There are a lot of things about this war that I am definitely not ok with, but one of the things which irritates me most of all is the rampant abuse of veterans and service members at the hands of the government. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I really do feel like the DOD has an obligation to take care of people who enlist in the military, not least because they are contractually obligated to do so. I don’t think that we should be having armed forces in Iraq, but as long as they’re going to be there, I think that they should be cared for appropriately.
Numerous reports are seeping out about improperly equipped soldiers who lack the basic tools they need to do their jobs, let alone niceties like showers and food. Thanks to the proliferation of IEDs in Iraq, needs like body armor and properly armored vehicles have been brought to public attention, but combat personnel are also lacking things ranging from gun lubricant to uniforms. I happen to think that’s pretty poopy, myself.
Assuming one makes it out of Iraq after multiple return tours courtesy of the backdoor draft, the situation at home isn’t always better, thanks to routine denials of VA benefits for things like brain injuries and PTSD. Now the government is trying to dismantle the GI bill, attacking reservists’ benefits first, because they are viewed as a soft target. Given the historically strong support for the military in this country, I don’t know how the government thinks that it is going to get away with this.
I think that all of these issues are starting to come to the attention of the public, and most people, like me, think that this is not acceptable. Some people (like me) are even taking the additional step of making their displeasure known to elected officials; my Congressman is on the Armed Services Committee, and he knows exactly what I think about the current condition of the American military. If you’re feeling especially motivated, you can also volunteer to assist veterans as they navigate the VA system, and in rural areas, veterans often need drivers to get to VA service centers.
The Isthmus published a great article last week about brain injuries, which are being called the “signature injury” of the Iraq War. Anyone who’s been reading anything resembling a newspaper is probably aware of the fact that brain injuries are a growing problem, and the VA is even sinking some serious funding into researching brain injuries. The bulk of such injuries, incidentally, are caused by being in close proximity to IED explosions, so they are pretty clearly combat-related, no matter how one chooses to define that sort of thing.
The thing is, when soldiers die in Iraq or in military hospitals as a result of brain injuries, they are hailed as heroes. But when a soldier dies months or even years after discharge as a result of what is very obviously a brain injury, the death is basically written off. In fact, the military is making a conscious effort to pretend that men and women in their 20s drop dead mysteriously all the time, rather than facing the fact that these deaths are the result of complications associated with brain injuries acquired in combat.
The thing is, when you die from a combat injury, your family is entitled to certain benefits. So the VA has a very clear reason for trying to minimize the official reporting of such injuries. In addition, they probably think it’s bad for PR when returning vets drop dead six months after their tours, because people are already riled up about the casualty rate as it is.
Maybe if the DOD would perform recommended screenings for returning veterans, people wouldn’t be dying from brain injuries months after their service in Iraq. This is perhaps one of the most depressing things of all about the brain injury issue, because with screening, some of these deaths could have been entirely preventable. Instead, soldiers are being given a clean bill of health and allowed to return to normal life, despite the fact that many are very obviously not healthy, since healthy people don’t generally die in their living rooms bleeding from the mouth, ears, and nose at 25.
What the Isthmus article pointed out was that aside from the obvious crappiness of missing out on benefits, surviving family members are also really frustrated by the refusal to acknowledge brain injuries. For parents especially, this unstated policy can feel like a slap in the face. While having a child die is probably unimaginably shitty, knowing that your kid died for a cause must make the situation marginally better, and to deny that a death is combat-related is to deny that someone was a hero. Giving your life for your country, even in a shitty war that everyone including you hates, is markedly different from mysteriously dropping dead for no known reason.
And it sounds like parents are starting to fight back, trying to force the military to reclassify such deaths, which is good to hear. I would really like to see some serious pressure in general on the DOD and the VA to deal with returning service members more effectively, because I see no reason to let them fall through the cracks, no matter how expensive it is.