Saturday, February 04, 2006
Op-ED-Honor our veterans by caring for them after they serve U.S.
Message: Another example of how our government misleads and betrays our troops.Article Title: Op-ED-Honor our veterans by caring for them after they serve U.S.
The sign is meant to honor our troops and remember the fallen heroes. It tracks the number of American troops killed in Iraq, the number wounded and the days passed since the war began. It helps bring an understanding of the staggering cost of our military operation in Iraq, both in terms of lives lost and economic consequences
I have moved the sign of Iraqi war casualties that was in the window of state Sen. Steve Kelley's gubernatorial campaign office. I have decided to make it a traveling memorial, and it is now at the Sunhillow bookstore on Fourth Street in Duluth. It will be moved to different locations in the area until April 25. Then, it will be displayed on the speaker's podium during the Operation Firing for Effect veterans' march in Washington, D.C. The march is being held to demand a Veterans' Bill of Rights and mandatory funding for veterans' needs.
While the location may be different, what has not changed is my feeling every morning when I change the numbers. Instead of just an updated statistic, I see a face for each number. With that face I also see a mother and a father, a husband or wife, and a child. The numbers are not faceless statistics but people who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
The sign is meant to honor our troops and remember the fallen heroes. It tracks the number of American troops killed in Iraq, the number wounded and the days passed since the war began. It helps bring an understanding of the staggering cost of our military operation in Iraq, both in terms of lives lost and economic consequences. That many people have rallied behind it and its message was unexpected but much appreciated. The sign has been instrumental in creating debate, and I hope it will lead to a consensus, and possibly a solution, to ending the division in our country in the civilian and veterans' community.
The idea for the sign came out of a discussion among three veterans driving back to Duluth from Milwaukee nearly a year ago after attending the Veterans and Military Families for Progress conference that arose out of the ashes of the John Kerry presidential campaign. We were discussing what we could do in our own communities to help veterans and active duty military personnel and their families. An idea was born and the sign was made. The sign's message has been heard around the world because of its location next door to the U.S. Army recruiting station in downtown Duluth.
I have been asked many times if this juxtaposition was on purpose. Actually, it was just a coincidence. My intention was to create discussion about veterans. One of the most crucial of those topics is veteran health care. To support our veterans we should guarantee they will be taken care of after their service is completed. But the Veterans Administration medical system is seriously and systematically underfunded. About 263,000 veterans considered to be "high income" have been locked out of the VA health-care system. This is not the benefit they were promised when they served, but a cost-saving measure by the VA to cover a gaping hole in its budget caused by an increasing veteran population and the underfunding of the VA. Other veterans who are in the system have to wait months, sometimes years, for a disposition on their disability claims. There are also long waits for medical appointments at VA facilities. What do they and their families do in the interim? Whether the veterans are disabled or not, the government needs to honor the promises it made to the brave people who serve our country.
Almost 40 percent of the troops in Iraq are from the National Guard or Reserve. Their VA benefits are dramatically limited compared with those of active duty personnel. It is vital that they become aware of the inequities in the VA system that they'll be forced to use.
I salute the dedicated employees at the VA facilities. They do an excellent job, but because the VA disability system is considered an "entitlement program," their budget is financed by discretionary funding that Congress can cut every two years. I would think that anyone who wants to honor our veterans would question this system. Historically, our country's military has included many enlistees who were given promises that weren't kept after their service was completed. Consider the Bonus March on Washington after World War I, in which thousands of veterans camped on the Mall demanding immediate payment of a bonus they were promised after the war. President Hoover removed these brave veterans of the War to End All Wars by sending Col. Douglas MacArthur to clear them out, attacking veterans who were asking nothing more than what they were promised.
Please honor our veterans, but also hear a sage warning from our first president, George Washington: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."Please visit Veterans for Common Sense at http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org
I know that this doesn't compare with the way they treat combat veterans but it's all part of the same thing.
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