For many of them, the camps offer some solace for the pain that no VA benefits or PSTD counseling sessions can assuage. But tragically, one troubled vet has committed suicide at the OccupyBurlington site. Police said the 35-year-old man shot himself in the head inside a tent at the Vermont encampment Thursday and died later in a hospital.
According to the Veterans Administration, one service member commits suicide every 80 minutes. And according to the Center for a New American Security (CNAS, a neoliberal think tank) the statistics are even more horrifying when you consider that although only one percent of Americans have served in the military, former service members represent a staggering 20 percent of all suicides in the United States.
CNAS, which gets much of its funding from defense contractors and other war profiteers, last month released a study on military suicides, which I found a little jarring for a couple of reasons. It was a tad on the self-serving side. For example, researchers working for this Military Industrial Complex NGO are quick to point out that about a third of military suicides are not related directly to deployment. In other words, a third of the victims were emotionally troubled before even joining up. That begs the question of how well recruits are screened: obviously, not very. Additionally, about half of military suicides are committed using "private" rather than government-issued firearms. Phew, what a relief. And another thing: the Defense Industry does not want the reputation of its recruits sullied by the term "commit" suicide. It is politically incorrect, and it might prevent people at risk from getting help, say the study's authors.
And in big bold print they are quick to add: " Leaders in the armed services and VA deserve recognition for their actions to reduce the rate of suicide among service members and veterans, but face persistent obstacles". So hooray for the DOD and don't blame the MIC, which truly deeply cares. And don't blame Leon Panetta, who plans on cutting the defense budget by reducing health and pension benefits for veterans in order to save military bases and funding for Drone missiles. From The New York Times:
"In what he described as the most sensitive of the potential cuts facing an all-volunteer force, Mr. Panetta said the Pentagon was considering raising fees for the military’s health insurance program, Tricare. Today, military retirees and families, who are guaranteed Tricare for life, pay only $460 a year in fees — far below what they would pay if they worked for a private employer — although a modest increase for new enrollees began last month.
.... Mr. Panetta provided no details of potential reductions in military retirement pay for those who enlist in the future, but said he would consider supporting the creation of a binding commission to review such pay. He also indicated that he might support a change that would increase retirement spending, by offering some retirement pay to those who had served less than 20 years. Currently only those who have served at least 20 years receive retirement pay, which is 50 percent of their final annual base pay, for life."
Just in time for Veterans Day, the Senate did finally pass a smidgen of the president's Jobs Bill last night, giving a tax break to businesses hiring returning troops and funding a job retraining program for older vets. Patty Murray (D-WA) who serves on the Superduper Secret Supercommittee tasked with ripping open the social safety net in order to placate the quivering unconfident Markets, was very proud of this burst of bipartisanship. And well should she be. She, along with the Center for a New American Security, is a big recipient of Defense Industry largesse. Gushed Murray: “It’s no secret that the House and Senate are divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now. But . . . our veterans are the one issue that we should never be divided on.”
But back to Occupy. Much to the chagrin of the political elites, it is changing the conversation from the almighty deficit to income disparity and corporate greed. And veterans are getting the attention they deserve, not because of MIC policy papers and a few crumbs from politicians, but because of the vibrant force they are bringing to the OWS movement. "At Occupy Camps, Veterans Bring the War Home" is the title of a piece in The Atlantic written by Tina Dupuy:
"It was a surprise to meet Iraq war vets at these protests. There are only, after all, around a million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in what was once dubbed the War on Terror.To mark Veterans Day, OWS is holding a rally and concert featuring Joan Baez today in Foley Square in New York. It's being called "Honor the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living."
Their presence became national news when Iraq vet and former Marine Scott Olsen's skull was fractured by a non-lethal round fired by police in Oakland in late-October. A week later in New York, around 30 vets held a solidarity march from Zuccotti Park to the Stock Exchange. They had a rally at the park afterward where Bordeleau spoke. 'This is the first major movement for social change we've seen in this country since the '70s,' he said to me.
At Occupy DC, a painting of Scott Olsen in uniform is draped on the side of a tent. He's become a symbol of the Occupation Movement -- he fought overseas only to be injured when exercising his "freedom" of peaceful assembly at home. His name has become a shorthand to talk about why so many vets are at Occupy Wall Street.
'There's a reason Scott Olsen got shot in the head,' says Patterson, looking down at his chain-restaurant hot cocoa. "Because he was out front.'"