Nel's New Day

November 10, 2015

The Tragedy of Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day, a designated time to honor U.S. veterans for their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. For many years, being a vet meant moving toward the middle class, a benefit for struggling citizens. Yet today’s United States is a very sad place for many veterans.

One serious problem is health care for veterans who were sexually assaulted while in the military, ten times the rate for women as for men. Reporting these assaults while in the military is frequently ignored which impacts the lack of care later on, especially when military officials warn television stations to not air these stories.

Col. (Ret.) Kathy Platoni, a U.S. Army psychologist for more than three decades, cited problems such as hostile physicians and violations of HIPAA privacy regulations in the VA. Susan Avila Smith, advocate for raped and sexual abused women in the military, told about a woman placed on a VA co-ed psych ward who was forced to watch a New Year’s Day football game with a group of male patients. They cheered their team, and she screamed in fear, remembering her rape by a serviceman. She was strapped to a gurney, legs spread, and left alone in a quiet room instead of receiving appropriate care and support. Only 55 percent of the 150 major VA hospitals have women’s clinics.

Female service members account for about 15 percent of the armed forces, but 46 percent of military sexual assault victims. Of the victims who reported attacks, 62 percent said they received retaliation both professionally and socially because of their reports. According to an estimation, fewer than three out of every 100 sexual assaults in 2012 were prosecuted.

Among the homeless, veterans represent 8.6 percent, down from five years earlier because of efforts to end veterans’ homelessness. Overrepresented are black veterans who comprise 39 percent of the homeless veteran population but only 11 percent of the total veteran population. Feeding America reports that “20 percent of families served by its food banks and pantries include someone who has served in the U.S. military.”

At least ten percent of people on death row today—over 300 inmates—are military veterans although only seven percent of the population has ever served in the military. Many more veterans have been executed, according to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center. Researcher Richard C. Dieter reports that this disturbing statistic may be related to the serious traumas that veterans have suffered, receiving poor treatment or none at all. One-third of homicide victims killed by veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan were family members or girlfriends. Another 25 percent were fellow service members.

Jeffrey Toobin points out the difference between recent and past veterans:

“Earlier generations of veterans came home from war to ticker-tape parades, a generous G.I. Bill, and a growing economy that offered them a chance at upward mobility. Younger veterans returned to P.T.S.D., a relatively stagnant economy, especially in rural and semi-rural areas, and an epidemic of drug abuse. And they came home to a society where widening income inequality suggested the futility of their engagement with the contemporary world.”

Veterans also have a suicide rate 50 percent higher than those who didn’t serve in the military. Because the suicide rate is higher among veterans who didn’t deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq, the causes of suicide for the veteran population may not be limited to the trauma of war. Suicide among women veterans is much higher than men, almost six times the rate of other women. Suicide for women veterans ages 18 to 29 is 12 times the rate of nonveterans, and every other age group of women veterans is between four and eight times higher. In the general population, women tend to attempt suicide more often than men but use pills or methods other than guns. Female veterans, however, are more likely to have guns; 40% of female veterans use guns to commit suicide.

Veterans, like the elderly, disabled, and others on Social Security, won’t receive a cost of living this coming year, for the third time since 1975. In introducing the Seniors and Emergency (SAVE) Benefits Act—a one-time increase of 3.9 percent or about $581—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) selected that percentage because it’s equal to the average annual increase in CEO pay at the top 350 U.S. companies. Taxpayers subsidize CEO pay packages because they are considered a business expense. Closing that loophole would pay for this increase veterans and Social Security payments while still leaving funding for the Social Security Trust Fund.

Tonight the GOP presidential candidates met to debate issues. Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) supports privatizing the VA health care system, removing government-connecting negotiating power for prices. He also “advocated for leniency in the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation of Corinthian Colleges and its job placement claims” although Corinthian Colleges illegally used official military seals “in its advertising in an effort to recruit recently discharged service men and women” before abruptly shutting down “under the weight of regulatory and legal pressure.” The company was also accused of advertising programs that it didn’t offer and misrepresenting job placement rates to students and investors.

While governor of Florida, Jeb Bush tried to privatize health care for veterans, but the private company providing nursing and food services—a company that donated to Bush’s campaign—went into bankruptcy two years later. The facilities using the private companies provided substandard care and were ranked in the bottom 20 percent of facilities in the county. Records showed that nine out of ten patients did not receive proper care.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson wants to do away with the VA and put their care into facilities for the general population. Although not all VA-enrolled veterans seek health care during a given year, the U.S. had 9,111,955 VA-enrolled Veterans in 2014, a number equivalent to the combined populations of Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and both Dakotas.

Back in 1998, Sen.Lindsey Graham (SC) lied about seeing action while in the military when he claimed to be “an Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran although he never got closer to the war than McEntire Air National Guard Base near Columbia where he was a military lawyer.” Later he said that he “didn’t mean to mislead people.” His job while in South Carolina was to make wills for soldiers sent to the Gulf War.

Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Rubio voted against spousal benefits for legally married same-gender spouses of veterans. The amendment would “establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to ensuring all legally married same-sex spouses have equal access to the Social Security and veterans benefits they have earned and receive equal treatment under the law pursuant to the Constitution of the United States.” It passed without the votes from the GOP presidential candidates.

In opposing giving veterans access to affordable housing, Paul was also one of 11 senators who voted against considering a bill that would “provide $142 billion in fiscal 2012 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, military construction, military housing and related operations. The bill also includes $52.5 billion in advance fiscal 2013 appropriations for VA medical programs.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill to set aside 3 percent of all state contracts for veteran-owned businesses. President Obama signed the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act this past summer, but Christie refused to hire them for state projects. During the debate, Christie said, “Hillary Clinton doesn’t respect [veterans] service.

Candidates in the debate were eager to create more crisis situations in the Middle East which would force more death and disaster for military members, but they did not go beyond empty words in helping them. Last spring, 41 Senate Republicans voted against a measure that would have expanded education and health care, including 27 new medical facilities, for veterans. The bill proposed the guarantee of in-state tuition rates at all public universities for post-9/11 veterans. Conservatives are ready to cause wars but reluctant to care for the “collateral damage” of their decisions.

In a recent poll, two-thirds of the surveyed veterans opposed privatization of VA health care. In addition, 57 percent of them said that this issue would determine the presidential candidate that they choose. The GOP presidential candidates might want to take notice.

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