August 3, 2007
Our Soldiers, Veterans and the U.S. Government: A Real Dereliction of Duty
My father served eight months in the Vietnam War as a marine during the peak of violence in 1968. After his three years of service were up, he was flown back to California where he received an honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps. Even though he had been exposed to combat while in Vietnam, he was not offered even one single hour of counseling/debriefing or decompressing (nor was he required to attend such a session).
It’s the year 2007 and the United States Armed Forces’ behavior towards their soldiers and veterans has not changed one pathetic bit. Almost forty years have passed and the total insanity and immorality of the world’s mightiest military marches on for all to see. The leadership in the Pentagon, both in uniform and civilian, is in total denial of its actions, of its treatment of the soldier or humanity.
How can you value a life when your mission is to take life? I believe this statement speaks volumes. It explains a lot about the twisted mentality of our entire military system. A total EGO driven machine, historically, the three major branches–the Army, the Navy and the Air Force–have a well-established track record of not working with each other, especially during times of combat. Each branch has constantly fought over their military mission and their budgets for operating and procuring new weapon systems at the expense of the other two groups. These dysfunctional systems won’t allow its members to admit to making mistakes or being wrong.
Look no further than the mishandling of the fratricide death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, an active NFL player who proudly took a leave of absence to serve his country. The Army, both its Brass and the officers in the field, knew immediately that Pat died at hands of his unit in the desolate and isolated mountains of Afghanistan. The Army continually lied for five weeks after his death to his family, to themselves and to the world. This two hundred year old institution like the others would rather save face than to save their ass by promptly admitting the truth. Ego, ego, and more ego. Where’s their conscience?
Where’s that great honor their TV commercial always tout? Is this just slick marketing – feel good advertising? Where was their valor at the first opportunity to tell his parents the truth and show their sincerity? Are these officers not empathic parents themselves or has the military’s rigid structure beaten that out of them too? Something is fundamentally wrong with this system and Pat’s unfortunate death won’t make a dent in changing any part of it. No lesson will be learned here. No wisdom will be gained from the death of another fallen American and human being. What a waste.
The Army and the Marines make prideful claims of being able to tear down your son or daughter and build them back up as a warrior ready for action. If that is so true, if they are so tough, so bulletproof, then why all the emotional breakdowns and diagnoses of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and other mental illnesses from so many veterans and soldiers returning home from this war. While man has perfected the art of war and destroying each other, our Creator has kept the wounded around maybe as a reminder of war’s price and its never-ending cost.
No man is designed to walk off the battlefield with a lifetime of horrific memories as permanent mental and emotional souvenirs of lost comrades, lifeless enemies and their vanished innocence. A recent preliminary survey of those returning home from Iraq revealed that one-third of all those serving had a mental illness. A second mental health assessment is under way for all those who passed the first one. Army and Navy doctors are being pressured from military brass to classify the returning sick as having a pre-existing personality disorder than a diagnosis of mental illness, in order to deny the sick all medical benefits and access to lifetime treatment in the VA system. It’s too damn costly. Where’s their conscience? Where’s their integrity?
In my father’s case, it would be thirty years later and a lot of heartache and broken lives and dreams all along the way before a whopper secret would be revealed about his time spent serving in combat; a secret that finally surfaced and was shared with our family. His story shook my world, changed my outlook on him as a person and my outlook on war and its gruesome reality forever. You can read his story on-line at: www.tommysstories.blogspot.com.
Only God knows why his heartache and secret were finally put into words and mailed to each of his family members across the South just four months before his untimely death at the ripe old age of fifty-three. His story was shared with the world when it was published, but the American Government, just like in ’68, played no role with helping this struggling veteran and a fine human being make peace with a deadly accident that happened during combat in a remote red mud hole near the banks of the Perfume River, north of the City of Hue, on the morning of April 20, 1968.
The same government and its military denied their culpability, denied their obligation to him, to our family and to too many other Vietnam Veterans, then. This abhorrent atrocity continues to play out with the current soldiers and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Certainly, if this is the best treatment our government can give, if this is the best they can do for its very own citizen/soldiers, then maybe the United States should forgo its right to continue having a standing Army. You read that right.
