Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11th Day of the 11th Month

It's Veteran's Day.

To all the men and women who served this country in the military, my thanks for your sacrifices and my best wishes. To all of the families who lost their loved ones, either while serving or as a result of service, my condolences.

In the best of all possible worlds, this would be "Remembrance Day," a day in which we look backward at the contributions our quiet heroes made in the past. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world. We are still making veterans, still calling upon men and women to risk everything for reasons that are not always clear, too often for reasons that are kept deliberately ambiguous. Even today, our president is considering just how many more soldiers will be sent to the war in Afghanistan.

Our hope for those new and soon to be veterans is that they are lucky enough to come home. That, sadly enough, is really not enough, because those who come home are soon forgotten, their needs quickly ignored except by a few. Too many of them come home with deep wounds, both visible and not visible, to a country that doesn't have jobs for them or the means to reintegrate them after their service.

Steve Lopez, Page 2 columnist for the Los Angeles Times, has a gut-wrenching and heart-breaking piece on what happens to many of the returning soldiers:

Floyd Meshad, Vietnam vet, was in a Ralphs supermarket in Westchester when his cellphone rang at 9 o'clock one evening not long ago.

It was Meshad's suicide hotline, and a soldier was being patched through.

Meshad, a psychiatric social worker, walked outside the store so he could concentrate while trying to talk the soldier out of killing himself. He gets lots of calls like this from all over the country, more now than ever, and he knew one thing:

This soldier, calling from Florida, was serious.

"He was an Iraq vet being sent back for his fourth tour, his wife had left him after the third tour . . . his house was being foreclosed on, he had two kids," said Meshad, who runs the crisis line as part of his National Veterans Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit with a full menu of services for soldiers and vets. ...

"Anxiety is off the charts" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Meshad said, due in part to the prevalent use of improvised explosive devices that make for constant stress. And the soldiers are bringing the war home.

"PTSD is rampant, TBI is rampant, suicide is rampant, divorce is rampant, violence is rampant," Meshad said. "We're in a world of trouble with our veterans. . . . They're coming back angry, frustrated, broke, they can't get jobs. . . . We're going to see violence. We're going to see homelessness."

Mr. Lopez points out that the Veterans' Administration hospital in Westwood, California is swamped with soldiers desperately needing mental health care, that the professionals there often have case loads of 400 to 500 and are themselves are being crushed by the stress such work involves.

This is the price of war, but those costs are never embraced by our government as fully as the appropriations for the war itself are. The VA is still underfunded and ignored, except when the results of that neglect (mold on the walls of hospital rooms) are discovered, and then the attention focuses more on the failure of the VA than on the means to correct it.

Instead, we set aside a day to "honor" our heroes. Then we forget about them for another year. We conveniently ignore our part of the bargain.

And that is shameful.



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