In a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking medical benefits, the Bush administration is fitting them with ungrateful arguments. The Bush administration attorneys claim that veterans fortunate enough to be coming back home from Iraq have no legal right to specific types of medical care, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. The lawsuit basically accuses the government of denying mental health treatment to some troops – this at a time when suicide rates are at an all-time high among returning veterans.
Shocked, surprised and appalled? Well, in me, it evokes a sense of “de ja vu” all over again. I served in the U.S. Army between 1968 and 1970 and today’s situation with this lawsuit reminds me of the men I served with – soldiers who had to sue the VA for medical care necessitated by the herbicide Agent Orange, which caused a variety of cancers and health issues among the troops that were exposed to it. In my day I don’t think anyone wanted to admit they needed mental health services, and that’s when you really need them.
The Vietnam War ended decades ago, but the illnesses associated with Agent Orange took 20 to 30 years to surface. But the VA refused to treat these illnesses or compensate these veterans for their injuries. Is this the way our government treats the war-wounded and the men and women who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our ideologies?
Now, according to the current lawsuit, the VA is denying medical care and health benefits to wounded veterans, forcing them to wait for months if not years for their treatment. There is no way or set procedure whereby these veterans can even appeal the VA’s decision. This is outrageous. The Bush administration, using such questionable legal arguments to shortchange our soldiers, is a disgrace to the administration and our country.
What’s more, a recent report says employers don’t want to hire veterans because they are concerned about the soldiers’ mental health and overall skills. The 2007 study by the consulting firm Bat Associates Inc. found that 18 percent of the veterans who applied for jobs within one to three years of discharge were unemployed, while one out of four who did find jobs earned less than $21,840 a year.
So, the veterans who return wounded and worn after honorably serving their country despite their personal reservations about the war in Iraq are discarded like a piece of weathered footwear. They won’t get the healthcare they need to attend to their injuries. They can’t get jobs and even if they do, they’ll be paid a pittance. Why is it a surprise that the suicide rates among veterans is so high? It happened decades after Vietnam and it’s happening right now and unfortunately, it’ll continue to happen for decades to come.
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of these brave men and women. I sincerely hope they succeed in their legal battle with a government that is rejecting the people who made huge sacrifices. There is nothing more unpatriotic than denying our beloved veterans their rights.
Just today, as I was zooming from a settlement conference back to my office, when I saw a tattered, bearded man, about my age, on a Los Angeles freeway off-ramp panhandling with a barely legible sign that said, “Homeless and hungry Vietnam Vet, can you help me out?” I was already past him and gone by the time I realized what his sign said. All day I have been feeling guilty about not buying him lunch. He could have been a guy I served with.