For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
Rudyard Kipling "Tommy"
Since the founding of this country the government has been putting the boots to military veterans once the wars have been won.
This is not new, nor isolated to the US, as Rudyard Kipling so aptly pointed out regarding the British Army in his poem "Tommy," excerpted above. This also is not the first time I have written about this country's reprehensible treatment of its veterans, nor that I have used "Tommy" in leading this column.
It fits nicely and I believe that repetition may be the best way to get the message across.
To put this in historic perspective America's first full-term president - no not George Washington, John Hanson, who in 1781 was the first full-term president under the Articles of Confederation - had to quell a near mutiny among officers who had won the Revolutionary War. It seems the fledgling government placed paying its first veterans way down the priority list and the vets were so ticked off that they threatened to install George Washington as king!
Maltreatment of vets continued through the Civil War, and the government's reneging on promises made to World War I vets was so horrendous that in the 1930s Great Depression they marched on Washington along with family members, and camped out on the National Mall, demanding redress of their grievances. In response the government ordered two future WWII heroes, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George Patton to roust the vets using armor and infantry, and they did, with loss of life in the veteran ranks.
After WWII, where the active military represented 10 percent of the total population, veterans did pretty well overall, with significant increases in temporary benefits affecting education, housing, and job assistance. But when the Korean War broke out, the number of Americans actively involved in the military and the fighting was minimal compared to the Big One, and the political muscle necessary to keep the politicians' attention began to wane.
This trend continued with Vietnam Vets and Gulf War vets, who had to fight tooth and nail just for recognition of illnesses ultimately traced to Agent Orange and possible chemical weapons exposure. This was not new either, what with WWI vets needing treatment for mustard gas exposure, and post-WWII vets becoming sick from radiation exposure during atomic weapons tests.
With the number of veterans again climbing due to six years of fighting in the War on Terror, and budgets a constant focus for both major political parties, it appears that the vets are again taking an ax across the neck.
For some time now I have been corresponding with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Revie, a Vietnam veteran who is retired from the US Army with a 100 percent service-connected disability from Agent Orange exposure. Charlie is the Legislative Director for the Newe Mexico-based Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees, which represents hundreds of thousands of disabled military retirees.
He has sent me reams of information on matters his organization is pursing under the heading BROKEN PROMISE and ERODED BENEFITS ISSUES. Much of their focus is on government manipulation of the disability rating system that determines who gets treatment or compensation, and how much.
Retired vets can really get the shaft if they retired under a medical discharge without sufficient years in service, or a high enough disability rating. The disability rating itself is inconsistent what with the Veterans Administration, which deals with vets after they serve, having a different disability scale than the Department of Defense, which rates those still in the service, but on the way out due to medical disability.
Charlie's organization is working to get the DoD and the VA on the same page both in the disability ratings, and in the qualifications for compensation. He notes that President George Bush ordered a unified disability ratings system last spring, but that the two organizations still apply different criteria.
USDR also is focused on the issue of Concurrent Receipt, whereby military retirement pay is reduced dollar per dollar if a retiree is also receiving disability compensation. Charlie notes that support for disabled soldiers dates from English Law of 1573.
The American law prohibiting Concurrent Receipt first passed in 1892 and the current law passed in May 1944 - two weeks before Normandy Invasion. This law requires a $1 offset of earned military retirement pay for each $1 of VA disability compensation.
The law does not impact other Federal salaries or annuities - only military retirement. A little hypocrisy goes a long way in Washington.
Other issues disabled vets are facing include: Health Care; Tax Credits/Exemptions for Medicare Part B Premiums; Relief from Medicare Part B Penalties; Improved TRICARE access, reimbursement rates, and administration; Tax Exemptions for Medical Insurance Premiums; and the Survivors Benefits Program.
Rather than posting all of what Charlie has sent me, I will refer you to the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees web site: http://usdr.org
There is contact information at the site.
I also would like to point out one other matter that I have addressed here before. In my little state there are about 300,000 veterans, and we can make a huge difference in any election where we are motivated and involved.
A case in point was the campaign of former Democratic US Senate hopeful Ned Lamont, who was outspoken in his opposition to the war in Iraq, and who successfully wrested the Democratic nomination from incumbent Joe Lieberman in 2006. Lamont, following the lead of many other politicians before him, visited the annual Harvest Fair in my community which typically sees more than 200,000 visitors over four days.
Politicians usually visit the veterans' hamburger booth to let the vets know where they stand on the issues, and take advantage of a photo opportunity. Governors, senators, and congressmen have been to see us, as well as local politicians. Lamont shunned the vets in 2006, walking to within feet of our booth before turning his back on us, which elicited a chorus of boos. He then further compounded the matter by scurrying away.
That little incident made the blogosphere in a matter of hours and news quickly spread throughout the state veteran community. Lieberman, running as an independent Democrat, crushed Lamont and kept his Senate seat. You can bet the veteran impact was substantial.
Local politicians were the norm this year, except for presidential candidate Ron Paul, who is running for the GOP nomination. He didn't personally show up, but he rented a booth at the fair and his Ron Paul Revolution T-shirts were a fixture throughout the four days. His supporters stopped by for a burger, which did catch the attention of the vets.
On the national level there are an estimated 26 million veterans. We are a formidable bloc when we unite behind a candidate or issue. In fact, if most veterans vote, and back one candidate or party, we can determine the outcome of virtually any election.
The problem is, despite the way veterans are usually portrayed in the mainstream media - as a separate and lesser class of citizens - we represent the entire spectrum of political and social demographics. We rarely vote the same, any more than any other segment of American demographics always backs one person 100 percent of the time.
But we have a tremendous opportunity here. The first primaries for presidential nominees are less than a month away and there is plenty of time to nail down the candidates on the issues.
By that I don't mean a photo op with a generic "I support our veterans and our military who are ... blah, blah, blah." I mean real knowledge of specific issues and statements displaying exactly where a candidate stands on those issues.
Remember this. Every single American from Warren Buffett and Bill Gates down to the homeless guy sleeping under a bridge owes what he has in this world to the 7 percent of Americans who are or have put their lives on the line to keep this country free.
Don't like the casualty rates in Iraq? Think of how many civilian casualties there would have been by now if the military wasn't fighting terrorists elsewhere instead of here.
Don't like the cost of the war? Think of the trillions that would have been lost to a destroyed or damaged infrastructure and a ruined economy if the war was on our soil instead of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The active military, and those in the growing veteran ranks, endure long periods of separation from home and families, and substandard living conditions often in
hostile environments. No other class of Americans has travelled to such hostile places, put their lives on the line including being shot at, endured so many hardships and faced extreme violence, including wounds and death, for so little in return.
None. No other. Period.
If this country is going to prevail, if our way of life and our freedoms are to continue in future generations, there will have to be warriors and ultimately veterans. I don't care what the cost is, or what percentage of the federal budget is involved. Whatever is paid to ensure that our military gets the best equipment and treatment, and that veterans get the best after their time on active duty, is worth it.
Without the veterans, without the military, there is no America. Think long and hard about that when you are deciding who to support in the presidential election.
My choice will go to the candidate who is short on lip service, and long on real support for the military and the veterans.
Sunday, December 16, 2007