Why Does America Treat Its Soldiers & Vets So Badly?

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Finding myself in an inquisitively philosophical mood, I asked the other day why America has draconian laws that lead to the imprisonment of casual marijuana users despite all the studies that show that marijuana is fairly innocuous, is not a gateway drug and can provide relief from the side effects of crippling medical treatments.

A vigorous discussion largely free of brickbats followed that aired out the question nicely.

So here’s another question:

Why do Democrats and Republicans alike pay lip service to supporting the troops, but that support dissolves when the troops – especially those with major physical and emotional injuries – come home?

Why have there been cutbacks in veterans benefits? Why is the care of veterans being increasingly outsourced to profit-driven corporations with little or no oversight?

Why is the military’s mental-health system on the verge of collapse?

Why was Walter Reed Army Hospital allow to slide into disrepair more typical of a third-world leper colony?

Why did three of the 12 stories given prestigious George Polk Awards for Journalism last week focus on the mistreatment, abuse or unnecessary risk to Americans fighting in Iraq?

How can such a great nation neglect and mistreat its own soldiers and veterans? And what does that say about Americans as a people?

15 Comments

  1. A timely question, Shaun. Unsaid, but implicit, in your post is the fact that this treatment and the cutbacks to veterans benefits are set against a Defense budget that is the largest of any nation on the planet (larger than the next 20 nations combined).

    I would suggest that the US treatment of its vets is in a long historic tradition of mistreatment of veterans in many countries. A comparison with other countries might reveal that the US actually provides better pay and benefits than many(this has historically been an issue of friction between US and allied troops in WW II and other points).

    Nonetheless, as you imply, there is open hypocrisy in voicing “support the troops” mantras, while approving massive defense budgets…all the while conditions such as those at Walter Reed contine!

    Is it because veterans are not a political force?

    BTW: Shaun, your marijuana thread was excellent, with commenters who knew a lot about aspects of the issue and had strong opinions. I learned something about US society, although one came away with more questions than answers…as perhaps all learning experiences should be.

  2. Where are all those right wing loudmouths showing T-Shirts and bumper stickers with “we support the troops!” now?

    What did they sacrifice for the well being of the soldiers? Checking the paycharts, I was horrified to see that you only get 1300 a month for risking your health, your life and endagering your families well being (sadly, the salary isn’t higher here in Germany, too. A scandal). And now it shows that he grunts don’t even get a decent healthcare for one of the mmost riskiest jobs in the US. At the same time, mercenarries make hundreds of thousands.

    While the US is willing to go deep into debth for those ‘contractors’, no republican is willing to spend more on taxes to get the vets the support they deserve. Support the troops? Seems to be a demand on others. Support the troops, so I don’t have to. Pathetic.

  3. Gray,

    The military pay is actually somewhat better than you state but still not great. Anyone in Iraq is probably at least a Specialist (E-4) and earns about $1700 along with a housing allowence (tax free) if they have a family, they get a tax free subsistence allowance of around $280 a month, they get $250 a month family separation pay,a $225 month hazardous duty pay, and $100a month hardship duty pay. While in Iraq, service members do not pay federal income taxes. They get $400K of life insurance for $28 dollar a month and they pay about $25 a month for family dental insurance.

    I take that it is more correct to say that the it is not the healthcare that is the problem for most injuried servicemembers but it is the personnel processing and sustainment of them while receiving care that creates the problesm. Of course, the problem is military unique and difficult for the normal government bureaucracy to handle.

  4. Gray,

    The pay for a servicemember deployed to Iraq is significantly higher than $1300 a month. A Specialist (E-4) gets about $1700 a month. All servicemembers get a housing allowance (or government provided housing worth at least $1000 a month tax free. Enlisted get $279 a month subsistance allowance tax free. If they are in Iraq, they get $250 a month Hazard pay, $225 separation pay, and $100 hardship pay (all tax free). They have to pay $28 a month for $400K life insurance and $25 a month for dental insurance.

    While in Iraq, all servicemembers are exempt from income taxes.

  5. Komrad Marlow – What happened after WWII with the GI bill and VHA and other programs. These’liberal’ prograns looked after vets and were a small contributor to the growing middle class. WWII was the exception. Discovery or A+E had a show about WWI vets camped out in DC to recieve benefits for service during WWI.