After my father’s death, my mother, a licensed professional counselor, filed for widow’s benefits based largely on his story and his long and subsequent history of chronic alcoholism that ultimately took his life. Our government did not share her same professional view of the events on that Spring morning, with rockets dropping like penguin shit off a roof ledge, bullets flying, the enemy trying to overrun their compound and a wobbly grenade that slipped out of a young Marine’s wet and muddy hand intended for a NVA soldier clawing up to the razor wire. Instead, the grenade landed in the adjacent bunker leading to the instant deaths of a family of four South Vietnamese refugees.
Not surprisingly, she was denied any and all benefits. So much for making promises to our soldiers and to their families that you can’t or won’t keep. How many other stories of suffering American families like ours that have also been denied earned benefits is there– hundreds of thousands, millions? First, our soldiers fought the enemy in the bush and later they and their families have an unexpected fight with a bigger and a more bureaucratic one waiting for them back home.
At places like Parris Island, SC, and Fort Jackson, SC, the Marines and the Army will continue to gladly brainwash your eighteen-year-old child and send them off into harm’s way. The drill sergeants’ dish out the orders, your child takes them; it is never the other way around. Everything runs down hill in the military, including the nasty, unpalatable lies that all are forced to swallow. It’s enough to make you want to puke.
Built on a foundation of deceit, this current war constantly has to be rationalized and justified over and over again to the American people by President George W. Bush. All the while, his administration had the nerve to cut the budget and services of the Walter Reed Army Hospital and others like it, in the same system that treats the wars’ severely wounded. What a giant contradiction to say one thing about the importance of the lives of our troops by the Commander in Chief in front of cheering patriotic soldiers, but quietly authorizes actions that speak to the opposite – to the hard truth.
I believe it is also a real insult and betrayal by those career Army generals involved in Walter Reed. Where was their protest, their principled mutiny? Why was this not leaked anonymously to Congress or to the press? How many soldiers coming home are denied immediate counseling as their lives begin to unravel from the nightmares of war? How many are too intimidated to ask for the essential help, due to the military’s macho culture, due to all that brainwashing they received at basic training and afterwards? Where’s the Pentagon’s shame? Where’s their conscience? Much like the rest of our government, they have none. How quick would President Bush have been to attack Iraq had he served along side of my father in Vietnam? He chose to patrol the safe, blue skies of Texas and Alabama during the Vietnam War. I wonder what lessons he learned on his tour.
Our government would rather have you or your child die on the battlefield and bury you or your child at Arlington National Cemetery with all the pageantry including, a draped American flag over the casket, give you posthumously a medal or two to boot, a bugler off in the distance to serenade you with T.A.P.S. and a 3-volley salute rather than have to deal with you and all your personal problems that you brought back from war.
They will go to their grave without admitting this, because it is top secret, but the truth be known–it is just simply cheaper. Don’t believe me? Then, you run the numbers on the cost of a funeral for a soldier compared to a lifetime access to all sorts of doctors, specialists, therapists, counselors, etc, and all the VA hospital beds that you can stand to lie in. Does that disturb you? It should.
Recently, I read a story in my local newspaper of a community fundraiser that was hosted for a returning Iraq disabled marine who stepped on an IED (an improvised explosive device) and lost both of his legs from the knees down and a shattered left hand in the blast. For this husband and father of two, in his mid-twenties, life is altered forever until he draws his last breath.
Was his near death experience worth it, what is the lesson learned for him, for his family and for all of us? I hope for his sake and for his family’s that his life doesn’t spin out of control into a life of alcohol, drugs, depression and abuse to himself and to those he loves the most, like what my father and so many other tormented veterans experienced. However, if he does I will surely understand.
Due to this local marine’s injuries and disability, a new house is being planned for construction with modifications to accommodate his lifelong needs. How much effort is the U.S. government pitching in on this project? Probably about the same amount as they did in providing counseling for my father and for so many other wounded veterans returning home from this war and all previous ones. War is so unnecessary and a real waste.
Where’s your conscience? Where’s your outrage? Where’s our national conscience? Where’s the protesting for better care? From where I am standing, I see none. We can’t afford to be the world’s warriors anymore. The price tag, the emotional, mental, spiritual, physical and financial toll is simply too damn high for the soldier, the families and the entire nation. All of the above is completely true.
Copyright © 2007, 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Our Soldiers, Veterans and the U.S. Government: A Real Dereliction of Duty” by Ted Burnett.
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email at – firstname.lastname@example.org. My biography can be viewed at http://www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com.