Friday, October 19, 2007

The Promise...

Promise to Veterans?
It’s the great American myth; an urban legend of epic proportions. But, there was no promise made, so there’s nothing to keep. Now, it’s time for a new, in-your-face attitude: WE ARE U.S. MILITARY VETERANS – YOU OWE US!
Larry Scott
I’ve searched high and low for a promise made to veterans. I can’t find it. Surely, it must exist. From George Washington to George Bush, we have reams of flowery rhetoric praising the good deeds of those who have served in the U.S. military. But, where is the promise? Washington said the nation owes veterans a “debt of honor.” Bush often speaks of “honor,” “support” and “compassion” in speeches about veterans. In between, Abraham Lincoln said our mission is “…to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan…” All of this sounds good, but it’s not a promise. The elusive promise to veterans has been used by politicians since the earliest days of our republic to raise armies to fight wars and to pass legislation to care for veterans when they come home from those wars. But, what actually was promised?It’s a simple fact: that nothing was promised to veterans. There was no promise made, so there’s nothing to keep and nothing to break. It’s the great American myth; an urban legend of epic proportions.
This myth is promulgated by politicians who want us to think they are keeping a promise to veterans or want us to think some other politician isn’t keeping a promise. A quick Google search will show thousands of entries about a promise to veterans. Many are from those claiming to keep the promise. Others are from those who loudly declare the promise is not being kept. But, nowhere will you find exactly what this promise might be. So, why do we believe there’s a promise to veterans? Because we want to believe it. We want to believe that our country will care and provide for those who have given years of their lives to military service. We desperately want to believe that our country will care for those who return from the fields of battle with physical and emotional wounds. Anything else would not fit the standards we have set for ourselves as Americans.
However, the truth is something different. Veterans of the Civil War have left us volumes of their post-war battles with the Commissioner of Pensions who parceled out medical care and disability compensation. One document tells of a veteran’s struggle with the Commissioner to get a wooden leg to replace the real leg he’d lost in combat. After years of denials, he carved the leg himself. Military retirees of the World War II era were under the assumption they would have free, life-time health care at military hospitals. Those hospitals were closed. And now, the retirees find themselves in a HMO. Vietnam veterans fought for years to get benefits for exposure to Agent Orange. Now, many of them who served in the “Blue Water Navy” find their adversary is the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) who is in Federal Court trying to deny them benefits.Our new veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan find themselves faced with military and VA health care systems that are underfunded, overcrowded and incapable of caring for their needs.All of these veterans thought there was a promise and found out otherwise.
Veterans have been accepting the constantly-changing hodge-podge of laws and regulations that, sometimes, provide disability compensation and care. And, “sometimes” is the operative word. A check of federal regulations covering veterans’ benefits shows an abundant use of the phrase “the Secretary may.” The “Secretary” is the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs who “may” or may NOT provide the benefit listed in the specific regulation. But, could there be a promise to veterans buried somewhere in mountains of laws or hidden deep in the recesses of the Federal Code?
The Herculean effort to see if such a promise existed was undertaken by David F. Burelli, a National Defense Specialist for the Congressional Research Service. Burelli’s research paper is titled Military Health Care: The Issue of “Promised” Benefits. The 23-page paper makes this determination: “Many…military retirees…state that they were promised ‘free health care for life at military facilities’ as part of their ‘contractual agreement’ when they entered the armed forces. Efforts to locate authoritative documentation of such promises have not been successful. Congressional report language and recent court decisions have rejected retiree claims [of] a right or entitlement.” While Burelli’s paper deals with military retirees, it can be extrapolated to include non-retiree veterans, as well.

Others, realizing Burelli’s findings to be accurate, have tried to reframe the language of a promise to veterans. Dave Autry of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) likes to use the concept of a “moral obligation” to veterans. That high-minded verbiage has been used thousands of times by politicians, authors and veterans’ advocates. But, it still doesn’t equate to a promise. And, it assumes that Congress, who supplies funding for veterans’ care and disability compensation, understands what is “moral” and has the fortitude to commit to an “obligation.” Those are two dangerous assumptions. But, this verbal posturing leaves us where we began; there is no promise to veterans.

