This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for while, but I haven’t known how. We read this book for our Veterans Giving Circle, and it was eye opening, appalling, heart-breaking, and over whelming all at the same time.
While I’ll talk about what I took away from the book, I encourage you to pick it up and read for yourself. You’ll discover a deeper appreciation for just how hard it is to be a veteran in this country.
The War Comes Homes
Aaron Glantz documents the systematic and pervasive neglect of America’s veterans by its politicians. When my husband joined the army, it was exactly the type of stuff in this book that I was afraid would happen to us. While we’ve been fortunate, the author shares intimate stories of those who were not and have been profoundly affected by the government’s actions or in-actions.
Veterans are Inconvenient
The drum beat for war is loud, patriotic, and infectious. Young men volunteer to serve and defend their country. The country rallies (in many cases) to support them and their country. There is glory in victories for all the share.
But what happens when the war is over? What happens when the veteran’s come home? What happens when the public is tired of hearing about it and tired of the sacrifices? What happens when politicians are given free reign to short change veterans for other more politically expedient projects?
Veterans Cost Money
Duh! But here in lies the problem. Politicians hide the true cost of a war to encourage the country to support it. So, when they’ve underestimated the costs of caring for veterans before the war, they don’t have the money during and after to take care of them properly. 600 billion was approved at the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, yet a Nobel prize winning economist estimated that the VA can expect 700,000 new patients and disability claims with a projected cost of $682 billion alone!
This is nothing new, and Glantz shows us how throughout American history, our politicians have avoided paying for our veterans. For example, after WW1, tens of thousands of veteran’s camped on the National Mall in Washington to get their promised bonuses. But we’ll focus on today, because that’s having real consequences for people right now.
In January 2005, Bush’s Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu told the Wall St Journal that veteran’s military care and disability benefits “are hurtful” and “are taking away from the nation’s ability to defend itself.” Not surprisingly then, the Government Accountability Office in 2007 found that “46% of the Army’s returning service members who were eligible to be assigned to a medical unit had not been assigned due in part to staffing shortages.”
Throughout the book, Glantz discusses injustice after injustice- benefits denied due to forced personality discharges and dishonorable discharges due to PTSD related symptoms, under-diagnosis, denied legitimate claims, and on and on.
Glantz never fails to put a human face on the consequences of this neglect. He shares the story of a young man who was found dead in his VA hospital room after being unconscious and unmonitored for days and the young man who committed suicide after being turned away from the VA hospital because there was no mental health professional available to talk to him.
Charities Have Helped, But…
Since the government has massively failed to take care of its veterans, charities have filled a crucial need. These charities do everything from provide medical care, psychological services, financial help for unexpected expenses, and home remodeling to retrofit homes for disabled veterans. It’s amazing and heart warming to witness how America has stepped up to support our veterans.
However, it does not relieve our government of their responsibility. They created our veterans. They must care for them. They must fulfill the promises they made. Our veterans should not need to beg and scrounge for help.
Nor can private organizations meet the demand, and many veterans will not get the help they need and are entitled to without a fully funded and accountable public system. Until that happens, veterans will continue to fall through the cracks, commit suicide, receive substandard medical care, and struggle with adjusting to civilian life.
Take Action! Hold Our Elected Officials Accountable
Veterans make up a diverse electorate. They span all ages. They are from the country and from the cities. They are Republican and Democrats. Because of their diversity as a group, they do not speak with a single, organized voice, and this has caused them to be less effective as lobbyists for veteran’s rights.
But those who’ve put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy freedom and prosperity deserve our real support– not lip-service. We must stand with them and hold our politicians accountable. Call your congressmen and demand they keep their promises to veterans. Demand full funding for veterans and active duty members physical and mental health programs.
You can do more by supporting a local veteran’s group, a veteran’s organization engaging in political lobbying, or a charity providing important services and support to veterans.