  6. I’ve heard two things about our VA health system:

    1. Overall it’s fairly efficient and could serve as a model for national health care.

    2. It’s a second-rate health care systems that short changes our veterans.

    I’m not sure which statement is the more correct.

    As to the soldiers, I’d refer on again to Andrew Bacevich’s book The New American Militarism*. He details how as Americans may publicly support the military, privately they want little to do with it and have little interest in it’s problems.

    * In spite of it’s title, this really isn’t a predictable leftist critique of American imperialism. Bacevich believes that our professional, volunteer military has become distant from the public and that we would be better served by returning to the earlier citizen-soldier model of the military.

  7. AlanG said: “As to the soldiers, I’d refer on again to Andrew Bacevich’s book The New American Militarism*. He details how as Americans may publicly support the military, privately they want little to do with it and have little interest in it’s problems.”

    Thanks for the tip, Alan. That sounds interesting. Plus it may seem to explain this bizarre contradiction (i.e. everyone “supports the troops” except in terms of pay, health care, benefits etc.).

    Comrade Rudi…yes, I agree, WW II would seem to be the exception to the rule.

    Maybe even the GOP went along with the GI Bill etc. as they may have feared mass insurrection from 6-7 million young men trained and experienced in combat, being tossed on the streets of the US…pissed off, and without support or benefits.

  8. Isn’t part of the problem the fact that so many vets are surviving injuries that they would have died of in WWII? I think it complicates the issue when you have so many coming home from wars that will need lifelong medical care for serious injuries. With all of the money that we are wasting over there , though I don’t see this as a valid excuse, just a possible explanation for the discrepancy.

    Rudi- I thought the WWI vets encamped in Washington so that they could get a promised bonus earlier than they were supposed to get it. They were known as the “Bonus Army”. Hoover had no idea what to do, because we were in the midst of the Great Depression, and so sent the army in to destroy the encampments and drive the “Bonus Army” out of DC. It was pretty shabby treatment, but the issue was the fact that they were demanding the money earlier than promised.

  9. AlanG:

    In my experience and that of most of the vets with whom I have spoken, the VA hospital system does a pretty damned good job. It’s just that it has become overwhelmed.

    kritter:

    A big part of the problem indeed is that so many more vets are surviving. Funding has not kept up with this upsurge, which will continue.

  10. I’m a Veteran whose benifits has risen. I don’t know any Veterans who has not had an increase in their benifits. Those proposed cuts in benifits you site are cuts in the increase, not in the benifits.

    About Walter Reed, that was building 18 where outpatients and guest stay. The residents are responsible for cleaning up after themselves. Walter Reed is still a model with the best care in the world for it’s patients. It is the hospital that the President and members of congress go to when the need arises.

    I am very pleased with the care I receive as a Veteran. It surpases the care any of my non Veteran friends receive.

  11. “How can such a great nation neglect and mistreat its own soldiers and veterans? And what does that say about Americans as a people?”

    The how is because the administration in charge is criminally incompetent and incapable of seeing itself as responsible for this issue. Not one department of the gov’t is running as well as it did before Bush took office. Like every company he’s been in charge of he’s running this nation into the ground. Considering the overall strength of America this is saying something

    As for what it says about us, I would say we have had the wool pulled over our eyes by master politicians. They have told us to place value on unimportant issues and shadow boogeymen and to vote according to empty rhetoric instead of proven ability.

  12. With this administration, there are definite winners and losers. Politically-connected supporters of Bush and Cheney are definitely among the winners. Severely injured vets who are having trouble getting medical care are the losers. This administration only cares about the troops, because they are protecting the well-connected contractors over there while they rape Iraq.

  13. Shaun,

    You asked me to respond. I’m sorry that I haven’t had a chance yet, it’s been a busy day. I’ll try to get back to you tomorrow evening.

  14. I know this thread has prett much played out, but I want to emphasize that this is a biparistan problem, not just a Bush administration-Republican problem.

  15. “The military pay is actually somewhat better than you state but still not great.”

    Well, not exactly. The starting salary for a new recruit is at about 1300. But you’re right, once he gets deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, he also receives several other benefits. Thx for adding the info.

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