The government can’t keep a promise that was never made. And, it’s not realistic to assume that they are breaking a promise they never made. Will there ever be a promise to veterans? A real promise that is codified? A document that positively states what veterans will receive for their service to country? Not unless we, as veterans, force the issue. No politician is brave enough to step forward and say, “We lied to you,” so it’s up to us. We must raise hell about the issue. I, for one, am tired of the hand-in-glove relationships our veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) have established with Congress and the VA. Every year the VSOs go to Capitol Hill and grovel for next year’s VA budget handout.
When the budget is passed and doesn’t meet their expectations, the VSOs politely thank the politicians for doing a good job and then politely urge them to do better. Whatever happened to in-your-face, do-it-or-else political lobbying? We pay our VSO dues so they can represent us on Capitol Hill. They are currently failing in their mission. They allow politicians to ramble on about a promise to veterans and never ask the questions: What promise is that, politician? The one you never keep? And, the politicians keep playing us for fools. As long as veterans buy into the myth of a promise, the politicians win. We, as veterans will continue to scrap and fight for our justly-deserved benefits.
It is time that we adopt a new attitude. It’s time to stop accepting piecemeal legislation that gives a few budget dollars to slap a Band-Aid on a chronically-underfunded VA health care and benefits system. It’s time we stop accepting the nonsense of politicians who openly view VA benefits as charity, to be handed out only to those who fit their warped definition of the deserving. We owe it to all of our Brother and Sister veterans. And, let’s be honest; we owe it to ourselves.

This is not the time to be humble. It’s time for the in-your-face type of confrontation that our VSOs are incapable of providing. We must take our elected representatives to task and demand that they stop talking about a promise and actually give us one. We must tell Congress what we want. We must tell the American people what we want and that we earned our benefits through our service. Most “civilians” live under the assumption that “the VA takes care of it” when it comes to veterans’ benefits. It’s time they were educated. It’s time to stop asking and start telling. No more “Yes sir” and “No ma’am” and “Thank you very much” for what little we get. If we don’t force this issue, we can only blame ourselves.
The next time my Senator or Representative holds a town hall meeting in my area I’ll be there asking about The Promise. I want them to tell me what The Promise is and where I can find it in writing. They won’t be able to do that. But, maybe, just maybe, they’ll listen as I tell them it’s time to make a real promise and it’s time to really keep it. And, I’ll be wearing the T-shirt with this slogan printed in large letters: WE ARE U.S. MILITARY VETERANS – YOU OWE US FOR YOUR FREEDOM!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Some thoughts on PVS, PTSD & Combat Stress Injury

Still at War
~VetSpeak 2007~

You are happy when they come home, and you see them and hold them again. You think that they are safe because they are back home with you where you believe nothing can hurt them. This is an illusion.

In reality, too many are still at war. Too often, they won’t tell you about the war, or how hurt inside they are, from the things that they can’t reconcile in their own minds; the things that they did, and the things that they experienced. The things that keep coming back to haunt them, whether it be in dreams or in flashbacks. Things that drain one’s self esteem, stimulate one’s depression, repress one’s motivation, and ultimately; destroys one’s relationships. It has been thus since just after “The Greatest Generation” won their war. As a society, we just didn’t ever want to admit it.

The good news is, that it can be dealt with. However, the Veterans cannot do it alone. They need hands-on peer guidance, brought about thru a support network coalition of peers, programs, and non-political institutions and infrastructure (re Orange County Veterans Advisory Council Needs Assessment Survey, Orange County, Ca., 1974). However, just as importantly; they need comfort and validation while moving through the labyrinth of a society torn apart over the very war which stole their youth and their innocence (Still at War, Calif/Nev VVAW, 1976).