The first of a two panel cartoon shows a stocky, elderly man waving an American flag. On the front of his T-shirt are the words "Support Our Troops." In the second panel, on the back of the same T-shirt are the questions "Veterans? What veterans?" Sadly, too many Americans say they support the troops, but forget about them once they come home. As of December 10th, 3,889 American soldiers had been killed in Iraq. Multiples of that number are injured for every fatality. The official count of wounded by the Department of Defense is 28,629, but it's probably higher when we count those injured in service related accidents and disease. The figure also does not include the toll taken by post-combat suicides. A report by the Associated Press last August revealed that Army personnel committed suicide in 2006 at the highest rate in 26 years.
Our soldiers' wounds include losses of arms, legs, faces. The men and women in the armed services often suffer damage to their brains from the impact of the improvised explosive devices used so often in this conflict. Others come home with unfamiliar diseases, such as leishmaniasis, a nasty infection transmitted by the bite of a sand flea. Many have health problems caused by radiation from depleted uranium weapons. The Army thinks DU munitions are just dandy, because they're so effective at penetrating enemy tanks. But DU rounds create radioactive dust when they explode, contaminating the air our soldiers breathe. Of course, our country gives wounded warriors the best medical treatment possible, sparing no expense. Doesn't it? We wish! Although most of us believe our soldiers are entitled to the best care a grateful nation can provide, they're not getting it. The VA has admitted that thousands more Iraq war vets showed up in the first three months of 2006 than were expected for the entire year. The shameful treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq came to public attention when reports of substandard conditions at Walter Reed Hospital hit the news. But the scandal at this once excellent facility is just the tip of the iceberg. Inadequate medical treatment for too many of our injured fighters is the norm right now. How can that be? You may well ask. The Veterans Administration is badly under-funded. A former Republican National Committeeman presently heads the Department of Veterans Affairs. He and other VA political appointees, opposed increasing funds for our wounded soldiers' health care. Waving the banner of lower taxes and smaller government, they claim that more money isn't needed, because the VA has increased "management efficiency." Why did they think "management efficiency" needed to be increased? The Government Accountability Office has disputed that the VA was inefficient. It has been quite efficient and its care conforms to the highest standards of medical services. It is a system that works well when it has sufficient resources. Perhaps the Veterans Administration works too well to suit those who would like to privatize it. Privatization would be profitable for the corporations that want to take over the VA's mission of providing medical care and administering disability claims for veterans.
Politicians who want to privatize every service government provides never give up, do they?
We should be ashamed that our political leaders look away from the myriad problems so many of our injured vets bring home with them from war. According to a report in USA Today, veterans are 25% of the homeless but only 11% of the adult population. Even higher percentages exist in some cities across the country. In the San Francisco Chronicle of December 9, columnist, C.W. Nevius, quoted the regional manager for homeless programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, as stating that there are about 2,100 homeless veterans out of the 6,000 shelterless people in San Francisco. If you think this is as bad as it's going to get, just wait. And homelessness is only one of the difficulties our wounded face. Another huge problem is post- traumatic stress disorder and government is now adding insult to injury by telling sufferers from PTSD that what they have is a "personality disorder," a problem they had before enlisting. Why are they saying this? Because defining it as a pre-existing condition lets Uncle Sam off the hook. Politicians love to blather about the nation's debt to those who bravely fought for their country, but the actions of those politicos say, "the only good combat veteran is a dead combat veteran."A dead hero can be eulogized and his memory used to motivate young people to join, and risk their precious lives in, military service. Those who are injured, on the other hand, may come home to demand healing and medical services. Sheesh, that would cost barrels of money. The pols would rather get those dollars into the hands of the corporations that helped them get elected. "Support Our Troops" magnets and bumper stickers are all very well, but we could slap one of them on every vehicle between New York and San Francisco and they wouldn't do as they haven't done a damn thing for the troops that come back damaged.
Combat has a lasting impact. Those who go through it carry the memory inside them like an unwanted, uninvited guest who refuses to leave. Injured in body, mind and spirit. they need all the support a grateful nation can give them. They haven't and they won't get it from a VA with insufficient resources, doled out grudgingly by a soulless Administration and a Congress that didn't hesitate to send them into an unnecessary, seemingly endless war. Beth Grimes