Contempt for veterans is nothing new. All of us — I was discharged in 1965 — have faced patronizing and falsehearted praise from authorities while trying to make our way through the bureaucratic disdain of the Veterans Administration.
As the world’s foremost imperialist power, Washington has to rely on its armed forces to impose its dictates. And the ongoing deep crisis of capitalist production and trade generates increasing competition, conflict and war. The propertied rulers need working-class youth to be their cannon fodder.
There are growing calls today from spokespeople for the rulers who see more wars coming to demand reimposition of the draft.
The crisis has also produced an economic and social disaster for workers at home. Jobs, work safety and social services are cut; injuries, opioid addition and suicides are up. While some sign up for the military out of a sense of patriotism, most do so to get an education or just to get away from the carnage.
A dispute between President Donald Trump and Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson from Florida over his condolence call to the wife of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in a firefight in Niger, has put a spotlight on the plight of veterans who return home from Washington’s wars. In the 17 years U.S. rulers have sent the country’s youth to fight and die in these imperialist wars, government figures say over 4,500 have been killed in Iraq and 2,400 in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands more Iraqis and Afghans, soldiers and civilians, have died.
Since 2001, 2.5 million young men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan! According to VA documents, in addition to the deaths, which are far lower than those in Vietnam or Korea, these wars have so far caused a far higher rate of disabling injuries.
The key reason for this is improvements in medical treatment that means wounds that would have been deadly before are now treatable. But all too often that leaves you with grievous, lifelong problems.
The figure of 900,000 to 1 million war-caused admissions to VA hospitals in those 16 years are the last figures, released in 2013. The Veteran Administration no longer makes them public, supposedly for “security reasons.”
A Stanford University study puts vets post-traumatic stress disorder rate at 35 percent. If accurate, that means more than 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans will return home with PTSD needing treatment.
The criminal neglect of all veterans, from “peacetime” wars over the past 17 years, and of combat and non-combat veterans over the last 50 years, are an important part of the carnage that Trump talked about in his inaugural address.
“We will take care of our great veterans like they have never been taken care of before,” he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in July 2016. He referred to the outcry in 2014 surrounding revelations that 40 veterans died while kept waiting for appointments at a VA hospital in Arizona.
One of those, Thomas Breen, 71, was on an “off-the-books” list VA officials used to shrink — on paper — their overly long waiting lists, to impress bureaucrats in the Department of Veteran Affairs. Breen died in November 2013 of stage 4 bladder cancer.
His son Teddy and Teddy’s wife Sally tried in vain for two months to get Breen an appointment. When the VA finally called in December, Sally said she told them, “He’s dead already.”
Veterans welcome in anti-war actions
During the Vietnam War, the rulers tried to keep workers in the U.S. who protested against the imperialist war apart from workers in uniform returning from combat. They promoted the myth that veterans were frequently spit upon by protesters. To the contrary, many like myself joined in the powerful anti-war mass marches. The anti-war movement stood for the rights of GIs to know the facts about the war and form their own opinion — anathema to the brass and the bosses.
So far, the Trump administration has done virtually nothing about its promise to upgrade what veterans face when they return home. Veterans continue to confront joblessness, homelessness, high rates of suicide, and a 33 percent higher chance of opioid overdose.
“The pharmaceutical industry has a stranglehold on the VA,” Carl Higbie, a former Navy Seal who served two tours in Iraq and is 60 percent disabled, told Fox News. He accused the VA of overmedication, paving the way to addiction.
Some 64,000 people died from drug overdoses last year, in small towns and working-class neighborhoods in big cities across the country. That’s more than the total of all U.S. military deaths in the last 65 years.
Caucasians make up 90 percent of all opioid overdoses nationwide. Hardest hit areas are in the so-called Rust Belt, towns in the Midwest hit by factory closures, and the formerly bustling coal-mining regions of West Virginia, Kentucky and southern Illinois.
Why did the back-and-forth tweets between Trump and Congresswoman Wilson get so much press attention? Because her party, the liberal press and a growing wing of the Republicans are determined to topple Trump at all costs for doing what all previous administrations have done — feign concern for those troops killed abroad.
AFRICOM is one of the six U.S. military commands, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. It oversees the thousands of troops that the Bush and Obama administrations deployed to defend Washington’s economic and political interests in Africa, under the rubric of the “war on terrorism.”
The four special forces soldiers killed in Niger were among the 800 troops Washington has based there to join French troops to “train” African military forces. The U.S. rulers have troops in every corner of the globe, protecting the interests of the bankers and billionaires.
Veterans, whose lives have little value to the ruling class after their “service” is over, will be a key part of working-class resistance to the carnage.
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