Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Support Our Troops

From the Los Angeles Times:

FT. LEWIS, WASH. — A sniper shot Sgt. Joe Baumann on a Baghdad street in April 2005. The AK-47 round ripped through his midsection, ricocheted off his Kevlar vest and shredded his abdomen.

The bullet also ignited tracer rounds in the magazine on his belt, setting Baumann on fire.

Almost two years later, the 22-year-old California National Guard soldier from Petaluma, walks with a cane, suffers from back problems and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder that keeps him from sleeping and holding a job.

These are times when we sacrifice the lives of servicemembers in ill-conceived, needless wars. Then we cheapen those sacrifices with trite, ostentatious slogans and media events that purport to "support the troops." But what happens when Sgt. Baumann returns home after his ordeal in Iraq?

The question pending before a military review board ... is whether to grant Baumann a military disability pension and healthcare or simply cut him an $8,000 check for his troubles. ...

In a preliminary ruling last month, the three-officer Physical Evaluation Board that is reviewing Baumann's case decided for the severance check, rating his disability at only 20% and characterizing his post-traumatic stress disorder as "anxiety disorder and depression."

If he accepted the $8,000, Baumann still would be eligible to apply for Veterans Affairs disability benefits. But VA benefits do not include retirement pay, family healthcare, and military post exchange and commissary privileges. In what many soldiers regard as the ultimate Catch-22, if he were accepted by the VA, he would have to pay the Army's $8,000 back.

Next time you encounter that "Support Our Troops" slogan, ask yourself what it really means. Who are our troops? Are they the young, inspiring, whole-bodied youth who make for good campaign ads and touching moments of television? Or are they also the mangled, broken people who return from these exercises in folly -- the ones who aren't so easy to make eye contact with?

Stories like these, which deal with the federal government's bureaucratic masturbation or the even more horrific conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center, too often serve as the other bookend to a soldier's story. The bands play and the flags wave when we send our men and women off to kill, but our dead or wounded too often come home to coldness and silence.

And there's certainly precedence for what happens to the veterans who come home broken and then fall through the cracks. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans:

The VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men ... has put on a uniform and served this country. According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999), veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America.

When I lived in Cleveland, my ex-wife was a case worker at a facility for homeless veterans. Almost all of the vets had addiction or mental health problems, and many of them had chosen to make mistakes that helped lead them to that facility. But there's little question that many of them developed their problems during the course of their military service. And there's no question that the military failed to adequately assist these folks after their discharges.

There are valid criticisms against the concept of serving in the military and fighting wars. There hasn't been a draft in decades; all the members of our military are volunteers. But there's no question that a government that can design a system to efficiently conquer lands and kill thousands of people has a fundamental moral responsibility to design and execute an equally efficient system to care for the people who volunteer for the fight.


Craig said...

One addendum: If we leave such matters up to the government, nothing will get done. There are scores of volunteer opportunities in your community. Consider pitching in. I've been off the volunteer train for a while, and should be doing my part.

Anonymous said...


Give this a look and a listen. Similar subject matter.

-- PDM

Anonymous said...

When US Surgeon General Walter Reed 's Typhoid Board [a commission to study Typhoid] arrived at Camp Algier in Virginia, conditions at the soldier's camp were filthy and overcrowded. When the commission visited another camp to inspect sanitary conditions, the colonel gave them a tour of the grounds, which were foul.
Reed turned to the colonel and said, "[My 2 colleagues] are on this commission because they know something of camp sanitation. I am here because I can damn a colonel." Then, he lectured the colonel on the responsibility an officer has to enforce good sanitation and health among his troops.
--from The American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby

Given current events, Walter Reed must be turning in his grave!

Dr. Hot Crap said...

logic mistake no. 1: the US has an effective and efficient war machine.

Craig, name me the last land the US successfully conquered in the last 40 years.

logic mistake no. 2: the government cares for its military servants.

I hate "high-profile" cases, but the latest one is that of Pat Tillman -- ex-NFLer. He was killed by friendly fire. The gov't so cared for him and his family that it and its messengers lied to Tillman's family for months about the circumstances of his death.

Your addendum is truly the one of two ways to facilitate change: volunteer or hond your congress-person. Remember, he or she works for YOU!

Craig said...

Well, I can name one: Iraq.

Conquering a country and successfully occupying it are two different things. We vanquished the ruling government with little trouble. But our government was too arrogant and imbecilic to truly plan what to do AFTER toppling Saddam.

And I'm with you about the government. Soldiers are just one more piece of capital for an institution to exploit.