As a vet I have worked on getting other vets their due and after 20 years, finally Agent Orange was recognized as a legitimate cause of conditions our vets had found themselves in based on service in Vietnam.
The fight was long and hard, our vets already customarily dismissed for having Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (at the time it was not recognized as a covered Disorder), so it was even much harder to get the government to recognize that continued exposure to Agent Orange (a product now known as RoundUp) as a cause for multiple maladies affecting our returning heroes.
Today is no different than those returning Vets in 1972 when we essentially turned over the war to the Vietnamese to finish.
A young man, John Kerry (now a Democratic Senator of Massachusetts and past Presidential Candidate in 2004,) once gave testimony to the Winter Soldiers conference where he asked the question "Who wants to be the last person to die in an unneeded war?"
Well, we have a problem Houston, and it is exactly the same thing.
Here I sit, on Memorial Day weekend Sunday, flipping channels between the French Open and the Indianapolis 500 and I can't stop thinking about this.
We have one Veteran or active duty soldier killing themselves every 80 minutes, and we have no answers from the government on how to fight this catastrophe. PTSD (finally a Disorder requiring Government intervention and care) is now a known and accepted problem but our vets cannot get into programs fast enough to keep them alive. The problem is not one of class, not one of our inability to give the proper care, but the problem of our government taking up to 18 months or more to start these heroes in a program than can help.
Part of the interval solution is the use of drugs, but the drugs only help in the act of taking their lives. A bottle of pills without proper care by professionals is like handing a despondent man a loaded gun.
And if you look at the problem on a basis of geographical area, you won't find any differences in the outcome, but some of our Veterans offices are processing medical requests very efficiently whilst some are so overwhelmed that some of their cases are being handed off to other offices in other cities or extremely remote processing offices away from the Vets who are supposed to be receiving care.
I had first written about these problems even before the war in Iraq officially started, and the tales told then have only been proven as prophecy because nothing has changed.
Oh, well I guess I have to be totally honest here and say that the test we have passed is the one of protecting our active duty soldier in theater to the point where our combat deaths are very small in comparison with the Vietnam war.
In that war our dead simply didn't have the body protection our troops do today, and so our deaths far exceeded those of today, but the flip to that is that now we have tens of thousands that might well have been dead who are now alive and trying to learn to live with prosthetics we didn't have available for our wounded previously.
So we really did flip it, from 58,000 dead in Vietnam and thousands of wounded Vets, to about 4,500 dead in Iraq and tens of thousands of wounded Vets.
Wounded Vets, who by the way, have no place to go to get proper treatment in a reasonable timeframe, which leaves our Vets vulnerable and alone. And they are not afraid of death. They have lived with death enough to consider it one additional avenue they can take to end their misery, their problems, and perhaps even give something back to their families in terms of life insurance when they have nothing else to fall back on.
These guys and gals deserve one hell of a lot better than what they are given, and again the America people need to make sure that no President throws our troops into a war of choice effectuated by a bunch of lies.
So the question John Kerry asked as he was being abused by the media and the Republican right, is still pertinent and should be asked by every American.
Who wants to be the last person to die in an unneeded war?
Apparently we'll never know because those deaths are still going on today and will continue until we get our Veteran's Administration to do the job they are supposed to.
I respect General Shinseki, the current Veterans Administration Cabinet head and the only military man to tell George W. Bush the truth about how many troops we'd actually need to fight the war in Iraq and was subsequently relieved of his duty as the Army Chief of Staff. But he needs to stand on some heads and get the VA up to snuff of doing the job as well as these young men and women did for their country.
Let us remember all of this on this Memorial Day and understand that we wouldn't be saluting so many dead if we not only didn't fight wars of choice, but also made certain that we were able to help each and every Veteran and returning active duty soldier. A dead soldier or Vet every 80 minutes of every day of every week of every month of every year isn't what America is about.
God bless our men and women in service to America.