When Johnny and Joan Come Marching Home How We Treat Our Veterans Says Much About America’s Character
June 17, 2008, How America treats returning soldiers once the confetti is swept off the streets, long after the ubiquitous “Support the Troops” bumper stickers and yellow ribbons are removed, and tiny flags come off our car aerials, is a revealing measure of a country’s character.
The U.S. soldiers and reservists were sent to Iraq ostensibly to protect us from the perils of weapons of mass destruction. As we issued them rifles and armor-less Humvees; we said “Go fight the enemy.” But we betray our young veterans, mostly 18 to 25, when we hand them a pencil and say, “Now go fight the bureaucracy,” as William Fox, Dean of Catholic University Law School testified in April at the trial for a lawsuit filed in San Francisco District Court by two veteran advocacy groups.
Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth seek an established policy of fair medical treatment for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Every town in America makes some attempt to welcome home its National Guard units to help them reconnect. In San Francisco, private advocacy groups include Military Spouses for Change, mental health professionals like bay area native Joe Brobow’s Coming Home Project, and Swords to Plowshares. These individual efforts are making a difference, and there is much to be proud of because they reflect the caring nature of the American people.
However, private advocacy cannot replace public commitment. With a sizeable majority of the public opposing the Iraq war, commitment from our government to ensure veterans receive effective treatment is even more important.
In 2003, the Bush administration announced major combat had ended for the Iraq mission, yet on June 12, the death toll of U.S. troops reached 4,098. The Iraq and Afghanistan war now exceeds by almost a third the cost of the also unpopular 12-year Vietnam War, according to World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes. The Iraq war now exceeds the duration and budget of World War II (adjusted to 2007 dollars)–when expenditures reflected unprecedented, unified national commitment.
By contrast, two-thirds of Americans oppose the Iraq war.
“So?” was Dick Cheney’s response on ABC news to the poll numbers back in March. A “major success” is how Cheney unwaveringly characterized this costly, deadly war.
Cheney and the “Vulcans”
While George W. Bush was such a novice in foreign policy when he became president that he suggested that the Taliban was a rock-and-roll band, Cheney, Donald Rumsfield, annd other members of the Bush administrations’ war cabinets, date back to the Nixon years and the Vietnam war. Twice Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (the youngest-serving Defense Secretary during the Fall of Saigon and the oldest during the Fall of Baghdad in 2003) rebuffed outcry over the military not being provided proper armor.
“You go to war with the army you have,” he said.
These seasoned military “vulcans,” as James Mann in his book Rise of the Vulcans calls them, appear to have, at least publicly, an “iceberg” cost analysis of this war–factoring in only the tip of the real costs. Tens of thousands of veterans have returned to America broken, burned, and likely nuclear irradiated, according to the BBC, from exploded and spent tank munitions, or overwhelmed by what they witnessed or did.
Adjustment Disorders May Be Tip of Treatment Costs for Veterans
An astounding 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from major depression or PTSD, according to a RAND report, and more than 300,000 have suffered traumatic brain injury. Four hundred thousand vets are now waiting for their cases to be processed, so that treatment for these complicated medical conditions can begin. The number actively seeking assistance for homelessness is up 600 percent in the past year.
The San Francisco lawsuit claims that the VA’s failure to respond to rising veteran suicides and mental trauma reflects a VA national strategy to reduce the expense of treatment veterans deserve and desperately need. However, veterans achieved a major victory in the court last week, as Fog City Journal reported, when Federal Judge Samuel Conti allowed into evidence an incriminating email in which VA psychologist Norma Perez may have, by implication, directed counselors to downgrade PTSD to mere “adjustment disorders,” which requires shorter-term treatment. The judge earlier allowed into evidence the “Shh” Katz memo in which Ira Katz, the VA’s mental health chief, acknowledged internally within the VA, the Rand Corporation’s attempted suicide figures of 1,000 per month, after representing publicly to CBS News that the number was much smaller – only 800 in all of 2007.
Congressional Hearings, “Deny, Deny, Deny”
At a June 5 hearing, Bob Filner, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Committee, accused the VA of criminal negligence in failing to respond to rising suicides among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
“The pattern is to deny, deny, deny” he told Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Peake. “Then when facts seemingly come to disagree with the denial, you cover up, cover up, and cover up.”
Ft. Bragg “Squalor” YouTube Posting Preceded President’s Visit
Soldiers returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan may be facing a different type of negligence. The upset father of a soldier returning to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after a 15-month mission in Afghanistan has posted a video on YouTube to communicate the run-down conditions in which his son and other members of the 82nd Airborne Division were living. The video clip features one the son’s roommates straddling a barracks sink plunging fecal matter floating in a cloudy sea across the floor of a latrine.
“Soldiers should never have to live in such squalor,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who claims to have watched the video posted by Ed Frawley, the father of an 82nd Airborne soldier.”
The video was posted shortly before Bush spoke to troops at Fort Bragg during an official presidential visit. The popular video has received more than a half-million hits since it was first posted in February.
Senate Democrats Take Action – Rockefeller Reports
At another June 5th hearing, the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, and the Committee released two bipartisan reports alleging numerous misstatements on intelligence relied upon to justify going to war. The reports detail Bush Administration prewar statements that misrepresented the intelligence and the threat from Iraq.
“Before taking the country to war, this administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence,” Rockefeller said. “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”
“It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qaida as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.” Rockefeller stated. “Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.”
Impeachment Back on the Table
Last week, a 17-member delegation of Veterans for Peace presented some 23,000 petitions to Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), demanding the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Conyers, chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary, has the authority to call for impeachment hearings.
At their meeting with Conyers, several of the Veterans for Peace members, each carrying a bundle of petitions, placed them on a table in front of the 21-term Michigan Democrat, and stated why they were in favor of impeachment.
Elliott Adams, Veterans for Peace president, emphasized to Conyers, a Korean War veteran: “It’s not just about impeaching a President, it’s about defending democracy. It is about whether we will continue to have a government of the people and for the people.”
After listening to the veterans, Conyers said he was not prepared to comment on the impeachment articles Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) introduced, but would examine them carefully. He invited members of the veterans group back immediately after the Fourth of July recess to tell them his path forward.
Later that afternoon Kucinich met with the Veterans for Peace delegation in a corridor of the House of Representatives. Kucinich said that if the Judiciary Committee did not schedule hearings by the time the Independence Day break was over, he would “be back with 68 articles the next time, and more after that until they are heard.”
Vincent Bugilosi’s new book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, outlines a step-by-step blueprint to prosecute Bush for murder for all prosecutors in every jurisdiction across America.
“Why Not, Nancy?”
Meanwhile congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, in an open letter is calling on opponent Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to put impeachment on the table.
Perhaps Pelosi doesn’t see Kucinich’s 35 articles of impeachment, the Rockefeller report, the Bugilosi book, and the Vets for Peace 23,000 signatures as sufficient to support impeachment. But Kucinich and others are convinced that much greater public support lies beneath the surface. At the very least, Pelosi could keep these arguments in full public view during the final months of the presidential election.
She also could show compassion for returning Johnnys and Joans by expressing visible and vocal suppport for Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth in their historic lawsuit – filed in her San Francisco jurisdiction – demanding a VA-wide policy to provide prompt, fair, and effective medical diagnoses and treatment for desperate veterans.