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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’

Happy Thanksgiving to You: Much to Be Grateful For

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you and your friends and family have much to be thankful for this year, and that you’re able to spend the day with people you love. We wish you a festive gathering over a Thanksgiving dinner with good food and drink, and happy memories of the day.

Among the things we’re grateful for is the massive, energetic volunteerism by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds all over the USA to re-elect President Obama (more about this in a post to come) and to elect liberal and progressive Democrats to Congress, including many women. This engagement by young and old shows the power of the people—“citizens united” indeed—over big-dollar corporate influence, and we trust it will result in some good legislation, and defense against bad bills.

Just weeks after Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, we are thankful for a president whose administration is responsive to natural disasters (and proactive in preparing, too). We know from all-too-bitter experience that it doesn’t always happen this way. Proving that government can be a force for the public good—and that taxpayers’ dollars can help here at home—FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard and other agencies have been helping New Jersey, New York, and other areas rebuild from Sandy. We are also grateful to the many good-hearted volunteers who have contributed money and supplies and their own muscle to help people whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

Please consider making a donation to the Red Cross today. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities. Thank you.

We are also grateful, and relieved, that Israel and Hamas in Gaza have agreed to a cease-fire (thanks to persuasive intervention by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi). We pray it lasts and that peacemakers may prevail (esp. in the proximity of already-burning Syria). For more about this situation and other Middle East affairs we recommend Prof. Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment.

Showing Thanks to Veterans

Today, and so soon after Veterans Day, we don’t want to forget the millions of active-duty troops and the veterans who have fought in the wars since 2001. We opposed the second war and the prolongation of the first, but nevertheless we believe all the servicemen and women deserve good training, equipment, and excellent health care (physical and psychological) during and after their tours of duty. They deserve lifelong care.

This morning we did what we meant to do on Veterans Day: Donated again to the Iraq Veterans Against the War and to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). These organizations do good work and deserve the support of millions of civilians on whose behalf these veterans have served, risking their lives. If each one of us gives just $25—or even 10 or 20—that money can go a long way to helping veterans in need. Among other things, the groups are pressuring the shamefully tardy Veterans Administration and the U.S. Congress that funds it to move faster on processing veterans’ applications for health care. (See IAVA statement here.) The backlog is approaching 1 million claims, and many vets have to wait a year or more just to hear if they’re going to get help or not. Many members of Congress love to vote for wars; they just never want to pay for them.

See our blogroll, bottom right, under “Anti-War,” for links to IAVA, IVAW, and other organizations that work for veterans and their families. If you can, please make a contribution today.




Thanks and Homage to President John F. Kennedy

One last thing: We cannot let the convergence of 11/22 and Thanksgiving go by without paying homage to one of our most admired presidents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was slain on this day 49 years ago in Dallas. We are not referring to the “glamour” of the “Camelot” mythology, but rather to the president’s strong insistence on working for peace, for finding diplomatic solutions to crises whenever possible—the Cuban Missile Crisis is the example par excellence—and his (admittedly cautious) support for civil rights, among other deeds to be thankful for. Did we miss something, or were there not any commemorations, in print or elsewhere, of the successful averting of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), whose 50th anniversary passed this October?

Below are a few words from his great commencement address at American University in June 1963, perhaps his clearest evocation of America’s responsibility and opportunity to set an example toward a more peaceful coexistence with the nations of this fragile planet:

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. . . . 

Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles—which can only destroy and never create–is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. 

I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war—and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. . . . 

So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. . . . 


See last year’s tribute to President Kennedy here.

For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

We highly recommend James W. Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2010), with special emphasis on his often behind-the-scenes efforts toward peace.


Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

“Where is our honor? Where is our valor? Where is our sacrifice?” —Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), leading opposition to Veterans Jobs Corps Act

“I care deeply about the veterans. I care deeply about housing and helping the veterans who have fought for their country.” —Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), assisting the opposition

“This Congress let partisan bickering stand in the way of putting thousands of America’s heroes back to work. Lowering veteran unemployment is something both parties should be able to agree on—even in an election year.”Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America


The next time you hear Republican politicians praising “our brave men and women in uniform,” remember that all but 5 G.O.P. senators voted No on the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012. The bill failed, 58–40, on a procedural vote, just two votes short. This bipartisan bill would have provided $1 billion over five years to help up to 20,000 veterans find work in their communities. All Democrats voted for the bill. The Republicans who voted Aye are Lisa Murkowski (AK), Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine; Scott Brown (MA); and Dean Heller (NV). Two Republicans did not vote. (In the Obama years, 51 votes is no longer a majority. Because the G.O.P. filibusters all legislation, 60 votes are needed.) Now the Congress is on recess till after election day—the earliest pre-election vacay since 1960—and Republicans will be busy blaming Obama and the Democrats for the underperforming economy.

