Monday, November 12, 2007

The Plight of American Veterans

I have never supported the Iraq War and at the time even wrote about the disaster I believed the Chimperator's hubris would bring about. Time has proven me more than on target on the latter point. Between the millions of homeless and displace Iraqis - the majority of whom are children - and the horrifically wounded U.S. casualties, the war has been all that I feared. Adding to my dismay, however, is the shabby treatment veterans are receiving on their return home, be it inadequate mental health care or other needed support. So many of the young military members never signed on for the nightmare they have encountered, some of whom are headed back to third deployments. This New York Times column well describes the problem:
As an unpopular, ill-planned war in Iraq grinds on inconclusively, it can be a bleak time to be a veteran. There is little outright hostility toward returning military personnel these days; few Americans are reviling them as “baby killers” or blaming them for a botched war of choice launched by the White House. Indeed, both Congress and the White House have been hymning their praises in the run-up to Veterans Day. But all too often, soldiers who return from Iraq or Afghanistan — and those who served in Vietnam or Korea — have been left to fend for themselves with little help from the government.
Recent surveys have painted an appalling picture. Almost half a million of the nation’s 24 million veterans were homeless at some point during 2006, and while only a few hundred from Iraq or Afghanistan have turned up homeless so far, aid groups are bracing themselves for a tsunamilike upsurge in coming years. Tens of thousands of reservists and National Guard troops, whose jobs were supposedly protected while they were at war, were denied prompt re-employment upon their return or else lost seniority, pay and other benefits. Some 1.8 million veterans were unable to get care in veterans’ facilities in 2004 and lacked health insurance to pay for care elsewhere. Meanwhile, veterans seeking disability payments faced huge backlogs and inordinate delays in getting claims and appeals processed.
Thus far, more than 4,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, many more than died in the almost-bloodless Persian Gulf war, but only a fraction of the body counts in Vietnam (58,000) or Korea (36,000). A higher percentage of wounded soldiers are surviving the current conflicts with grievous injuries, their lives saved by body armor, advances in battlefield medicine and prompt evacuation. A study issued last week estimated that the long-term costs of their medical care and disability benefits could exceed the amount spent so far in prosecuting the war in Iraq.

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