To those who Support the Troops:
It’s Veterans Day this Monday, and we debated writing this open letter.
America loves its veterans almost as much as we love our wars. We send our young men and women off to exotic locales, fill them full of antidepressant medications and often bring them back battered, psychologically and physically scarred.
And then we attach “Support Our Troops” stickers to our suburban assault vehicles that run on petroleum imported from the Middle East while voting for politicians who will cut veterans health and education benefits. Meanwhile, predatory for-profit education companies target veterans but often leave them high-and-dry, without either educations or the benefits to go back to a quality school. Support our troops.
And this is all happening against a backdrop in which the very demographics of U.S. vets are changing. KNPR reported last month that Nevada’s women veterans commit suicide at a rate six times the average of all Americans. About one in three women suffers sexual trauma while serving in the military, according to the Department of Defense. Women vets have higher rates of homelessness and more difficulty getting help for post-traumatic disabilities, says the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Both Republicans and Democrats play politics with issues affecting veterans. I suppose most elected officials on both sides of the enormous political divisions in our country “support the troops,” but finding the money to really do something is hard in this time of austerity. Veterans Affairs stats in April showed that 80 percent of Nevada’s 10,333 veterans with claims into the agency had yet to be processed. More than 4,200 of those veterans have been waiting more than a year for an answer to their claims, the Review-Journal’s Keith Roger’s reported in October.
The average wait to complete a veteran’s appeal was more than 900 days. Most of the backlog is from service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but others go back to the Vietnam War.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America reports that more than a half-million veterans have been waiting more than 300 days for the benefits they have earned.
Elected leadership has taken some baby steps to address the backlogs. The budget deal that at least temporarily ended the federal government shutdown and averted default on our national debt - including the fiscal debt to our veterans - included $2.5 billion for the VA, specifically “to reduce backlog of disabilities claims.” That’s a good start. It’s a hell of a lot more effective that putting a sticker on a car.
The reason we debated writing this open letter? It’s too easy. It is too easy to substitute platitudes with real assistance, best wishes and rainbows for real help where it is needed. It’s easy to offer a reduced-price serving of french fries, “free” slot play and two-for-one buffets (like the above ad from an unnamed casino) while ignoring the issues affecting veterans the rest of the year. Waving the flag demonstrates, perhaps, your patriotic fervor, but it doesn’t get a veteran her or his claims processed. It is not a substitute for a real education. It does not put people back together. And that, to the best of our common ability, must be our goal.
Las Vegas CityLife