Thursday, September 6, 2007

Finding Yet More Ways to Fuck Vets Over

I work with a number of military combat veterans, their experience ranging from early Vietnam through peak Vietnam, to Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Columbia, Gulf War I, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

They are good men and women all: hard-working, dedicated, organized, responsible - exceptional employees and citizens. Despite experiences that would strain the sanity and peace of mind of the best and strongest of us, they have survived, prevailed, and thrived.

But if you read yesterday's lead story on Salon, you wouldn't believe that.

Thirty years ago, television shows were heavy on cops and PIs, and you could hardly get through one evening without seeing an episode that featured a "crazy" Vietnam vet going berserk and killing people.

The crazed vet plot accurately reflected the public perception of the time, but it also magnified that perception, making the job of advocates for veterans' mental health care nearly impossible.

In that atmosphere, even healthy veterans could not get a job, turned away by employers terrified by the popular stereotype of the drug-addled, violence-prone crazed vet. Denied work, the stereotype became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and no one was surprised to see homeless, substance-abusing, mentally disturbed vets wandering the streets. Although everyone should have been ashamed.

It's taken three decades of hard work to turn that perception around, to accomplish desperately needed changes in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to regain by inches public respect for military veterans and understanding of their mental health needs.

But the current treatment of soldiers, marines, guardsmen, reserves and veterans by the Pentagon, the VA, and Smirky's maladministration is about to plunge us back into those bad old days of abandonment of veterans by the government and fear and hatred toward veterans by the public.

Salon's story is as much as indictment of SWAT-enamored local police forces as it is of a military that sends PTSD-disabled vets back to Iraq.

But to me it also presages a new era of the "crazed vet" stereotype.

And that will be yet another crime to lay at the feet of Smirky's maladministration and his repug and democratic enablers in Congress and in the media:

Yet another generation of veterans crippled not just by their experience in combat, not just by their mistreatment by the Pentagon and VA, but by a society conditioned to fear, reject and hate them.

Don't get me wrong: the LAST thing I want is to censor stories like Salon's. What happened to Jamie Dean is horrible and needs to be read by every American.

But the potential his tragedy - and the tragedy of too many others like him - has to re-create the crazed vet era adds even more urgency to calls to end the Iraq clusterfuck YESTERDAY. Bring our soldiers, marines, guardsmen and reserves home NOW. Double, triple, quadruple the military health care and VA health care budgets IMMEDIATELY.

Raise taxes, confiscate Halliburton, take it out of Smirky's hide - do whatever it takes to ensure that not one more veteran dies in a hail of police gunfire because no one would listen when he said he was hurting.