At the Vietnam Wall Memorial in DC
We have had another Veterans’ Day and remembered the sacrifice of the men and women who served this nation.
But we really should be doing a lot more than simply – “remembering them.”
We must do better and demand that our elected and appointed officials “do something.”
My late uncle, Charles Flannery, served in the armed forces led by General Patton when the Allies attacked by way of Sicily the beaches of Italy. Charles was shot in the chest, lifted off his feet, spun around, knocked unconscious, and taken prisoner.
Years after the war, Charles died in a hospital in the Bronx that, according to my elders, refused to give him more blood, to save him from that earlier war wound. Ours was one family, as young as I was, that resented the nation’s unfulfilled promise to our Uncle Charles.
Our nation has been long on promises to vets when leaving our shores to serve our nation abroad, and quite uneven, often indifferent, to their needs upon their return home when broken by the war.
One clear indication of how we are currently failing our service men and women is the statistic that we are losing fewer soldiers on the battle field, than we lose to suicide.
It has a lot to do with the fact that as high as 30 percent of our Vets from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to some studies, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder but don’t receive the care that might erase or mitigate this wake-a-day night mare. Others suffer traumatic brain injuries – most often concussions from one or more bomb blasts – that go untreated.
One whistleblower, Steven Coughlin, a senior epidemiologist in the Office of Public Health at VA, was directed not to disclose any findings that the asthma and bronchitis that returning Vets suffered could have been caused by the “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sad beat of our government’s callous indifference is relentless.
45% of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered compensable disability injuries. Whatever the cost, and it is significant, we handle these claims very slowly. The “system” is overburdened and can’t handle the load. We are told. So why don’t we add the staff necessary? Or, is this how we suppress the cost of paying these claims? There are thousands and thousands of disability appeals (notices of disagreement with a VA decision), one out of five appeals, distributed throughout the eight regional offices across the nation, almost entirely ignored by VA regional offices; one regional office reportedly took 1,219 days to process an appeal from a disputed VA decision.
When they return from the theaters of war, hundreds of thousands of vets are doing time in prison or jail because of substance abuse or mental health. Half of our vets in custody are there because of drug offences. You may have heard that it is easy to get all manner of psychoactive drugs by prescription in the war theater, to keep our men and women fighting. Then, they come home and they can’t get prescriptions. So they improvise. While the VA will authorize prescriptions for returning Vets, they refuse to do so if the Vets are in custody in prison or jail.
Tricare, DOD’s Insurance Plan, won’t pay for addiction treatment with methadone or buprenorphine, whether you are in or out of jail or prison. We have a society thus that prefers to criminalize a person who requires treatment, rather than treat them instead.
We are failing to honor those who have been injured mentally as well as physically. We should be ashamed when we praise Veterans on one day, Veterans’ Day, and the rest of the year, we fail to do what’s necessary to heal, to treat, to repair, to acknowledge by our efforts the lifetime sacrifices they made to our nation and its security.