Veterans care sucks

The US Military Cemetery near the Normandy invasion beachhead. Photo by Rob Howard.

by Rob Howard
Political Columnist

America’s record of caring for its veterans is a patchwork of good, bad, and terrible. We’ve seen veterans of the Revolutionary War receive land grants in newly opened territory. The Civil War saw pensions for veterans and their widows and orphans, which were paltry at best.

In my own family, my great-great grandfather went off to fight for the Union, died after six months from Yellow Fever, and left a widow with five children to care for. Her pension? Eight bucks a month, and, because she was illiterate, a lifetime of harassing letters from Washington bureaucrats, scolding her (and holding up her payment) for getting the spelling of her children’s names wrong, or getting their birthdates confused.

Veterans of World War I were promised bonuses for their service. WWI ended in 1914, but the certificates with their bonus could not be redeemed until 1945. Millions of veterans and other workers across the country lost their jobs in the Great Depression. In 1932, 43,000 marchers descended on Washington in what came to be called the Bonus March, to demand cash payment redemption of their certificates.

The marchers set up a tent city on government property, and were ordered to leave. When they did not, Washington police moved in, shots were fired, and two veterans were killed. President Hoover ordered the Army to evict the veterans. Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur led the infantry and six tanks, drove the marchers out and burned their encampment.

World War II veterans seemed to get better care. They came home to the promise of paid for college degrees, low cost home loans, and a series of Veterans Hospitals to provide care for service related disabilities.

Scroll forward to the Viet Nam War, and its aftermath, and you see deteriorating health care at the VA hospitals, and for a long time, denial of claims for service related disabilities, both for cancer caused by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange and for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for a large number of veterans.

PTSD wasn’t new. It had existed for a long time, leaving soldiers who experienced the horrors of war stunned and mentally damaged for what they had seen. My brother suffered from PTSD, which exacerbated his battle with drugs and alcohol, his ongoing depression, and long-term unemployment. His claim for compensation for PTSD was still pending, 25 years after his service, when he died in 2000.

More recent veterans, from the first Iraq war, and the more recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, have experienced much of the same. The Washington Post reports that “More than half of the 2.6 million Americans dispatched to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with physical or mental health problems stemming from their service, feel disconnected from civilian life, and believe the government is failing to meet the needs of this generation’s veterans.”

Reports of long waits for disability claims, healthcare at VA hospitals ranging for pretty good to terrible and a general disinterest in caring for veterans’ needs after they return home add just another chapter in a long history of forgetting the sacrifices that veterans have made in defense of our freedom.

Although it shouldn’t be a partisan issue, Republicans seem to have shorter memories when it comes to serving our veterans. Congress should get off their collective ‘dead butt’ and spend the money needed to care for our veterans.

Wednesday, November 11 is Veterans Day. Thank the veterans you know for their service. And then sit down and write your Senators and Representatives in Congress, telling them to get to work on veterans’ care and benefits.

The Gayly – November 11, 2015 @ 8:30 a.m.