Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 8

My view of how things operate in the White house is tainted by The West Wing. I believe this show was a fantastic drama, and I was sorry to not only see it go, but…well, the fact that I missed just about every season after the second. The scenes that seem to affect me most when I think of becoming the GREAT Grand Poobah were those that took place in the Situation Room.

Behind closed doors, with some of the most knowledgeable minds when it comes to the military, there is a part of me that dreads the things that would take place in there. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think I’m incapable of taking action and giving orders, so long as the data I receive is accurate. What I won’t like is the idea that I will have to give orders that could result in lost lives.

I have a vivid imagination. Thus, I imagine myself seated at the head of a conference table, surrounded by men and women with more experience than I could ever hope for, and taking in the terrible fact that something in the world is now threatening Americans in an embassy somewhere, and it becomes my job to say yea or nay on the plan.

The dramatic value is great for television. It’s not so great when I consider myself under those circumstances. Lives hang in the balance, from the victims of whatever is happening in the embassy to those who just happen to be around as the nightmares unfold. It’s more of a joke with me when I flippantly say, “Just bomb the place. We’ll start again later.” If things go awry, some soldier’s family may never see their mother or father again. I am loathe to imagine the day I need to place a call to some PFC’s wife that he won’t be coming home alive.

The job requires it. The job demands it. In order to cope, I may well take psychological measures to see that this part of the job is done. I don’t ever want to send a human being into a situation where lives can be snuffed, especially when there is a chance that some peaceful solution could be found. Unfortunately, time doesn’t always allow for the exploration of alternative options. So, somewhere in my mind, I will reduce the men whom I send into danger to mere Chess pieces. This is not to say I actually see them as such. It would merely be my way of coping and getting on with the job.

Well, after I leave office, I will probably have to finally unload all that I had to keep bottled up. During necessary action, lives were destroyed or irrevocably altered, and it would have all happened at my command. That is, in a word, distressing.

There are some who look upon our military men and women with disdain. They may have encountered the veteran who knows only his old war stories. Or one that comes off as being arrogant due to years of service. These people, whether it’s realized or not, are merely human. Some are good. Some are bad. But in our current times, all have volunteered for service to their country. That, in and of itself, deserves our respect. This doesn’t mean you have to love, or even like, individual veterans. What it does mean is that they have done something many others have decided not to do.

My military experience was one of disappointment. I went to a marine recruiting office when I turned 18 in the hopes of following in my father’s footsteps. Alas, I was 4F on a questionnaire. “Are you a diabetic?” Ummm…Yep. Since age seven. I was immediately turned down.

I was a bit resentful of this for quite some time. I can understand them not wanting me to have a fully automatic weapon in my hands should my blood glucose bottom out. Nothing ruins morale better than a convulsing recruit with his finger uncontrollably pulling a trigger and wiping out his peers. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why there wasn’t some way around this. Okay, I admit I have a chronic illness. Instead of putting a person in perfect health behind a desk to handle the red tape of paperwork, give the job to me. Let me serve my country in some way. All I received was a rejection.

Well, I learned of two problems standing in the way of what seemed like a perfectly logical argument. 1. All military personnel must be combat ready at all times, regardless of rank and duty. 2. The military would not want to have to claim responsibility for any of the complications of diabetes, be it their fault or not. Once these things were explain, I calmed a bit.

One of the things that grates on me is how disabled veterans are treated…or not treated. The physically and emotionally wounded coming out of combat seem to receive the bare minimum of care, and then shipped out to fend for themselves. While it’s nice that there are charitable organizations out there to help disabled veterans, a part of my brain asks, “Why are such organizations needed at all?” These people went out and gave parts of their flesh, their souls, and sometimes a bit of both in service to their country. Then I meet a homeless veteran who obviously is having more than his fair share of problems, and I wonder why he isn’t receiving the best care the government can give. These people have made incredible sacrifices in service to their country. Why is their country not making sacrifices for them after the fact?

