Vets

Vet no.1

I have been working on this painting off and on for the last month. It is based on a street musician I saw last summer in Minneapolis. The sign was similar, but he was playing guitar. The creepy Bush mask is my idea.

Just today I heard on the news that a massive Veteran’s Assistance bill is up for a vote to address veterans’ issues. House Republican’s are complaining that the proposed legislation “costs too much”. Incredible! The very people who most zealously wave that “support our troops” flag? (I turned the radio off at that point, choosing not to smell that fart).

Some of the main issues facing today’s Veterans:

-Veteran unemployment is nearly twice the national average. Young Veterans who joined the military after high school and went off to war are at a disadvantage when competing for civilian jobs with peers who didn’t serve. Vets often don’t have easily translatable civilian skills, nor do they have the network of civilian business and social contacts that other young people have. Unless they apply with companies who place a priority on hiring Veterans, they are in a tough spot competing with other job seekers.

-One out of every three Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans suffers from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or a combination of the two due to combat trauma. Upon returning home, our troops are not receiving proper medical and psychological evaluation or counseling. It’s up to them to seek the help they need and often this help is not easy to find or to access.

-There is a backlog of 1.2 million claims at the Veterans Administration. The VA application process remains complicated and adversarial. Many Veterans who are disabled and unable to work due to war trauma are waiting months or years for benefits they were promised and have earned. This results in many Vets with significant financial problems that can end up homeless or worse.

-A third of all homeless citizens in America are Veterans. Due to many of the factors discussed here, Veterans with distinguished, even heroic, military records are ending up living on the streets. One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), over 300,000 veterans by the end of 2012. The social and economic costs of PTSD are immense. First-year treatment alone costs the government $8,300 per person, or more than $2 billion so far. Because of untreated PTSD or TBI and self medication with drugs and alcohol, many Veterans are finding themselves in conflict with the criminal justice system. Nearly 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were either homeless or in a federal program aimed at keeping them off the streets during 2013, almost triple the number in 2011. Advocates for the homeless say many of the estimated 2.5 million Americans who served in the two wars went into combat zones on multiple deployments, something many veterans of previous conflicts never had to endure.
They’re coming home to a bad economy. The country is different. Their families are different. They are different. Plus they are dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other issues around mental health.

-According to the data, Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans age 18-24 committed suicide at a rate of 80 per 100,000. That is four times the suicide rate among non-veterans of the same age group. The non-veterans committed suicide at a rate of 20 per 100,000. Suicides among active-duty military personnel averaged one per day in 2012. Veterans now account for 20 percent of suicides in the U.S.

-While overall veteran unemployment has historically been lower than the national average, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans has been considerably worse than for those who didn’t serve in the armed forces — climbing to roughly 10 percent, compared to the national unemployment rate of 7.2 percent. The overall unemployment rate was 7.3 percent, 6.2 percent for all veterans and 10 percent for post-9/11 veterans.

Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, not wars of necessity. We’ve chosen to create a “warrior” or “war fighter” caste in this country, which we send with few concerns and fewer qualms to prosecute Washington’s foreign wars of choice. The results have been predictable, as in predictably bad. The troops suffer. Iraqi and Afghan innocents suffer. And yet we don’t suffer, at least not in ways that are easily noticeable, because of that very remoteness. We’ve chosen—or let others do the choosing—to remove ourselves from all the pain and horror of the wars being waged in our name. And that’s a choice we’ve made at our peril, since a state of permanent remote war has weakened our military, drained our treasury and eroded our rights and freedoms.

World War II was a war of necessity. In such a war, all Americans had a stake. Nazism had to be defeated; so too did Japanese militarism. Indeed, war goals were that clear, that simple, to state. For that war, we relied uncontroversially on an equitable draft of citizen-soldiers to share the burdens of defense.

Contrast this with our current 1 percent wars. In them, 99 percent of Americans have no stake. The 1 percent who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the “military-industrial complex” in 1961. In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians and retired military types who have passed through Washington’s revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington. They are the ones who, in turn, have dispatched another 1 percent—the lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military—to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad.

This is how it is done, in the words of one twenty year old veteran:

“The best way to fashion a “dick” like myself,-“dick” being an acronym for “dedicated infantry combat killer”- is simple, and the effect of racist doctrine. Take an empty shell off the streets of L.A. or Brooklyn, or maybe some Podunk town in Tennessee, and these days America isn’t in short supply. I was one of those no-child-left-behind products. Anyway, you take this empty vessel and you scare the living shit out of him, break him down to nothing, cultivate a brotherhood and camaraderie with those he suffers with, and fill his head with racist nonsense like all Arabs, Iraqis, and Afghans are Haji. Haji hates you, Haji wants to hurt your family, etc. Just some of the most hurtful and ridiculous propaganda, but you’d be amazed at how effective it’s been in fostering my generation of soldiers.”

Our distant permanent wars, our 1 percent wars of choice, will remain remote from our emotions and our thinking, requiring few sacrifices except from our troops, who grow ever more remote from our polity. This is especially true of America’s young adults, between 18 and 29 years of age, who are the least likely to have family members in the military, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

The result? An already emergent warrior caste might grow ever more estranged from the 99 percent, creating tensions and encouraging grievances that quite possibly could be manipulated by that other 1 percent: the powerbrokers, money-makers and string-pullers, already so eager to call out the police to bully and arrest occupy movements in numerous cities across this once-great land.

And yet, some think a simple “Thank you for your service” should suffice.