives Tony, a Marine who lost his legs in the first Gulf War. Over the past three months, I’ve grown to love and admire his spirit as well as the tenacity and iron will of his physical therapist. Tony drives a souped-up wheel chair that frequently flies past me at Mach 3, swims every day and possesses the upper body strength of a gorilla. He’s earned and vitally needs but has not received the support of the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for years. And he is only one of thousands. Encouraged by the $16. 3 billion VA makeover signed into reality by President Obama in early August, I eagerly inquired as to its effect on Tony as he is awaiting some surgery to alleviate pain in his back. Nothing. He was told he had to wait another year in an endless queue.
The VA scandal revealed that veterans’ needs are urgent, ongoing and, for many, life threatening. The scandal shocked law makers into agreeing to throw over $16 billion at the problem so what is the plan and where are the promised changes? The Army Times tells
us that the plan is to build a bigger bureaucracy and make it easier to fire the bosses. They are going to hire more clinicians, acquire more facilities and build an Obamaesque process for veterans to receive care from the newly gutted private medical sector. The Army Times pleads for understanding because all of this bureaucracy-building takes lots of time. Time that many veterans do not have.
The New York Post’s Betsy McCaughey opinion piece talks to Another fake VA fix–‘reform’ bill changes little. Ms. McCaughey points out that “…The “Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act” doesn’t provide access, choice or accountability. It leaves vets at the mercy of the VA bureaucracy and fails to give new VA Secretary Robert McDonald the tools to turn the agency around….” There is no excuse for this mess.
We, the people and taxpayers of the United States have tolerated non-stop wars for over seven decades. We even tolerated being deceived about what was and wasn’t a war after WWII. The Cold War was a war no matter what the politicians called it and it was an excuse to keep conflict going. The general public tired of the endless Cold War and called it “over” about two decades ago. After all once Russia was no longer the scary Communist Bear PR became difficult. Luckily for the politicians, bankers, and the military industrial bunch, 9/11 happened so the US could declare a War on Terror. That got old, too so President Obama declared the War on Terror over in 2013. Now we just send our young military men and women into Iraq or Syria to fight the new boogeyman, ISIS, or West Africa to kiss the Ebola dragon’s tail. The rights and wrongs of the Cold War, the War on Terror, the No-Name war the U.S. is currently fighting, and the associated deceptions are argued endlessly in various multimedia forums.
What cannot be argued is the huge number of human beings being cycled out of the military. The draft ended in 1973 when the hue and cry from the American people erupted into a roar that demanded congressional action. The end of the draft heralded the end of accountability. No longer could Americans be sure of how many young people’s lives were being affected by the senseless continuation of war. Now we back into the numbers of individual lives affected through mortality schedules, VA and non-profit rolls and the mythical U.S. budget. No reality here.
Responsible civilians, blessed with jobs including benefits, sail through life to retirement without ever knowing what a life interrupted signifies. Most vets return to civilian life gather up the reigns of civilian-hood and move forward with extra stories to tell their grandchildren. Veterans whose bodies or psyches are injured are caught in the ether; a no-man’s land of neglect. We know of these veterans only indirectly; the VA scandal, the Wounded Warrior Project, statistics on the homeless indicating the majority are veterans, statistics on veteran suicides, and so on. The wars in the Middle East have yielded a huge number of traumatic brain injuries along with the loss of limbs and burns, while the traumas of Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, and myriad other lands are carried forward. There are tens of thousands of individual men and women veterans who not only experienced a life interrupted they are unable to restart their lives for one reason or another. They have earned the support of those of us who sailed through our lives to regale our grandchildren with tales of wonder.
The United States has a lousy track record when it comes to taking care of the individuals
who fight its wars. Veterans of the U.S. Revolutionary War got to keep what they had before the war began. Veterans of the Civil War and the War of 1812 were pretty much ignored. The WWI veterans marched on Washington, D.C. in 1932 when the government failed to keep its word. WWII vets met a slightly better fate. Veterans of the Cold War mostly listened to the government patting itself on the back. And the latest batch of veterans are just trying to keep on keeping on.
People are not digital switches where the choice is either off or on. There are veterans who fall along the entire spectrum from fully reintegrated to civilian life to homeless. Tony, while desperately needing VA services, overcomes his obstacles with stubborn dignity, an air of in-your-face defiance and productivity. He has family, friends and a family trust. While he rails against the injustice of a system he served, he does not allow it to defeat him. Instead he works out, reaches out, speaks out, and in his own way works tirelessly for change. Others do not fare so well.
Make no mistake the people of the U.S. owe these men and women medical and psychiatric support. The folks who founded the republic that is the United States envisioned that there would be war on occasion: that is the way of human kind. Their writings from the time indicate they imagined citizens would be called from their lives to fight those wars and then they would return to their lives. What was never envisioned was a war that is on the back half of 100 years. It was another 100 year war that broke the banks of Europe and gave rise to the possibility of the United States of America. As we approach the election, ask the candidates what their plan is for the men and women who served in uniform and upon whom the preservation of the republic relies. As always, it will be individuals who make the difference. We, as individuals, can transcend today’s status quo and dance to a different beat. The U.S. taxpayer supports millions of people in this country irrespective of their legal standing or morality yet our relatively few veterans who need medical care go wanting. Hundreds of years and a multitude of wars have passed into history yet the bureaucrats still need more time. I think not.
The final word is from Seneca’s The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters “It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” You go, Tony! As fast and as far as you can.