Veteran's Viewpoint

Oct 12, 2013

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint. 

First of all, let me remind you that Veterans Day is coming up--Monday November 11th.  And again this year, American Legion Post #101will sponsor the Missoula Veterans Day ceremony on the county courthouse lawn, and, again, I will be organizing this event.

As in years past, there will be the opportunity for those in attendance to place flowers on an Honor Table in remembrance of a veteran (or veterans) of special importance in their lives; or simply to recognize the service and sacrifice of ALL veterans.  Post #101 provides the flowers.

Each year, a theme is established specific to that year’s ceremony.  This year, 2013, the theme of the Missoula Veterans Day ceremony will be “For Those With Wounds That Show No Scars”, focusing on the untold number of veterans who return from war psychologically or emotionally damaged.

Now, I’ve talked about this issue many times in commentaries, but it remains one of the most unresolved of veterans’ problems.

This Veterans Day, that seemingly intractable issue will be talked about in order that its importance and urgency are emphasized to all who are willing to hear the American veteran’s story, touching, as well, on ways that might help alleviate the problem.

You know, as an aging Vietnam veteran and as a longtime veterans advocate, I must admit to frequent bouts of cynicism and despair when it comes to seeking  resolution and genuine respect and concern for veterans.  And recently, that cynicism has been in full bloom.

On those occasions when the cynic in me takes over, there are even times when I doubt the very sanity of holding on to a belief that common sense and compassion will prevail in the world of veterans’ care and

recognition--or any other part of the world, for that matter.

And there are plenty of opportunities to be disheartened.

To wit:  I look at the history of the Vietnam veterans’ collective return from war and see their doubly-high unemployment rate, incarceration rate, substance abuse rate, and their rate of family breakup; and then I recall that more Vietnam veterans committed suicide than the numberof American GIs who were killed by the enemy in that war,    

And I wonder why those statistics didn’t shock our political leaders and our citizens into doing at least enough to minimize the problems.  After all, when our country sets a worthy goal for itself, nothing will stop us.  Remember how we pursued the space race until, finally, Armstrong took that “one giant leap for mankind”?

If we have the ability and motivation to put a man on the moon, we can sure as hell find a way to help a generation of veterans find enough readjustment peace for them to get through their crises.

Yet, little seems to have change in the years since Vietnam.

We now find that our newest generation of veterans--those of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--are committing suicide and being subject to those other problems at a rate that is statistically equal to, or even greater than, that of their Vietnam-era predecessors.

Do the folks in government who are charged with finding remedies for veterans’ issues truly appreciate the depth and irony and tragedy of these recurring acts of self-destruction by young veterans?  And what about the American citizen?  Is he or she alarmed about this to the point of speaking up, or do they still seem  convinced that a plastic magnetic yellow ribbon on their SUV is all that is required?

I fear that the answer these questions is not one that could be considered as in the best interest of veterans.

And, in some ways, it actually seems to be getting worse.

We are now witnessing a government shutdown, and a nation on the edge of default because a coterie of ideologues in Washington, D.C. are willing to hold the people’s interest hostage to their zealot-like, self-righteous, beliefs and prejudices.

And how does this affect veterans?  Well, depending on the length of this shutdown, veterans’ care and compensation may well become a casualty.  But worse, there are actual examples of the harm and insult it is causing now in an increasing number of personalized situations.

For example, I was told today that the financial resources provided to the families of our soldiers who are killed in Iraq or Afghanistan so that the families can be on hand at Dover AFB to accept their beloved soldiers’ remains, have been curtailed due to the government shutdown.  The parents, spouses, and children of the five

GIs killed in Afghanistan just this week will not be able to watch the flag-draped coffins of these honored dead touchdown on American soil--just before their bodies are committed to that hollowed ground back home. 

I guess that those dead soldiers and their families are just non-essential.  That, to me, is brutally sad--and shameful.

Veterans, who fought for all the good that this country stands for, should be livid--and, yes, cynical watching the representative government that they defended being reduced to such unprofessional, uncaring, and juvenile action.

So can anything be stirred within us--especially within veterans and among those in the veterans’ circle--to help lift the cynicism and disappointment we’re feeling--to turn the cynicism back into hope--and to address the veteran community’s psychological and emotional ‘wounds that show no scars’?

Come to the Veterans Day ceremony in Missoula at 11:00 a.m. on November 11th--we’ll be talking about it!

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.