Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day Rhetoric vs Reality

This past Monday, May 26, 2014, was Memorial Day. A day we remember and honor those members of the armed forces who died in their service to our country. It has unofficially expanded into a day we also thank all veterans and those on active duty. It is good to remember these men and women who paid the ultimate price for us. It doesn't matter whether the war, police action or conflict was one you personally agreed with or ultimately proved to be a good use of our military forces. That's an issue for our political leaders and historians to debate. Those who died during their service were doing what was asked of them by our country regardless of their personal feelings. Up until 1973 they may have even been forced to serve through the draft. We owe them everything. Since our country has been in so many wars, every generation has suffered a loss.

I delayed this post until after Memorial Day because I didn't want to clash with that noble and needed remembrance. What I have to say will probably piss off some readers.

This country has become one in which rhetoric and reality are no where near in sync. That disconnect spreads across many areas but I will narrow in on the treatment of our service men and woman and veterans. I'm sure you saw or participated in all kinds of Memorial Day celebrations. PBS had a special on Sunday night, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) aired war movies all weekend, every newscast covered the local festivities, there were celebrations, events and parades all over the country. And while Memorial Day is a somber, sad and poignant day for many, it is also the unofficial beginning of summer and barbecue season. Most importantly it is a big day for retail sales, 30%, 40%, 50% or more off everything, especially mattresses.
In Texas and some other states you can buy certain "Energy ☆" rated appliances tax free. It only mildly bothers me that many people think Memorial Day is just another three day weekend that is meant for grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and drinking beer. I suspect those people haven't been touched by the sacrifices of war. I'm not saying we should stop having cook-outs or we shouldn't take advantage of the sales at Walmart, Sears or Sleep Experts. Families that have suffered the loses get together around the grill and they need to save a few bucks too. Let's just remember our heroes first.

This is the reason for Memorial Day.
Normandy American Cemetery - 9,387 Combat Death Graves 

While I don't feel any animosity toward the grillin' and chillin' individuals, I can't say the same about our national political leaders. I would bet that 99% of our US senators and house representatives were out sometime during the Memorial Day weekend giving a speech about how they value our active armed services members, veterans and especially those who gave their life. Then on Tuesday (or whenever they finally go back to work) they will return to Washington D.C. and find new ways to screw both active and retired service personnel. These screwings may be direct or by omission. They are not the exclusive province of either political party. Both Democrats and Republicans have been equally guilty. This is also not just a 2014 problem. We have been screwing our service men and women almost constantly since the American Revolution. It would take too much time to outline all the broken promises.

As I write this, the news is full of stories about the problems with the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospitals. If you think this is a new problem, you are probably under 20 years old. The VA has been a mess for years. The mess has transpired over multiple administrations and congresses. During these messes, we hear the same indignant and amazed statements from every politician in the country. They say that this "is not acceptable", "we owe these veterans everything", "we made a promise to these brave men and women", and on and on... A couple of years ago we had the budget sequestration (is that even a real word?) that required across the board cuts including the military. No rhyme or reason to the cuts. We have weapon systems and other equipment that are funded based on which congressional district they will have an economic impact on and produce jobs in. No regard to whether they are what the Pentagon asked for or needs. Some of the latest budgets submitted by the Pentagon cut housing allowances and rate of pay increases. There are proposals to eliminate PBX and BX stores, yet over $100 million in food stamps were used in those stores. There is talk of reducing the retirement benefits both by dollar amount and when they can be collected.

It used to be that once a sailor, marine, soldier or airman got home from combat, they were pretty safe. It now appears that the VA may be as dangerous as the battle field.

For the uninformed, the fact that someone can retire after twenty years of service even though they may still be in their forties may seem generous. In some ways it is but military service is not a normal career. Never mind the fact that you might get shot at or killed doing your job, there are other differences. You also get to be separated from your family for extended periods of time. You, and your family, are sent to wherever the Navy, Marines, Army or Air Force want you. Your spouse may or may not be able to find a job at each location let alone establish a career. The kids will attend a half dozen or more schools, trying to fit in and make new friends. I went to school with many of the same kids for 12 years. Several are still dear friends to this day. Service brats don't get to do that.

This country in general and the Pentagon in particular piss away enough money every few days to take care of the active personnel and veterans. Just close a couple of outmoded and inefficient bases in some powerful congress member's district. Why are there Navy bases in Indiana or North Dakota?  How can we have a new aircraft program (F-35) that is billions and billions of dollars over budget and years late? We seem to be able to piss away millions and billions on equipment, weapon systems and bases but we can't find a couple of bucks to make life better for the troops.

Many of us have heard cliches similar to "it's not what you say but what you do that counts". If that is true then our executive and legislative branches of government have been complete failures. They will all be out campaigning on a strong military and support for the troops platforms. Unfortunately when push comes to shove they will vote for the new laser nerf solar powered ballistic missile system assembled in their district, but against increased pay or benefits for the military personnel.

Everybody says how much we appreciate the members of our military. Some of you may actually mean it. Unfortunately actions speak louder than words. Our government speaks one way and acts another. Businesses brag about hiring veterans yet the unemployment rate for veterans is higher than non-veterans. Some businesses shy away from hiring members of the National Guard or military reserves because they fear they will be called up for active duty. With an all volunteer armed forces, fewer families are impacted than in the past. Hardly any wealthy or even middle class families feel the effects of our wars or often shoddy treatment of our military personnel. Others of us worry about our loved ones in the military every day. That worry often continues long after active duty. Hopefully there is an after active duty to worry about. This lack of evenly distributed pain and sacrifice is one of our problems. Those sacrificing are now a rather small minority. Underfunded minorities stand little chance in our current political landscape.

The Defense Department, the VA and their medical facilities should be the best funded, most efficient parts of our government. Sadly they are neither.  

The rhetoric was especially thick around Memorial Day. The actions will be especially thin in the weeks to come.

Thank you to all who have, are now or will serve in our military. You all deserve better from your government and fellow citizens.


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