America is celebrating Memorial Day, a day that both marks the beginning of summer and honors the loss of those Americans who fell on the fields of battle. So, this day is both a joyous holiday and day of quiet reflection. Two things that don’t go hand in hand.
It’s also a day wrapped in the hyperbole of patriotism. Where the airways and the Internet are filled with patriotic messages about thanking a veteran or memes claiming the sacrifices of our veterans are why we are free.
As a veteran this is well and good but I am bothered by how easy it is to thank a vet compared to how difficult it is to take care of the needs of veterans. It is easy to wave a flag but not so much to ensure veterans aren’t overlooked in their day-to-day lives.
Most veterans don’t make the ultimate sacrifice but they all make some degree of sacrifice. Just raising one’s right hand and agreeing to go in harm’s way if required is something the average American will never experience. But being in harms way is something most veterans will never experience either. Most who serve do so in support positions, far from the zing of flying shrapnel or the bursting of bombs.
Whatever a veteran did while serving doesn’t really make much difference. The people, through their government, have made a promise to those who serve. You do this and we will meet a certain of life’s necessities. We’ll help you find a job, we’ll help you acquire an education, we’ll help you with your medical needs, especially those resulting from combat experiences.
America has always been willing to make these promises but just as often it has willed to overlook them. Throughout American History there are flagrant examples of government turning its back on promises made. In the late 1920s the government refused to make good on bonus payments to WWI vets and even sent federal troops against protesting veteran groups. For twenty years following Vietnam the government refused to acknowledge the suffering of those exposed to Agent Orange.
Today we are in the midst of a major scandal inside the long beleaguered Veterans Administration. Most experts believe the VA medical system to be among the best. But the system is so overwhelmed by simultaneously fighting two of America’s longest wars it can’t keep up and administrators are cooking the books to hide the shortfalls.
To exasperate the problem politicians have leaped into the fray attempting to gain position and votes. Everyone is pointing fingers at everybody and ignoring that they all share a responsibility. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began over ten years ago and we’ve all were warned the system would become swamped by returning veterans needing both simple and very complex services. Two presidents and congress persons of both political parties have failed to step up and deal with the situation in a bipartisan manner.
At this very moment hearings are being conducted in Washington DC demanding that heads roll. But in February of this same year the Senate Republican caucus refused to pass a bill that would address some of the current VA problems. These are the very politicians who voted to send young Americans into harms way but who now renege on the promises made to those they sent.
There are literally millions of veterans who might not be deserving of total VA coverage and care. That’s another discussion. But, if this nation sends a person into the fury of combat this nation owes that person everything they need to deal with the consequences. And every politician has the responsibility of working hand in hand to ensure those needs are met. The only ideology at play should be making good on the promise.
So, while putting a “We Support the Troops” sticker on your car may make you feel better it solves nothing. If you truly support the troops you need to loudly insist the needs of combat vets be met, regardless of cost and regardless of political ideology.
The new American ideology and mantra should be, a promise made is a promise kept.