Guest Voz: On this Veteran’s Day, we should start treating our veterans better than we do

LatinaLista — On Veteran’s Day, it’s easy to read opinion pieces praising veterans and veterans’ families for their sacrifices. Yet, it’s not often that we read a commentary that goes beyond praising and takes the nation to task for how veterans are treated once the parades are done and the applause dies down.

Professor Samuel Freeman

In the following opinion piece, originally published in the Rio Grande Guardian, Rio Grande Valley Vietnam war veteran and political science professor, Samuel Freeman, does just that.

Freeman speaks up for the veteran and he does it with passion, eloquence and a conviction that underscores the need for change in the nation’s attitude towards our war veterans.

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, battlefields fell silent save the cheers of those fortunate enough to have survived, and the “Great War” ended.

With roughly 18 million killed and missing (and presumed dead), it was, at the time, the bloodiest war in human history.

Originally called “Armistice Day” by proclamation of Woodrow Wilson, to remember and celebrate the end of the “Great War,” on 1 June 1954, Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed legislation formally changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor our veterans of all wars.

Sadly, there have been numerous wars since for which to honor our veterans who have served and sacrificed for our nation.

On 11 November, federal and state offices, and many non-retail businesses will close. Maybe sometime during the day families will gather to celebrate and honor their loved ones; those present in body and those present only in spirit.

Throughout the day, there will be parades, celebrations, and copious praise of our troops and how heroically they have performed in all of our wars.

Special and well-deserved praise will be devoted to our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. But, if we really, honestly, cared about our veterans, we would treat them much better than we do.

First, we would not send them to fight wars of imperial aggression for the greater glory of two-bit politicians, most of whom are gutless cowards themselves.

Second, we would treat them better once they return home. Yes, the welcome home parades are nice; but I would suggest parades are of little real consequence in the long run. While they are nice; but, as the saying goes, “they don’t feed the baby.”

While we now have the best “GI benefits,” especially for education, since our World War II veterans’ benefits, veterans trying to take advantage of their education benefits often are harassed by the VA, which sets very narrow and intolerant guidelines for veterans’ education.

For many veterans trying to obtain an education, the VA is an almost constant vexation. The VA’s attitude appears to be our veterans seeking an education are slackers and scammers.

Relatedly, we are not doing nearly enough for our veterans with Post Traumatic Stress, and the rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is higher than for Vietnam veterans. Our failure here is nothing short of criminal.

Equally important is veterans’ horrible unemployment rate. While the “official” national unemployment rate has dipped slightly last month to 9.0 percent, the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans actually increased from 11.7 to 12.1 percent.

In Texas, the veteran unemployment rate is worse –13.1 percent. One would think, in a state full of self-proclaimed super patriots, super patriotic employers would fall all over themselves to hire veterans.

Not so.

For many of these super patriot employers, veterans, especially combat veterans are an anathema.

The hypocrisy of welcoming veterans home with a parade, a handshake, a slap on the back should not be surprising and no jobs. For too many people in this country, our veterans are little more than dust on their shoes; a means to an end.

The problem is so bad President Obama is pushing a bill to bribe employers to hire veterans by giving them special tax breaks.

Why should employers have to be bribed to hire a veteran?

What we effectively have today, with our “all volunteer” military is a “poverty draft” where the poor, who disproportionately are minorities, are of no use beyond being cannon fodder for ruling class wars of imperial aggression.

Thus, we should not be surprised, when the boxes come home gift wrapped, they do not come home to affluent America, or so much to middle class America, as they come home to poor America, minority America.

We should not be surprised (that) both unemployed veterans and those who died in service to their country come overwhelmingly from the poorest regions of the U.S.

The Rio Grande Valley serves as a perfect example.

An Iraq veteran with multiple combat tours I met a few months ago spoke ruefully of the parade thrown for his unit when he returned home; but how, when he left the service, no one would hire him, including some of the people who shook his hand the day of the parade.

Then there are those gift wrapped boxes that keep flowing back to the Valley — 42 so far. A few weeks ago, we lost three of our sons in quick succession. Of the Valley news media, KGBT-TV, Channel 4, gave an accurate count of our losses, and is to be commended for having done so. Local print media routinely under reports the number of sons we have lost.

As of 5 November 2011, the Valley has lost 42 sons in Iraq or Afghanistan, while the total U.S. dead is 4,481. Servicemen from the Valley constitute 0.67 percent of those who have died.

However, according to the 2010 census, the population of the Valley comprises 0.41 percent of the nation’s total population. That is, the Valley, comprising 0.41 percent of the nation’s population, has suffered 0.67 percent of the nation’s losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, for a proportion of deaths 1.63 times higher than our proportion of the population.

Using 2000 census data, in 2000, the Valley comprised 0.35 percent of the nation’s population, resulting in losses for Valley servicemen 1.91 times higher than the Valley’s proportion of the national population.

NONE of the local news media bother to report the disproportionately high losses of servicemen from the Valley.

This Veterans Day, if you honestly value the service and sacrifices of our veterans, tell them. More importantly, if you are an employer, believe yourself to be patriotic, and have a job opening, hire a veteran.

We are loyal and work hard.

If you are “just an ‘average’ citizen” who honestly appreciates the service of those who willingly stand in harm’s way, risking limb, life and emotional stability, thank the veterans you know.

Then, protest these wars of imperial aggression. Demand their end. Tell the slick and the cowardly politicians who never wore the uniform, or, if they did, never served on the battlefield, they will receive your vote if and only if they work tirelessly to end these damned wars.

Do those things, and your veterans will know you mean it when you celebrate Veterans Day with them, and when you tell them you appreciate their service and sacrifice.

If you are unwilling to do these things, you are a hypocrite and you do not deserve the honor of shaking the hand of any veteran.

To my brothers and sisters, thank you; and Happy Veterans Day!

Samuel Freeman is a political science professor who teaches at a university in South Texas. A Vietnam War veteran, Freeman writes columns regularly for the Guardian and the Pharr News Journal.

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