Now, I’ll start off by admitting that my politics may not look like a lot of the commentators on this blog. I’m not going to go into the specifics of how: most of you know. I am an IVAW member, and if you want to see more of my more nakedly political offerings, they’re over at Active Duty Patriot. That’s not what this post is about, though I’m sure it’ll be interpreted that way by those with an axe to grind.
What I’m here to talk about is the way that veterans are constantly being exploited by politicians and over-bureaucratic systems, promised the world when it’s election season or when they want to look good, and then as the nitty gritty grind of the year drags on, people remember that helping veterans is work, and costs money, and not just money but actual commitment. And somehow, almost to a man, they all find better things to do.
A few years back I was almost fangirlishly squealing over Senator Jim Webb’s Post 9/11 GI Bill. I loved it then, and I love it-in concept-now. But I know too many veterans who are having to drop out of school, who are getting evicted, or who are straight up not able to afford an apartment of their own because they haven’t gotten their check. Some still haven’t gotten their check. This is happening in an Obama administration just as much as it was happening in a Bush one, and you older vets will have to tell me if it was happening just as much under a Clinton one. The VA is broken. They’ve got some good people working for it, but the VA is still broken. They’ve been hiring some of their former most outspoken critics, but I haven’t seen substantive changes, and I don’t know that anyone else has either.
The problem is right now, there’s a severe recession going on. How severe? Severe enough that I know more than a couple vets personally, my generation of vets, still in their twenties or early thirties, who are functionally homeless, couch-surfing across the USA because they don’t have a better option. There are veterans out in the streets right now-veterans who often have no ability to make it through the severe, complicated, time-consuming process that is applying for benefits. Severe enough that veterans are coming out of the woodwork to apply for their VA benefits and disability benefits for the first time in years. Veterans who know the VA is broken, who know they’re going to be engaging in a fight that will potentially take years. But they don’t have a better option.
60 minutes recently did a piece on the VA issues, which, while it won points from me for using the phrase ‘Delay, Deny, and Hope You Die’ in national newsmedia, honestly turned into more of a light exfoliation than the gritty expose the VA actually deserves.
For a million veterans to be waiting for their VA benefits is wrong, wrong, wrong. The fact that it can be glossed over by anyone is just straight jacked up. And this is where the partisan shit comes in-because it is just as wrong under an Obama administration as it was under a Bush administration, but there are a lot less of certain people willing to talk about it. Just as under a Bush administration, there were a lot less of a different kind of certain people willing to talk about the problem.
We have to stop that. If we’re ever going to get anything accomplished, if these guys aren’t going to be languishing for years while the VA fantasizes about getting its shit together, we need to be united in these issues. Forget who’s in charge, forget who may gain or lose in political capital, stand united. Because let’s face it-much as everyone may hate to talk aloud about it, we have a lot in common. We as veterans have a lot in common. We as politicized veterans who aren’t going to take things lying down have even more in common. Whatever else we may want, whatever else our personal issues may happen to be, whether they come with an elephant or a donkey or a little Ron Paul sticker, we all served, and we all want to have our brothers-in-arms treated as well as they deserve for that service. Most of us have been in the military so long that we have an inborn distaste of taking care of ourselves: well, think of it as taking care of your buddy while your buddy takes care of you.
We need to take on the VA-the whole bloated mess of it. Yes, Democrats, you too, even in an Obama administration. Yes, Republicans, even if they take back the Senate or the House. We need to take on the entrenched incompetence and apathy.
People talk a lot about the old GI Bill, back in WWII. What they forget to remember is that those benefits didn’t come from nowhere. Those benefits came, in large part, because of what happened to the last veterans, the veterans of World War I. And those veterans had to march on Washington to get better treatment. Not as part of a protest march, some three hour shindig where everybody enjoys feeling good about themselves, and then goes home with their demands unmet and their needs unsatisfied. No, those veterans set up a camp and refused to leave until they got what they needed. Check out some history of the Bonus Army-it’s a fascinating read. And they weren’t divided by politics. They were of no political brand or creed. They united and said-hey, we’re starving here. We were promised these things and they didn’t materialize. There’s a Depression, and we really need the country we served to honor their promise to take care of us. Real issues faced by real veterans at the time-not pie-in-the-sky stuff. And what’s the important thing-they succeeded.
We could learn a lot from those folks.
“No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write
A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell ’em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now.”
-Rudyard Kipling, Last of the Light Brigade
I know that this doesn’t apply to all veterans. I know many veterans are making it, are successfully weathering out this economic downturn. But the thing is, there are a lot who aren’t. I’m not trying to make it sound like everyone is out on the streets. But there are a lot who are, and a lot who aren’t making it. And the more we fight with each other about what the concept of taking on the problem would mean to various political parties, the more the problem doesn’t get fixed.