A Thanksgiving appeal for our wounded veterans

John W. Whitehead's picture

“Appeal for Wounded Men,” proclaimed the New York Times headline. “An appeal to citizens to open their homes on Thanksgiving Day to the 15,000 wounded soldiers in the city was sent out yesterday. ... ‘Many of the disabled men feel the people have forgotten them.’”

That article appeared on Nov. 14, 1920. Four score and seven years later, our veterans are faring no better. In fact, except for the fleeting ripple of awareness among the news media and the American public around Veterans Day, the men and women who put their lives on the line to preserve our freedoms are all but forgotten.

Yet while we are called on daily to make certain sacrifices for the sake of winning the war on terror and bear with encroachments on our rights, economic hardships and an increasing number of casualties on the battlefield, our government leaders are doing little to care for those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Our military veterans return home suffering from traumatic brain injuries, the loss of limbs, post-traumatic stress syndrome and mental illness, only to find themselves jobless, with limited access to health care and other necessary support services.

We’re not talking about a small group of people, either. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 24.5 million veterans in the United States. More than a third of those living served during the Vietnam War.

Unfortunately, many of these very same individuals who survived harrowing experiences on the battlefield are having a difficult time just getting by today. For instance, a recent report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) indicates that veterans make up 25 percent of America’s homeless population.

“Combat veterans are especially at risk,” says Steven Berg, the NAEH’s vice president for policy and programs. “When people serve in battle, particularly, they come back and they’re injured. They’re injured with physical disabilities, they are injured with mental disabilities, and that all makes it hard for people to get jobs and pay rent and stay housed.”

As one newspaper observed, “there is simply no reason to tolerate the notion that a man or woman who was prepared to die for this country ought instead to find him or herself homeless in it.”

Others are struggling to just make ends meet. As a recent New York Times editorial pointed out, “Tens of thousands of reservists and National Guard troops, whose jobs were supposedly protected while they were at war, were denied prompt re-employment upon their return or else lost seniority, pay and other benefits.”

Still others are being treated to bureaucratic run-arounds and are being forced to foot the bill for injuries sustained in battle. As the Times reported, “Some 1.8 million veterans were unable to get care in veterans’ facilities in 2004 and lacked health insurance to pay for care elsewhere.”

Even without physical disabilities to contend with, the transition from the battlefield to civilian life is not easy for many vets. Orlando Castaneda, an Army combat veteran from Texas who served in Iraq, put it this way: “When we come back, we are fragments of human beings, mentally and physically. We’ve been in the thick of it.”

Sadly, some of these fragmented human beings are resorting to suicide. According to a recent CBS News special investigation, data from 45 states shows that 6,256 veterans took their own lives in 2005.

That averages out to 120 deaths per week, which is more than double the suicide rate of non-veterans. Veterans aged 20 through 24, the age group currently serving in the war on terror, had the highest suicide rate among all veterans — between two and four times higher than civilians the same age.

It’s a sad state of affairs. We ship these men and women off to fight for us, offer brief tributes to the ones who die and leave those who return home — many of them wounded in body and spirit — to fend for themselves.

And with nearly 200,000 American soldiers currently fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is little wonder that “aid groups are bracing themselves for a tsunami-like upsurge in the coming years.”

If compassion alone doesn’t compel us to do something about the plight of America’s veterans, then shame should, because it is disgraceful and dishonorable the way we continue to treat these men and women who have given so much for our country.

And I say “we” because, ultimately, we the taxpayers, we the voters, we the people are responsible for how our country is run.

Clearly, our elected officials need to do more than play political games with legislation intended to improve veterans benefits, but they won’t act unless we pressure them to do so.

So this Thanksgiving, by all means remember to give thanks for the men and women who have made it possible, but don’t just leave it at words. Put some action behind your words by doing your part to pay back the debt we owe these courageous men and women.

Take five minutes right now to write or call your local and state representatives to urge them to provide better care, facilities and job opportunities for our veterans.

Assist disabled military veterans to acquire the financial and medical help they need.

Find out what veterans live in your community and work with your church, synagogue or other institution to reach out to them.

Many are in need of food, shelter and transportation, but others simply need a friendly face. Some communities are arranging free meals for homeless vets, as well as providing food and hygiene bags. If yours is not already doing something, arrange something.

A society is measured by how it cares for its poor, including its veterans. Now is the time to demonstrate that we are a country that values those who sacrifice so much in order for us to live free.

[Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.]

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Submitted by d.smith700 on Wed, 11/21/2007 - 9:42am.

The article above speaks about helping our military this Thanksgiving.
It is unlikely that many current people will perform as some did when I was in the military. Not all, but most, then were draftees and they represented an average of our nation: everything from farmers to magicians! If you had one or more into your home--not only at holidays but anytime--you could generally expect a pretty average Joe. Many did just that! The streets were full of uniformed people--coming and going. Parties were going on in special clubs, where pretty girls from nice families served food and danced with us.
Occasionally the parents would invite us home for a day or so, and yes the parents were usually there also.
Most of us got three or four chances for such treatment during a hitch, since leave was generally insufficient time to go home--not considering the lack of pay in those days.
You were also always welcome on a 24 hour pass---just to hang around, eat and sleep, just as the family did.
Many marriages also came from these occurrences!
I don't see it today very much at all.
I can think of numerous excuses why not, but there really is no reason for the problems.
When I did decide to go home on a long leave, a thumb in the air got me a ride soon. No interstates in those days, but people would take you three miles in the direction you wanted, let you out and people would blow their horn to see if you were going their way!
NEVER had any trouble going 4-500 miles one way!

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