There are two towns that I know of in America, both with the name of Levittown. (I hear there are two others elsewhere.) One is on Long Island, and the other is in Pennsylvania. These towns were developed by a wealthy man named Abraham Levitt, who essentially established affordable housing for WW II veterans. Most amusing is that both neighborhoods look almost identical. Being prefabricated, Levitt was able to have 30 houses built each day. Initially, only 2,000 houses were planned to be built and rented. The demand for the houses was so great, however, that he ended up building a total of 4,000. When these were completed, his company went on to build ranch houses, which veterans could buy for a total of $7,990, with $90 down, and $58 payments per month. Those figures would be different today, and yet even that doesn’t matter. These houses were a gift to veterans.

Where are such gifts now?

What I want and what’s possible may be two different things, but I would like to see a “No Veteran is Forgotten” (NVF) plan. For the sake of those who serve, a microchip would be injected into each man and woman in each branch of the military. At the end of service, this chip can be removed at the service person’s request. (Doing this dissolves their contract with the government permanently.) Leaving the chip in, however, means that that individual can be found anywhere in the world. This is not a matter of “Big Brother watching your every move.” It’s more along the lines of “Uncle Sam watching over his countless nieces and nephews.” This way, the physically and/or emotionally wounded soldiers can be found swiftly and given immediate aid.

Some of these people have nothing to come home to. They lack the simple needs, like clothing, work, and a roof over their heads. There is no period of adjustment for them - no time to let go of the military lifestyle and acclimate to civilian life. For those rare few who opt for it, the NVF program would guarantee the veteran has a fully furnished apartment all his own when he leaves the service, rent paid in full for a year, along with $500 to buy clothing and the like. Since most of what they needed was provided while they were in whatever branch of service, 50% of their pay will have been set aside for when their service ends. Two years of service, with 50% put away, means that their first year back amongst the civilian population is paid for, as they receive a regular paycheck twice a month, just like a normal person with a regular job.

My father would tell me of his two-hour drive to the VA for doctor appointments. This for a man in his mid-70’s. Veterans that require medical care should be able to get it without having to travel a ridiculous distance. NVF would not only cover the doctor of choice, but be a government sponsored insurance plan that veterans can choose to pay for once that first year of adjustment is up. They can, of course, opt not to pay into it, and visit a VA like vets today. Alas, this is a once in a lifetime offer. Leave it behind, and it’s not available again. VA hospitals and doctors, however, will never be taken off the table.

The hope is that veterans will be able to take that first, often difficult year to become gainfully employed and start handling things on their own. But to the vet that becomes disabled physically or mentally, special services would exist for as long as the veteran needs them. These people are not coming home with a painful callus on their feet; they have often seen the horrors of combat, and have lost their limbs, eyesight, hearing, and/or even part of their sanity. Ever talk to a veteran suffering from PTSD due to their military experience? I have. Instead of having a therapist readily available, he found himself telling me of a horrific mission, where he was forced to shoot severely wounded children! Services for folks such as him should never end with some doctor brushing off his concerns after writing a prescription for anti-anxiety meds. I’m talking about more than simply having a VA hospital available. A man like this should be able to get help wherever it’s easiest to reach, without some pencil pusher whining that the government isn’t contracted with the veteran’s choice.

My thought is that these people have sacrificed their very bodies for their nation. It doesn’t matter what their reasons were when they join. It could have been patriotism. It could have been a lack of direction and the belief that the military would guide them. It could have been to follow a family tradition. Whatever their reasons, they should be given the respect that is their due. They are fallible, but then all humans are.

Unrealistically, I would actually rather bring all of our troops home from around the globe. While I don’t have a family of my own, separating parents from their children and various loved ones by putting an entire ocean between them is a kind of cruelty. However, when military personnel are given a reasonable amount of time off from their duties, these people should have the option of traveling home of the government’s dime. I am, of course, thinking of my buddy, Thanatos, and others like him, who could use a little time with the family during the holidays. Transports are traveling back and forth to the States all the time. Can you honestly tell me there’s no room for a few men and their duffels to go along for the ride?

The government throws money at some of the dumbest things on the planet. Really…If someone wants to track the migration of salmon, they should seek private funding from aquariums. Instead of throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars on such nonsense, it would be infinitely more humane to bring our fighting men and women home during their time off so they can see their loved ones, if only for a short time.

But what do I know? Right now, I’m just some silly civilian with his own, possibly skewed, perspective.

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