“It is sweet and right to die for one’s country,” wrote the Roman poet Horace in his ‘Odes.’ The Roman army still influences our world today; its conquests built an empire. But it could not stop Rome from rotting from within.
Monday was Memorial Day in the U.S. While we can hope to spend some time in quiet reflection of the people who gave their lives for our country, it mostly serves as the start of the summer season. There are many tributes to America’s fallen on my social media feeds, but the posts that feature barbecues and sunbathing are more abundant.
The American public is tragically disconnected from our own military. I count myself among the guilty. I know several veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I wrote and sent them things while they were away. But had you asked me where exactly they were and when, I couldn’t tell you.
As the public flag-waving gets more fervent, the actual involvement with our military becomes more detached. We have had an all-volunteer military for several decades now. Not since the Vietnam War have Americans been called up in a draft. When I turned 18 I had to register for the Selective Service and I still have my card someplace. While still the law, draft numbers are lower; we don’t have reminders to register. The military is simply not a reality for wide swaths of our population.
It is easy to wave a flag and heap praise on people who are gone. It’s a lot tougher to turn that sentiment into real action that helps the living. As a country, we’re falling short on both grounds.
My brother knows people who live six hours driving time away from the Veterans Affairs hospital where he goes regularly. Some take hours-long bus trips to the VA only to find that their medical appointments were canceled without notification. Veterans have been known to commit suicide in the parking lots of VA hospitals; this phenomenon doesn’t surprise my brother one bit. He’s been negotiating the bureaucracy of the Veteran’s Administration for the better part of the last 20 years, with an increased intensity over the last 10. He was recently ordered to have an unnecessary EKG done so he could get a refill of medicine he needs. He knows his prescription regimen better than the rotating doctors and orderlies assigned to help him; and every so often he has to essentially retrain the people who should know how to help him.
We’ve trained soldiers who can survive poison gas and terrorist bombs but not our own healthcare system. This would be inexcusable in a second-world country, let alone the richest country in the world. And the VA didn’t suddenly collapse; it’s been infamously bad for generations now.
Our commitment to our country and our fallen veterans has got to spread far beyond the traditional ceremony and observances if our patriotism is to have lasting meaning. Let’s start today.
Memorial Day is a day when millions of Americans pay lip service to people who gave their life in service to our country. It’s happening at a time when the government’s treatment of our veterans has never been worse.
Laying a wreath for the dead is not a substitute for respecting the living. And our veterans have been mistreated in ways that ought to shame a nation that claims to be a serious military power. The current state of neglect of our veterans is about as respectful as taking a piss on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Why are there celebrities making commercials for private charities that care for veterans? Why should any private charity exist to support wounded veterans? Our government accepted full responsibility for the health of our veterans when the veteran signed on the dotted line to join. There should be no issue with veterans getting the things they need.
Yet our TV broadcasts are teeming with entertainers taking to the airwaves to beg couch potatoes for money on Memorial Day weekend to help wounded American veterans.
Ours is supposed to be the most powerful military in the world. Our armed forces operate drones that can send a missile up a camel’s ass two thousand miles away but can’t afford a few shekels to build a wheelchair ramp for a crippled soldier? Am I the only person in TV land who thinks this is horrifying horse shit?
Health care for your soldiers is a basic, like ammunition for rifles, boots and helmets. You wouldn’t send a soldier or Marine into battle without ammunition, you don’t bring them home without the ability to provide health care.
What better way to tell our enemies that the U.S.A. is a paper tiger than to let them see that private charities have to help care for wounded U.S. service members?
And it’s gotten worse. The Bureau of Veterans Affairs was shown to keep secret waiting lists at some of its hospitals to cover up the terrible waiting times for medical care. So upper management knew how bad things were and tried to cover it up rather than fix it.
So while the efforts of the Wounded Warrior Project are noble, such charities shouldn’t exist because they shouldn’t have to. Veterans with serious injuries should have all of their health needs tended to. They shouldn’t have to raise money for wheelchairs or artificial limbs. Those benefits should be a given and not subject to debate.
We have an all-volunteer military and haven’t had a draft since the Vietnam War (although the “stop-loss” programs and activation of inactive reservists during the George W. Bush administration served as a kind of draft, with the lottery restricted to veterans who had already served). So it behooves the government to make good on its promises to veterans. Among the outraged public are potential new recruits. If the military is willing to break its promises to the aged and the infirm, why should a patriotic American want to join. (N.B. – Years ago a family member who was then enlisted in the armed forces described recruiters as “hired liars.”).
So while I hope everyone at least takes a moment to reflect on the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country, we should determine that there won’t have to be private charities tending to the needs of our veterans.