Monday, May 21, 2012

Veterans issues: Parades, hospitals, suicides

John Reid Blackwell (Times-Dispatch -- link is text and video) reports on a veterans parade in Richmond, Virginia Saturday, noting it was a "WELCOME HOME THE HEROES PARADE" for those who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  John Reid Blackwell reports, "The veterans were joined in the parade by numerous other organizations that provide support for military personnel and their families.  The parade features 70 entries from all over Virgnia including high school marching bands and Junior ROTC units."  Meanwhile Ruth Moon (Rapid City Journal -- link is text and a photo essay) reports that nearly 70 service members with th 1st Battalion of the 189th Aviation Regiment returned to Sioux City Saturday from their tours of Iraq and Kuwait and that among the hundreds who turned out to greet them were Governor Dennis Daugarrd, Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, US Senator John Thune and US House Rep. Kristi Noem.  Among those returning was Staff Sgt Michael Beck: "This deployment, Michael Beck's second, was especially tough because the couple had just adopted three children.  They finalized the adoption two months before Michael deployed, leaving Emily Beck to handle four children."

In other news, Chris Otts (Louisville Courier-Journal) reports young veterans feel the VA left them out of the loop in a survey -- "young" is defined as those who served in the current wars, regardless of their own actual age.  A hospital will be finished in 2018 and its location was based upon surveys which heavily weighed those who had served in 1980 and before.  And as more details emerge, it's difficult for me to agree with the 'young' veterans on this one.  You may, that's your right and I could be wrong.  But I don't think Iraq War veteran John Galle and others help their own side with details like this featured about them "who don't use the hospital now but probably will in the future."  If you're not currently using a VA hospital, I'm not sure you have a right to complain that the survey featured more 'older' veterans in the survey.  Older veterans already accessing VA care, as a group, are less likely to move (the biggest exception being if they move to a longterm care facility).  Younger veterans not currently accessing VA care are, historically (not just for this conflict), more mobile and more apt to move to different areas.  But, in all honesty, this wasn't something to survey on.

I'd argue this goes again to the problems with VA.  Last week, we heard in a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Hearing that major changes were being made in how the VA secured prosthetics for individuals.  The new process would be cumbersome -- even the VA's Norbert Doyle admitted to that though he disagreed that the new steps would amount to "300 additional steps" -- and many people who follow this issue -- including Paralyzed Veterans of America -- argue that the result will be that veterans will not get the prosthetic limbs prescribed but some inferior version that does not do what is required.  Doyle repeatedly stated that this step, set to be implemented in July -- less than two months -- was necessary and needed and, oh, he's sorry no one sought veterans input but he'll be happy to meet with anyone he can that he can squeeze into his schedule between now and then. [If you missed those hearings, you can refer to Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot," Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and Friday's "Iraq snapshot."]

That issue should have had a survey of veterans before any changes were proposed.  They should have surveyed those who will be affected.  A new VA hospital?  The location for one that will be finished six years from now (but delays being what they are, it might be eight or ten years from now) is not a topic you survey on.  Does the VA and its leadership not know a damn thing about how to its job?  A population model was what was required for that. 

Mark Thompson continues to be one of Time magazine's strongest correspondents.  Today he offers an interview with two peope.

Anna Simon covered the 2004 death in Iraq of Kimberly Hampton for South Carolina’s The Greenville News. She became friendly with Kimberly’s mother, Ann Hampton, after writing a series of articles about Kimberly. The pair chatted with Battleland via email recently about their book, Kimberly’s Flight: The Story of Captain Kimberly Hampton, America’s First Woman Combat Pilot Killed in Battle:
How did Kimberly N. Hampton die?
Ann Hampton, mother: Kimberly was flying an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter above the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq, providing cover for ground troops raiding an illicit weapons marketplace when she was shot down on Jan. 2, 2004.