Now, in the federal budget, $1 billion is not a large amount, and, in our humble opinion, even as a down payment this would be a pathetically small investment when the unemployment rate of veterans is officially 10.9% (certainly higher in fact). Further, this money would have been “paid for”: it would not have added to the federal debt because Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) ensured that funding would have come in part from Medicare providers and suppliers who are delinquent on their tax bills. Remember also that during the George W. Bush years, the enormous costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were never part of the official budget of the United States, but were routinely allocated through “emergency supplementals”. According to the National Priorities Project, costs of these two wars so far total $1.38 trillion (with Iraq at $807.4 and Afghanistan at $570.9 billion). But $1 billion for job training that would help 20,000 veterans, said Republican senator Tom Coburn, was a mere “political exercise” and a waste of time, as the House of Representatives would not pass it anyway.

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

In addition to creating jobs for veterans as police officers, firefighters, first responders, and restorative conservationists, the Veterans Job Corps Act would have also extended the critical Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP provides employment, education and entrepreneurship advice for troops separating from the service, and to veterans and their spouses after they’ve left the military. The VJC would also require states to consider military training and experience in granting credentials and licensure for EMTs, nursing assistants and commercial driver’s licenses.

A New York Times editorial in favor of the bill pointed out:

The bill gives priority to those who served on or after 9/11, with good reason: the jobless rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan hit 10.9 percent in August, compared with 8.1 percent nationally. This is a time of persistent homelessness and unemployment among veterans, and record suicides among veterans and active-duty service members, many of them stressed by the burdens of two long wars. It makes sense for the 99 percent of Americans to find new ways to pay their debt to the 1 percent who serve in uniform. [LNW’s emphasis]

To most people, Senator Murray’s bill would seem like one decent way to do that. But not if you’re one of those Republicans in Washington who thinks it’s more important in an election year to deny Democrats a success or accomplishment of any kind.


For the last word here, let’s listen to the occasionally candid and revealing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as he gives away the game just before the 2010 mid-term elections:

The single most important thing we [congressional Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.


See also:

They Need to Do Their Job: Obama Bitch-Slaps G.O.P. Deficit Hardliners, Hell-Bent Extremists” (LNW 7/1/11)

2001 Bush Tax Cuts: Where the Deficit Began” (LNW 7/20/11)

Arguing about How to Defuse a Huge Ticking Bomb: Burn-it-Down Nihilism Spreads Among Tea-Infused House Republicans” (LNW 7/20/11)

Grinch Wins Plastic Turkey Award: Pentagon Demands Reimbursement of Signing Bonuses from Disabled Vets” (LNW 11/19/07)


How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

500,000 vets may suffer from PTSD, depression, or traumatic brain injury

Dan Froomkin, senior Washington correspondent for Huffington Post, reports at Nieman Watchdog that the Pentagon’s figure of 32,226 wounded seriously undercounts the true casualty rate. Possibly more than a half million of the 1.5 million Iraq war veterans sustained traumatic brain injury or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, exposure to hazardous substances, breathing disorders, severe hearing loss, migraines, and other uncounted afflictions. “We don’t have anything close to an exact number,” Froomkin writes, “because nobody’s been keeping track.”

The much-cited Defense Department figure [of 32,226 wounded] comes from its tally of “wounded in action”—a narrowly tailored category that only includes casualties during combat operations who have “incurred an injury due to an external agent or cause.” That generally means they needed immediate medical treatment after having been shot or blown up. Explicitly excluded from that category are “injuries or death due to the elements, self-inflicted wounds, combat fatigue”—along with cumulative psychological and physiological strain or many of the other wounds, maladies and losses that are most common among Iraq veterans.

The article is worth reading in full (so is the entire Harvard-based web site, Nieman Watchdog), but here are a few disturbing highlights:

•  The Pentagon’s Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reports having diagnosed 229,106 cases of mild to severe traumatic brain injury from 2000 to the third quarter of 2011, including both Iraq and Afghan vets.

•  A 2008 study of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by researchers at the RAND Corporation found that 14% screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder and 14% for major depression, with 19% reporting a probable traumatic brain injury during deployment. . . . Applying those proportions to the 1.5 million veterans of Iraq, an estimated 200,000 of them would be expected to suffer from PTSD or major depression, with 285,000 of them having experienced a probable traumatic brain injury.

• Altogether, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America group estimates that nearly 1 in 3 people deployed in those wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or traumatic brain injury. That would mean 500,000 of the 1.5 million deployed to Iraq.

