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The Mass Media

Do We Really Support Them?

Since our generation’s military was first called to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, our fellow Americans have become more and more vocal in opposition. On any given day on your way to class, you can see students donning t-shirts and buttons with anti-war messages in bold print. When recruiters recently set up shop in the Campus Center, they were greeted with anything but a warm embrace.

That’s to be expected. The recruiters were doing their job, and the protesters were doing what felt necessary. Just as I think freedom would cease to exist without a military, the same is true for those who question the government’s use of that military. When people are fighting and dying, we need to question the reasons.

We are at war. Whether you align yourself with Senator Obama or Senator McCain, we need common ground. War is ugly, and when this one is over countless lives will have changed forever.

Behind the nihilism that drives the enemy and the sense of duty that drives us, we all bleed the same blood and breathe the same air. Some of the things asked of our men and women in uniform go against the core values they were taught all their lives, so it’s only fair to give them the support they need to get back on their feet when they get home.

When they do get home, our troops won’t ask Uncle Sam for much. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “any man who is willing to shed blood for his country deserves a fair deal when he returns home. More than that no man is entitled, less than that no man shall have”. It is sad to say, but some of our men and women aren’t getting that fair deal.

The military is great at getting soldiers ready to survive and kill, but what happens when they take the uniform off? These are our friends and loved ones, but when the elite on Capitol Hill see them it’s usually for a handshake and nothing more. It will take the efforts of veterans themselves to get the new GI Bill passed, though it should be at least as high of a priority for our government as going to war was.

Take the case of a buddy of mine. Once his therapist knew he had served three combat tours as an infantryman, she wrote him a prescription and sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous. It took a lot of courage on his part to seek help, but he felt like she had him processed once he walked through the door.

In doing so, the therapist avoided the real issues and getting my friend the help he needs. He is a proud man, and our government can’t expect him to open up to a person with a clipboard in her hand and the next veteran waiting in line. Whatever issues he might have, he knows that it takes more than one therapy session to resolve them. Like many others, his only problem is the lack of someone to relate to.

Whether it’s the poor screening process, the need for other combat veterans to do the work of the therapists or more nurses to deal with the growing number of patients, the government should provide that help. When our government allocates less than two percent of the federal budget on the Department of Veterans Affairs, and nearly twenty percent on the Department of Defense (not counting war appropriations) we need to ask ourselves if the government has its priorities straight.

Uncle Sam is asking more of the Veteran’s Administration nurses and paying them less than they deserve, which translates into low-quality treatment for those who need it. The human mind is a precious thing and should be treated as such. A Master’s degree in psychology is not a mandate to judge those who confide in you. The VA does some great things and their therapists have good intentions, but good intentions can’t make up for low funding. Our troops deserve better than good intentions.

To have an opinion is one thing. We live in the land of the free, but let’s not forget the men and women whose job it is to uphold that freedom. The men and women in uniform do not pick the wars in which they fight. That is done by civilians in Washington. Why punish our dedicated troops? If Americans keep “supporting the troops” the way we are, I don’t think that it’s crazy to assume we will be seeing more homeless vets of standing on street corners thirty years from now than there are Vietnam vets today. Call me crazy, but I think this could easily happen if we continue to think that two points on the Civil Service Exam and a pat on the back from a local Congressman is enough.

“I support the troops” some may say, but having an “Out of Iraq” bumper sticker next to a yellow ribbon magnet on your trunk is far from support. To continually preach that we must leave Iraq and Afghanistan now while forgetting those who have already left isn’t supporting the troops.

The war will not end tomorrow, and left in the wake of our government and empty promises by those on both sides, our brothers and sisters are coming home to a country that at times seems ready to blame them for the world’s troubles. It’s not just mental health problems but also physical and financial problems that we need to help our veterans with. God willing, part of that will change next August with the implementation of the new, post 9/11 GI Bill (which is supposed to provide a free ride to any state college, as well as an allowance for housing and books). Veterans will no longer have to struggle to get by if they want to get an education.

There are no simple Band-Aids for the thousands learning to live with disabilities and nightmares and memories. To watch the news, you would almost think that we are no longer at war. No matter the channel, the $700 billion dollar bailout is all we hear about. This is an important issue, but some of our wounded warriors are more concerned with getting their bedpans bailed out. I can’t recall much coverage or talk about these wounded brothers and sisters of ours since the Washington Post broke a story about neglect at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in early 2007. We can’t forget them as they lay in hospitals and nursing homes for months and years recovering slowly, if at all, even if the media are.

Supporting the troops is not a Democratic or a Republican thing, it’s an American thing. If you can’t support the people who have gone to war and now may need a little help, support them because they are your fellow Americans. Because it is the right thing to do. They all have a story to tell; are we too good to listen?

As you sit in class, there are a number of students sitting beside you who have worn or are still wearing the uniform of this country. If you disagree with or don’t understand them, I’m not asking you to thank, pity, or help them, but I don’t think it would hurt to acknowledge they exist.

However, it’s most likely not the veteran sitting next to you in class who needs help. It’s the 25 year old who sleeps by the railroad tracks, or the quiet kid who sits by himself at the bar every night, or the mother trying to explain to her daughter why she has metal legs, or the kid whose buddies give him a hard time for being a member of AA. If you want to help, there are many avenues to do so. Be it volunteering your time at a homeless veteran’s shelter, or donating money to the Wounded Warrior Project or any number of charities, your help is needed and appreciated. If you really do want to “support the troops”, and not just cling a magnet to your car stating that fact, just do it.

With the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day approaching, let us remember it as more than a holiday. As I have said, to show support for and help those veterans who need it is in no way condoning the wars in which they fight. Wars have been fought since the dawn of humanity. With the resources we now have, it is inexcusable to neglect those who have carried the torch off to war on our nation’s behalf when they need us most.

The needs of the “Greatest Generation” were largely neglected in the aftermath of World War II, and we all know about the treatment of our fathers and grandfathers returning home from Vietnam. Let us learn from our past. It does no good to sugarcoat history, and it does no good to ignore the truth.

Although you may want the war to end today and the troops to come home – as do I – realistically, that won’t happen. Let’s instead show love and respect for the troops who are home, and even more for those who don’t have a home. Let’s not forget that the Soldier’s Homes aren’t just for World War Two, Korean and Vietnam veterans anymore. We can’t just help some; we have to help all of them. The way we can do this is in the words of Mother Theresa: “one by one”.