She chose to lead her troops on a mission she knew would be particularly dangerous. It was a mission others were slated to lead. While her death left her father and me with a hole in our hearts that will never heal, she left a powerful legacy of dedication to her mission, to her troops, and to her country that fills us with pride.
Who was she?
Anna Simon, reporter: An all-American girl from a small Southern mill town, U.S. Army Captain Kimberly N. Hampton was a top student, student body president, ROTC battalion commander, highly ranked college tennis player, and West Point appointee. She overcame demons of doubt after deciding to leave the Academy and found joy on a different path to the life she wanted.
Driven by ambition and determination, Kimberly rapidly rose through the ranks in a typically all-male bastion of military aviation to command Delta Troop, 1/17 Cavalry, 82nd Airborne Division.

To read that and many more of Thompson's reports (we highlight him often but we don't highlight all the content he produces, Time's lucky to have someone who's both that knowledgable and that productive) click here.

With close to 20 veterans taking their own lives every day in the US, you might think this epidemic would get a lot of attention -- from either the press or the government.  That's really not been the case.  The only government exception has been the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and, in fact, it's Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, that is owed the thanks for repeatedly staying on this problem and for repeatedly insisting that the VA start tracking it.  At The Daily Beast, Anthony Swofford explores the topic:

In 1992 I was in danger of becoming such a statistic, just released from the Marines after four years of service and combat action in Kuwait during the Gulf War. I know the suicidal temptation that can accompany the isolation and loneliness veterans experience after the high of combat and the brotherhood of arms fade in the rearview mirror. I skulked around college campuses with a watch cap pulled tight to my ears, looking for a threat, knowing that when it appeared, I could extinguish it. I took a swing-shift warehouse job that required very little human interaction. I became a writer, which also required very little human interaction. It took nearly two decades to find my way free of the morass.

While there is no one reason for any person's suicide, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the military shy away from placing blame directly on the psychological and social costs of killing during combat.

No one within the VA will use the word "epidemic" when talking about suicide, but it can't be denied that the rate of suicide among current-war veterans is drawing attention and concern. Before these current wars, the rigorous training and intense discipline of military service were considered a defense against suicide.

 Law and Disorder Radio  is  a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights).  Today they discuss a federal appeal on behalf of two Iraqis, the Palestinian Prisoner Hunger Strike, Azadeh Shahshahani joins them to discuss the ACLU's findings on the immigration detention center in Georgia, Sean Strub joins them for a discussion on HIV-specific criminal laws and labor issues pertaining to retail and food employees are the topic for a discussion with attorney Daniel Gross of Brandworkers.

Finally, David Swanson (War Is A Crime) reports on the actions in Chicago:

A huge crowd gathered for several hours and marched for over two miles in the hot sun to oppose NATO and U.S. wars on Sunday in Chicago. Finishing the march outside the NATO meeting, numerous U.S. veterans of current wars denounced their previous "service" and threw their medals over the fence, a scene not witnessed since the U.S. war on Vietnam.
This event, with massive turnout and tremendous energy, saw the participation of numerous groups from Chicago and the surrounding area, including students, teachers, and activists on a variety of issues, as well as anti-war activists and Occupiers from around the country and the world. No one can have been disappointed with the turnout, but it might have been bigger if not for the fear that was spread prior to Sunday. In the face of that fear, Sunday's action was remarkable.
The fear was the result of a massive militarized police build up, rumors of evacuations, the boarding up of windows, brutal police assaults on activists, preemptive arrests, disappearances, and charges of terrorism. A segment of the activist world plays into these police tactics, wearing bandanas, shouting curses, antagonizing police, and eroding credibility for claims that violence is all police-initiated.
Yet the vast majority of the crowd was disciplined, nonviolent, and effective. It is critical that the people of Afghanistan know the people of the U.S. oppose what NATO is doing to them. Speaking at the end of the march were members of Afghans for Peace, who read a message from Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.
It is also vital that the people of Russia know that we do not want to make their nation our enemy; only our government and our weapons makers do. And it is important that those who have been actively opposing NATO in Europe for years see that we in the nation that provides the bulk of NATO's forces are waking up to what that entails.
Americans cannot help but know more about NATO this week than they did a week ago. We've even received a small taste of the violence that NATO imposes on others -- courtesy of the Chicago police and various imported state, city, and federal police/soldiers. For NATO to meet in Chicago it was deemed necessary to import a few night raids and a great deal of brutality.

The e-mail address for this site is

law and disorder radio
michael s. smith
heidi boghosian
michael ratner