I recently had the privilege and honor to be the master of ceremonies for the Paralyzed Veterans of America – www.pva.org – 2017 Partners Conference in New York City. I could not help but admire the courage, perseverance and strength of spirit of the men and women who attended – men and women who had overcome heartbreaking bodily damage – and the men, women and children who provide love, support and comfort to paralyzed veterans every day of the month, every month of the year, year after year.
During course of this daylong event, I could not help but reflect on the decidedly mixed history of this country and its veterans. After the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War America’s first veterans had to threaten the new Congress in making demands for back pay and benefits. The threats were so real that those first members of Congress fled the new capital of Philadelphia in order to escape the wrath of the disgruntled first warriors of the Republic.
Indeed, after World War I, soldiers of the United States Army led by Douglas MacArthur shot and killed veterans who had the temerity to march to Washington, D.C. demanding relief and support and just compensation for their sacrifice. This took place in 1932 as the United States government turned its back on the men who had fought for this country.
Further reflection focused on the fact that the G.I. Bill and other post World War II benefits were certainly a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, despite all the Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Veterans Day rhetoric that is embedded in American culture, a cabinet level Department of Veterans Affairs was not established until 1989, 213 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
What I learned during the PVA conference is that the convoluted and dysfunctional relationship between America and its veterans, particularly its wounded veterans continues to this day. Nevertheless, from President Trump to each and every Teapublican member of the so-call Freedom Caucus in Congress to all the leaders of the Democratic Party – all are more than willing to put their hands over their heart as the “Star Spangled Banner” is played before a ballgame or convention and then sit down and enjoy the festivities while injustice rains on the heads of the men and women who have suffered and sacrificed for this country.
This is not about policy arguments regarding the righteousness of any war or military action. This is about justice and compassion and true honor being afforded to the men and women who fought and died/survived while most Americans stay at home and channel surf from battle footage to the latest sitcom.
Clearly it is past time to hold the U.S. government and its citizens accountable. How is it possible that citizens elect representatives who propose to cut the funding for the National Institute of Health which is engaged in cutting edge research that will allow some paralyzed veterans to walk again? It is time for accountability.
What right does any member of Congress have to deny paralyzed and wounded veterans benefits that include in vitro fertilization so that they can enjoy the warmth and comfort of children and a family? It is time for accountability.
How can there be six month delays in granting benefits and service at V.A. hospitals when we live in a country where Amazon can deliver damn near anything we need in a day? It is time for accountability.
And what President or Member of Congress can dare speak about any future military action in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea or anyplace on this planet without first mending promises to too many veterans that have already been broken? It is time for accountability.
It is a true national shame that paralyzed and wounded veterans should suffer in a country that grants lifetime pensions to one term members of Congress and incredible tax breaks to the incredibly wealthy. It is time for accountability.