• A 2010 Congressional Research Service report, presenting what it called “difficult-to-find statistics regarding U.S. military casualties” offers one indication of how the “wounded in action” category undercounts real casualties. It found that for every soldier wounded in action and medically evacuated from Iraq , more than four more were medically evacuated for other reasons.

•  The VA’s web page on hazardous exposures warns that “combat Veterans may have been exposed to a wide variety of environmental hazards during their service in Afghanistan or Iraq. These hazardous exposures may cause long-term health problems.” The hazards include exposure to open-air burn pits, infectious diseases, depleted uranium, toxic shrapnel, cold and heat injuries and chemical agent resistant paint. The VA provides no estimates of exposure or damage, however.

•  A March 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that many wounds suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan will persist over veterans’ lifetimes, and some impacts of military service may not be felt until decades later.

A Three- to Five-Billion-Dollar War

It was by including the Iraq war’s un(der)counted casualties that Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes estimated the Iraq war would ultimately cost the United States some $3 trillion when all health care costs over the soldiers’ lifetimes are factored in. In 2008 they raised their estimate to $4 or $5 billion. And that’s just the financial cost to the United States.

Whatever the actual numbers are—and the physical and psychic costs are beyond calculation—the American public should press firmly on the White House, Congress, and Veterans Administration secretary Eric K. Shinseki to ensure that veterans receive high-quality physical and psychological care. It is the right thing to do. Most of the U.S. public opposed a war with Iraq until it actually started—on the insistence of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, among other war hawks—but now that the war has run its bloody course, the nation owes it to the veterans to see that they are cared for and that serious and sustained funds are allocated for job training and health care, physical and mental.

There are about 1.5 million Iraq war veterans, and the experience of Vietnam veterans (and the Bonus Army long before them) shows that these vets, too, will be brushed aside if the public does not stand by them. The countless thousands of homeless, armless, legless, and hopeless Vietnam veterans shames this nation, and should not be repeated. We fear, however, that the conservatives corporate interests that have such outsize influence in Washington will fight any further spending on the veterans with whom the politicians so love to be photographed.

You can help by supporting Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for PeaceMake the Connection, and other organizations that work for veterans and their families listed on the “Anti-War” blogroll at the bottom right of this page. Tell members of Congress to support the Veterans Jobs initiative led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to press the private sector to commit to hiring 100,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013. Read more about it here.


See also “The Freedom and the Damage Done” in “As ‘End’ of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran” (10/30/11) and “As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?” (8/19/10).


Photo credits: Top photo by Platon, from a portfolio on American soldiers and their families published in the Sept. 28, 2008, issue of The New Yorker. Middle photo shows Bryan Malone, 22, an Army specialist from Haughton, La., while working with a speech pathologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center Aug. 2, 2007, in Nashville. The scar is a result of a rocket attack on a Baghdad gym where Malone was working out. He now suffers from traumatic brain injury, the “silent epidemic” of the Iraq war (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey). Bottom illustration: Red Cross, World War I Red Cross.

In Honor of Veterans

Friday, November 11th, 2011

A Salute to the Living and the Dead

Today—the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year—we pause to honor the veterans of wars, especially Americans in uniform since the Great War, World War I, whose ending on November 11, 1918—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—was commemorated one year later with the first Armistice Day (armistice = ‘stopping hostilities’, or, loosely, ‘a farewell to arms’). Armistice Day became a national holiday in 1938, and was renamed as Veterans Day in 1954 to honor those who had served in all U.S. wars.

We also call upon the “job creators”—especially those in the uppermost One Percent—to hire veterans and pay them well. Hire them and give generously to their medical and mental care and rehabilitation.

Although Levees Not War opposes the wars of the War on Terror(ism), that does not mean we don’t respect and honor the men and women who serve in the U.S. military. We know that this less-than-one-percent of the American population is being called upon—even in a nominally “all-volunteer army”—to undergo harsh, grueling, too often deadly conditions that we civilians can only imagine, if we dare.

Today we have joined Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (civilian membership), and made a contribution to IAVA. We also contributed to Iraq Veterans Against the War in the name of Scott Olsen, the U.S. Marines veteran of the Iraq war who on Oct. 25 was struck in the head by a tear gas canister or smoke canister fired by an Oakland police officer during a crackdown on Occupy Oakland protesters. Suffering a fractured skull, Olsen was hospitalized in critical condition.

See our blogroll, bottom right, under “Anti-War,” for links to IAVA, IVAW, and other organizations that work for veterans and their families. If you can, please make a contribution today.