I recall the atmosphere in this country of many people as a returning vet from Vietnam. Those of us who served would often encounter a hostile individual or two whose negative feelings towards the war were projected on anyone wearing a uniform. Little did many of those people know that a lot of those returning from this unpopular war were also fed up with it; how it had been handled and whether the 58,000 souls that died should have even been there to begin with. It made things even tougher when we were left to our own devises to assimilate back into civilian life.
Today, as vets return from Iraq and Afghanistan few question whether we should be there and display respect for all who served. The patriotism that permeates the activities of citizen groups ranges from the basic flag-waving, cheering of those in welcoming committee as troops return home to more concerted efforts to see that mental and physical war wounds are healed and that vets get assimilated back into civilian life with as few complications as possible. Such visible efforts aid in helping the combat vet transition back to the world he left, but why is it left to a dedicated handful of civilian volunteers to repay those men and women for the risks and sacrifices they took on all our behalf.
I don’t mean to belittle the flag waving ceremonies people engage in on Veteran’s Day and the Memorial Day Holiday or the awards given for heroism under fire; they are all that some people can muster to show the gratitude of a thankful public. But within hours after displays of such affection the grind of the real world still confronts the soldier, sailor, Marine and airman whose must now pick up where he or she left off before they put on that uniform.
Many have families and jobs they left and both may be waiting for them when they get back with added support from extended family members and their community. But too often neither is there for some combatants who relive their experiences in daily nightmares and the emotional capacity to deal with lost relationships and jobs has been left on the foreign terrain they served in. As a result many wound up living on the streets and makeup part of the high rates of suicide vets commit every day. Equally as bad are those vets who do not have a death wish but die anyway because “they lacked health insurance and thus had reduced access to care”, of which there were some 2200 in 2008 alone.
Other startling statistics that may alarm you about what vets face after their deployment ends were reported in a paper by the Center for American Progress:
– 35 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
– 10 to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered a traumatic brain injury
– One in four soldiers admitted to abusing prescription drugs.
– 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night of which 10% are women.
– About 500,000 veterans pay more than half of their income for rent, and foreclosure rates in military towns increased at four times the national average in 2008.
– More than 75 percent of veterans report “an inability to effectively translate their military skills to civilian terms.”
– College-educated service members who have recently returned to civilian life earn almost $10,000 less per year on average than other college-educated adults.
A Rand Corporation study in 2008 found that of those vets seeking help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) only half “receive treatment that researchers consider ‘minimally adequate’ for their illnesses.” In an article that same year Eric Alterman and George Zornick noted that that study “estimates that PTSD and depression disorders among veterans cost the nation as much as $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment-an amount that includes both direct medical care and costs for lost productivity and suicide. Investing in more high-quality treatment could save close to $2 billion within two years.” This information follows the discovery that just two years earlier “the conservative-dominated Congress cut funding for the … Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.”
In these tough budget times Congress has been forced to look at spending cuts in areas where military vets are affected. According to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project, cutting benefits for service members and veterans has become a political third rail for many in Congress. “I can’t think of a single member on the armed services committees who would have the ethics and political courage to take this on”, Winslow said in a recent piece by Michael Leon on the Veterans Today web-site. (Military Health Care a Target of the DoD Budget Cutters, 8/11/10)
There are no easy decisions that Congressional representatives face as they look for ways to reduce the deficit. But one area seems like a no-brainer when it comes to providing the necessary funds to insure that the quality of life for our men and women who risked their lives for this country is not ignored. The Bush tax cuts will expire for all Americans at the end of this year. The revenue this will generate to attack the deficit and the needs of veterans will roughly be $3.7 trillion over the next decade. Citizens who really care about the future deficit and the well being of our vets could allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire and incur the increases over the next decade.
An even better proposal would be to allow the tax cuts to end only for the wealthiest 2% which would provide $700 billion over the next ten years. The other 98% of Americans are still suffering economic hard times from the recession and allowing their tax rates to remain as they are for a while longer would help prevent many of these people from falling further behind on their house payments and providing nutritional meals for their family. Most if not all vets are falling into this 98% category.
Studies show that the wealthiest 5% would get more than half the benefit from these continued tax cuts while the middle 20% would only see 7% of the benefit. A recent Commerce Dept. report showed that the wealthiest 2% saw increased profits this last year so making this sacrifice for their country and the vets who served it should find little opposition, unless of course you are the Republican Party in Washington who refuses to allow any tax cut to continue unless the wealthiest 2% are included.
For all the benefits vets receive from the government for their service it pales in comparison to the pomp and circumstance many display on notable holidays to honor them. An award will not feed them and their families nor will parades provide jobs or help keep a roof over their head. Men and women who put their life on the line need to know that a grateful country will do all in its power to restore them to a life they surrendered when they signed on to serve.
Funding needed for health care and educational updates along with insuring employment upon their return and housing assistance to care for their families should not be a political issue that gets hacked out by politicians trying to score points with special interests. Neither should the public allow such cuts to be a part of the process to pay for a deficit that in large part resulted from tax cuts for the wealthiest of us and a needless war in Iraq that has created many of the negative scenarios that our returning vets face.
It’s time we all took the high road and did the right thing regarding military vets. For those who like to claim that we owe our democracy to them I would add that in return, we then owe them more than just a medal on their chest, a parade down Main Street and our enthusiastic thanks. We owe them their lives back.
SOURCES: Embedded in the article