Veterans Day, Part II: Guest Post from Julia Spencer-Fleming.
Julia Spencer-Fleming is an award winning author. Her series features Rev. Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne, both Veterans. Her latest novel One Was A Soldier “explores the inescapable legacies of soldiers come home, including a crushing burden of imagined, and unimaginable, guilt.”
—Kirkus Reviews. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Have You Forgotten?
Crazy weather we’ve been having, right? What with the blizzard in October and the heat wave in November--and speaking of disasters, have you been reading about Kim Kardashian? And did you know there’s a war on?
Yeah, I know if you click on Google News headlines, you won’t see anything about it. But it’s out there. Let me give you a story from a different source, KPBS in San Diego. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has released a new, unpublished report on Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) under the Freedom of Information Act. Here are the numbers:
625,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran patients have flooded into VA. That’s 10,000 new patients per month, or a new patient every five minutes. 313,000, or more than half, are diagnosed with at least one mental health condition. The average lifetime cost in healthcare and benefits per patient is $1,000,000. -Jan. 25, 2011
Think about that for a second. In the time it takes you to read this blog entry, another soldier, sailor, airman or marine will have come to the VA looking for treatment. Treatment for depression. Addiction. PTSD. Traumatic brain injury. Disability due to puncture wounds, shearing wounds, shrapnel wounds. If you break for a cup of coffee, it’ll be two veterans. Check your Facebook status? Three.
Chances are, though, you don’t know any of these men or women. Military enlistment as a percentage of the American population has been trending downward ever since Congress ended the draft in 1973. Right now, only about one-half of one per cent of the American population is under arms. That .05% comes from economically disadvantaged families, from small rural towns, and from the south. They come from places and homes where the tradition of military service maintains a precarious toe hold.
It used to be different. Between the end of WWII and the start of Vietnam, hundreds of thousand of men (it was almost all men in those days) were drafted or enlisted. Everybody had a dad, a brother, an uncle in one of the services. Everybody had a picture of some shaved-bald young man in a starched uniform hanging on the wall or propped up on the sideboard. If you heard of a serviceman who died or who was injured, you’d think, Thank God it wasn’t Eddie. Or Ralph. Or Dennis. In my mother’s generation, every one of her brothers-in-law served. Her brother was career navy. She married an Air Force lieutenant--my father--whose B47 bomber crashed during a training mission in the Adirondacks. When she married again--my adoptive dad--he was an Air Force vet. My sister and I both married veterans, and two of our stepbrothers served.
But we’re a rarity. Most of my friends have to go back to WWII before they can name a family member in the military. Over the past eight years, all my children have been in classrooms where everyone sends a card to “Any Soldier”--but no one in those classrooms writes to an uncle or big sister overseas.
So what happens in a country where everyone is proud of Our Armed Forces but almost no one knows a soldier? We throw wonderful parades and allow mentally-ill vets to spiral into homelessness. We slap magnets on the back our SUVs and shake our heads at news stories about the number of post-deployment suicides. We vote for politicians who wave eagles and flags and we vote for spending cuts that freeze medical benefits for veterans.
Does this bother you? It bothers me. This is what I did about it: I wrote a book about five vets from one small town in New York struggling to come to terms with life after war. I’m pretty good at writing characters, and my hope is that some of the people who read my novel leave it feeling as if they know and care about a soldier or a marine. Personally. Intimately.
What can you do about it? Consider donating to the National Military Family Association or the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust. Volunteer one day a month to your area VA hospital or the local homeless shelter. Use one of the local or national job-search boards to hire a veteran. Pay attention to how your representative’s votes affect services to military men and women and their families.
How long has it been? Five minutes? Okay, we’ve got a marine waiting. Hello, corporal. Welcome to the health care system the American people have set up for veterans. How can we help you?
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