Memorial Day: The Holiday We Don’t Honor Our Troops

“In honor of Memorial Day…bring your worn American flags and drop them into the special receptacle. Thanks to our local Boy Scouts, VFWs, military organizations and American Legions for their help in properly retiring all collected American flags”

[Sign posted on Memorial Day weekend at a major grocery store]

It’s been a long weekend from the endless spectacles that dot the U.S. landscape on the day we call Memorial Day to the dichotomy that exists between the treatment we lavish on the symbols of our warlike ethos and the treatment we afford the actual human beings who volunteer to fight these endless wars. On the one hand, if you have a “sick” flag (ragged, tattered), a whole raft of agencies — the Boy Scouts, VFW, American Legion — will come to its rescue, retiring it “with dignity.”

On the other hand, if you are unfortunate enough to come home from a U.S. war wounded or disabled, you can expect a much different level of care. Starting with long delays to get needed medical care— “[in 2016] 526,000 veterans were waiting more than a month for care. And about 88,000 of them [were] waiting more than three months” (New York Times) and ending with the non-existent or long delayed disability benefits you were promised in return for your service. Would it surprise you to learn that despite a whole lot of hot air from the last two administrations (Obama and Trump), there are still 80,000+ vets currently in limbo having filed for disability benefits and wound up stuck in the queue? Many will wait years to have their claims adjudicated. For those who are refused (80% of Gulf War veterans were refused the first time they applied), appeal procedures will take years longer. Currently, a half million veterans are awaiting a decision on their appeals. Many will pass away before they get an answer. How many? Even one is too many and there are lots.  According to a March, 2018 report from the VA’s Inspector General, in early 2016, 1,100 veterans died after waiting more than one year for the VA to rule on their appeal for benefits. Some vets consider their treatment business as usual in the Empire —a policy they claim of: “Deny, deny until they die” and “Delay, deny, hope they die.” Those lucky enough not to die can expect interminable waits, often for years, to get a ruling on their claims. According to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, “scores” have been waiting 25 years to get a ruling.  22 have been waiting 30 years.

The fortunate ones, vets lucky enough to return home hale and hearty, can expect a red-carpet welcome, a plethora of half-price hot dogs, discounts on new cars, computers, furniture, and household appliances. At a sporting event or concert, the healthy ones will bask in the glow of a nation’s gratitude for not having to see the results on young bodies of American machismo in the form of endless war.

Those who come back damaged in mind and spirit should expect the worst. Our systemic neglect of veterans with psychological problems is manifest in the dramatic rise in veteran suicides. Between 2001-2014, the suicide rate among veterans rose by one-third, among civilian adults less than a quarter (23%). Every day 20 vets take their own lives. Surprisingly, the majority, 65%, are older than 50. The suicide rate of these older vets is testament to the failure of the military to live up to its commitment to take care of its own. While all four branches of the military point with pride to their commitment to leave no dead soldiers on the battlefield, they are criminally negligent when it comes to making sure those who survive receive top notch, timely care. Even more culpable are the military brass who are too busy starting more wars to fulfill their promise of financial support to those whose lives are forever changed by their service. That’s the kind of support a truly grateful country would regard as its highest priority. Anything that falls below that standard is dereliction of duty and should be punished.

Maybe our laissez-faire attitudes are the result of our disinclination to put our own bodies on the line. Less than one-half of one percent (.4%) of Americans serve in the military. Since the U.S. abolished the draft in 1973, most of us choose not to serve.  America’s elected leaders share our non-participation. In 1975, 75% of Congress had some military service. 43 years later, only 20% are veterans. Three of our last four presidents took full advantage of draft deferments and a sinecure in the national guard to escape the draft (Obama came of age after the draft had been abolished). Today, over one million young people (1.4 million) have volunteered to serve in the U.S. military. 22 million more are veterans (as of 2014 census figures)

Brutal indifference to the fate of those who serve reaches beyond the grave. When a soldier in the military dies, the President customarily sends a condolence letter to the grieving family. Before 2011, soldier suicides were the exception. Only the families whose loved ones died in “approved ways” received presidential tributes. When Obama eventually responded to the public outcry, his new policy was almost as obnoxious as the old one —condolence letters to the families of soldiers who “commit suicide in a combat zone.” Considering that two-thirds of military suicides occur after troops leave the battlefield, Obama’s “new policy” is as wrongheaded as the old one. Here is how the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors sees it: “It is time for us, as a nation, to honor all those who die while serving… [deaths among troops are] painful to their surviving family members, regardless of the circumstances or location of the death.” A year and a half into his term, President Trump’s treatment of soldiers and veterans who commit suicide can be summed up in one word — indifference.

What you don’t know may hurt the most. Standing at attention at endless displays of carefully scripted patriotism, you are probably unaware that you are paying for them. The dirty dealings between the Department of Defense and professional sports leagues were open to public scrutiny in 2015 in a report released (without the fanfare it deserved) by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake — “In all, the military services reported $53 million in spending on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015. More than $10 million of that total was paid to teams in the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Soccer (MLS). …” What was the point of this egregious waste of millions that should have been spent on providing care and support to veterans? The knuckleheads at the Pentagon believed that these spectacles provided grist for the recruiting mill as well as a dandy way to convince skeptical Americans that war is exceptional America’s finest hour. What it boils down to is that every tax-paying American has become an unwitting sponsor of the military’s flagrant use of tax dollars to gin up support for mostly illegal wars. Here’s what McCain and Flake concluded— “…it is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to support a military appreciation or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism…”

If you have trouble sleeping tonight, chalk it up to a growing awareness of the bitter fruits of U.S. wars. Patriotic displays that purport to honor our troops are nothing more than a desperate government hedge against the all-too evident decline of the global American empire. Think reports of America’s declining credentials among the rest of the world’s nations are a fantasy cooked up by a bunch of progressive left-leaning radicals? Feast your eyes on this headline in the incontestably right-leaning New York Post on Monday, May 28th “Trump awards Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL accused of war crimes.”  Perhaps it’s time to put to rest the insincerity and duplicity of U.S. war mongers and end the spectacular growth of the U.S. war machine. Let’s bring our young people home and make sure their biggest battles are left in the war zone. Let’s give them a homecoming that befits their sacrifice. While we’re at it, let’s make sure they are the last generation to be put in harm’s way for the sake of a superpower’s delusions of a Pax Americana.

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