Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Praise of Those Who Serve

by Pa Rock
U.S. Army Veteran

Today is the day that America pauses to honor her veterans, and while the military or its individual members often generate bad press, there is so very much that is good about the young airmen, soldiers, sailors, and marines who step forward to answer their nation's call to service.

I served four years in the military at a time when our country was bogged down in an unpopular war, and many Americans were suspicious of, or even repulsed by, the military.  Those who came home from the awful war in the Vietnam were often ignored or marginalized by American society.

I am not a veteran of the Vietnam War, but I feel kinship with the members of my generation who were swept up in that conflict - many of whom were draftees and did not willingly march off to the war drums that LBJ and Robert McNamara were relentlessly pounding.  They served in brutal combat.  And when those young people came home, they were not greeted with parades and proclamations - as their fathers and mothers had been after World War II.  Many were seen collectively as drug addicts and malcontents who had war experiences that civilized society couldn't comprehend or process.  They were shunned and shamed.  Even the venerable Veterans of Foreign Wars found itself in the hypocritical position of opposing benefits for Vietnam veterans.

Now, nearly two generations later, we are again bogged down in what appears to be endless war.  This time, however, there were no draftees - though some young people found themselves unable to exit the military for a while when their enlistments expired - due to a dastardly program called "Stop Loss."    The public relations program for these wars has also been smarter.  As an example, the official focus has been solely on American casualties, and not those of our allies or enemies, or on the collateral wounding and deaths of non-combatants such as children.   This time around journalists have not been permitted to photograph the planeloads of flag-draped caskets returning from the battle fronts.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been presented to the home front in far more civilized terms than was the Vietnam war.

The veterans of our current wars are faring better than the young people who came home from Vietnam, but we can still be doing so much more to reintegrate them into society.   There are some good programs that have been established to help with those suffering war injuries - such as the Wounded Warrior Program.   Unfortunately, unemployment rates for veterans remains high, and there are many homeless veterans living on America's streets.

One particular area where we are falling down as a society is the way in which we treat our returning female veterans.  We are now involved in wars in which our women fly planes, carry guns, and can become involved in actual combat - and many are returning home bearing the physical and emotional wounds of war.   Unfortunately, they are not receiving adequate treatment for their disabilities.

The following is taken from a recent posting of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, and while the source may offend some, the substance should offend all.  Please ponder:

  • Approximately 40% of active duty women have children, but military childcare is not meeting the current need and there are limited mental health services to help military mothers and their children.
  • Many VA medical centers are not women-friendly, and half of the nation's VA medical centers do not have a gynecologist on staff.
  • 1 in 3 women veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress also reported Military Sexual Trauma. Those women reporting MST were 4 times more likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress than those not reporting MST.  (MST also affects men. In FY 2010, the 45.7% of veterans who screened positive for MST were men.)
  • While the Veterans Benefits Administration approves 53% of all claims related to Post Traumatic Stress, it accepts far fewer claims — only 32% — when the PTS is related to sexual trauma.
  • Prosecution rates for sexual predators in the military is low; in 2010 less than 21% of cases went to trial. Of these, only 53% were convicted.
  • Women veterans are are twice as likely to become homeless as women who never served in the military. In the last ten years, the number of women veterans who have become homeless has doubled.  Most of them are under age 35.
  • It is harder for women veterans to find a job after the service. 14.7% of women veterans are unemployed.

Veteran's Day, 2011.  May it be a time of reflection when we recognize and honor the sacrifices of those who serve - and a time to reflect on what we as a country need to do to adequately repay that sacrifice and service.

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