March 9, 2009 – It was six years ago, March 24, 2003, that the San Marcos City Council, at the behest of a Republican majority led by Mayor Robert Habingreither and councilmember Susan Narvaiz, engineered a unanimous vote of the city council to support the War in Iraq. They used the subterfuge that this was a resolution in support of our troops, but the first clause of the resolution it adopted made clear that the council was voting to support President George W. Bush and his war, which was based on lies and deception. It was the first time in my memory that national party affiliation drove an action of the city council.
I had more than a little interest in that resolution because my son-in-law was in a Special Forces unit deployed to northern Iraq for the invasion. He is now one of over 300,000 veterans of that conflict that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a recent RAND Corporation study. That study also reported that 320,000 of those who served in Iraq likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.
At that city council meeting in 2003, I pleaded with the council not to mix political support for George W. Bush with support for our troops. I asked them to identify members of the San Marcos community who had been deployed and whose families would suffer from their deployment, and offer substantive support to these families. Further, while they were weighing in on national issues, I urged the city council to put their full support behind the full funding of veterans’ health care and rehabilitation. The city council chose not to support these efforts.
Now, the city council has created a Veterans Affairs Committee to advise the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The council says that it wants the group to give advice about
* Ensuring that traditions honoring veterans are perpetuated
* Advising the city about policies and legislation of interest to veterans on the local, state and national level
* Serving as a network for the exchange of information on veterans activities
* Discussing local issues affecting veterans
* Making recommendations on improvements to the Hays County Veterans Memorial
Mayor Susan Narvaiz said that “Our goal is to enlist the help of military veterans or their spouses to keep us informed about issues and activities of importance to those who have served our nation and help us honor our veterans.”
So six years after officially supporting a war that is to date as disastrous in its own way as was the Vietnam War, the city council finally has indicated an interest in becoming “informed” about national policies and legislation. But there is little indication that the city council wants to actively support efforts that would actually improve the lives of veterans and their families who have been seriously damaged by the War in Iraq.
That the Veterans Affairs Committee will report to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which has no focus on veterans services, suggests that the mayor and council have little interest in learning how to help veterans in substantive ways. A city council serious about the needs of veterans would directly commit itself to taking action on veterans issues, rather than just showing veterans “honor,” a perennial political activity that may feel good, but does nothing to improve their lives.
In the past year, thanks to congressional action, the VA has begun to improve services to veterans, but the funding is totally inadequate and unreliably provided to meet the needs of current veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield injuries and deaths now total over 81,000, according to government information obtained recently by Veterans for Common Sense. The number of veteran patients now exceeds 400,000. More than 105,000 VA patients have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. About 59% of those seeking disability benefits experience delays and denials, with most having to wait more than six months just to receive a response from the VA about their claim. More than 809,000 veterans currently are waiting for decisions on their claims. Some veterans are too discouraged to file claims, partly because the claim form is 23 pages long. They need assistance from trained counselors to avoid becoming victims of an inadequate system.
One proper way to thank veterans for their service is to honor our commitments to them for education, health care, and mental health services. If the new San Marcos Veterans Affairs Committee can work on solutions to these problems, it will be a worthwhile effort. However, it doesn’t appear that it was created for that purpose.
If the council wants to help veterans, perhaps it will be willing to use the services of those expensive lobbyists it hired in Washington to put as much effort into supporting veterans as it does into getting funding for the council’s wish list, but I’m not holding my breath. If San Marcos veterans could use the services of the city council’s Washington lobbyists, perhaps our two senators, the Texas congressional delegation, and other politicians who control veteran’s funding might get the message that meeting the real needs of veterans is morally essential.
If the city council put as much effort into supporting veterans as it put into supporting going to war in Iraq, there might be a greater chance to actually help veterans get their just due. If that war has taught us anything, it should be that our elected officials, both in Washington and at City Hall, possess no special wisdom. It is time to elect people to public office who understand the moral values of most Americans. Those values do not include engaging in grotesque violence that creates its own kind of terror for both those we kill and those we pay to do the killing. But those values do include living up to our obligations to those who have served, which requires more than feel-good words in a city council resolution creating a low-level subsidiary advisory committee.