Monday, August 22, 2011

An Unwelcome Home for "Heroes"

It began in the aftershock of 9/11. It became a reflexive response in the decade since. The soldiers in their uniforms symbolized the strength and unity of a nation out to right a grievous wrong. Even as questions now abound as to the hows and whys of what we have done over the past 10 years, at least, superficially, the uniform has retained its elevated status.

Yet, while the openly hostile reaction to returning vets from Vietnam is but an embarrassment from the past, we should not be fooled into believing that those who now return from service are treated as heroes once they are in our midst. While it might soothe our souls to talk in reverential terms of those who protect and serve, the ugly truth is that our deeds do not match our words.

As national unemployment figures hover around 9%, the official unemployment level for veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is, according to the Army Times, 15.2%. Internal polls place that figure closer to 20%. Once the uniform of these men and women come off, they are nothing more, and often less than the rest of us.

The government's present response, couched in terms of both economic stimulus and patriotic duty, is the proposed "Hiring Heroes Act of 2011". It is intended to promote the transition of these men and women from wartime "hero" to something other than just another dismal statistic in the ongoing financial crisis.

Further, as is reported in today's NY Times ("More Excuses and Delays from the VA") a lawsuit filed on behalf of returning veterans speaks of a VA bureaucracy so extremely slow and unresponsive as to deny constitutional rights to mental health care and to the timely adjudication of disability claims. While an average of 18 returning vets a day are committing suicide, the agency has no suicide prevention officers at any of its outpatient clinics.

"An Empty Regard" examines the rationale behind the lofty language we use to describe our soldiers. More accurately, an empty regard should be the catchphrase for how these men and women are treated on their return home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is so easy for heads of state to send all these heroes to war, it is so sad to have them come back home (the ones that are lucky enough to come back) damaged goods, and be treated so unfairly. Thanks Robert for writing about them and the problems they face. Shame..