Friday, November 11, 2011

For Veterans Day and OWS, A New Bonus Army

With unemployment among veterans far above the national average at 12% and fully one third of Iraq and Afghanistan vets saying the wars just weren't worth it, it comes as no surprise that our returning service men and women are being drawn to the various Occupy encampments throughout the country.

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.
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.'"
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."


James F Traynor said...

Screw it. Just don't go to war unless you absolutely have to. And everyone in the country deserves benefits, just as in Scandinavia. You shouldn't have to go to a goddamn war to get them. And all wars are goddamn wars.

Jay - Ottawa said...

It’s an upside down world, if you hang with the majority.

One percent sits on a mountain of idle surplus, most of which was gathered from what the other 99% produced and need to live decently. The sunny mountain of the rich continues to gather mass while our sad valley grows deeper and darker. Sure looks like America is trapped in a zero sum game. Did our great democracy flip into a plutocracy like a great ship capsizing in the blink of an eye? Stick around to learn how the elite, that clever 1%, will bribe Mother Nature and Father Physics into putting up with more excess on a global scale down the line.

For over a decade soldiers have formed another one percent of sorts, the few carrying the full weight of our serial wars. In the draft years of Vietnam we had more skin in the game. Without a draft the rest of us are the 99% well behind the lines. Yes, since 9/11 the terrorists are said to be gunning for us in the rear area first and foremost. Anybody want to trade place with the soldiers? How many soldiers got through the past ten years without severe damage to body and soul?

Most Americans live their days without a real thought about the wars. Except today when prompted by poppies and parades. We bow our heads for a moment, applaud when a uniform passes by and think kindly of public figures who lay a wreath before a tomb here, a monument there. Tomorrow it will be back to the real 364 days of our lives, with those same public figures shredding safety nets of soldiers and civilians alike.

For most of us the war remains as far away as those shuttered draft boards, unless a volunteer soldier-relative or soldier-friend comes back in pieces. True, we civilians, the 99%, went into great debt because of recent wars, but our children’s children, not us, will be the ones to pay that bill. If it ever is paid. Too big to pay? Then arrange a summit or a super committee to write that one off too -- at the expense of someone else’s job, home or life savings.

Sweet and fitting it is to see veterans gravitating around OWS sites instead of falling in behind parades sponsored by the 1%, the war profiteers and the war makers.

Valerie said...

Excellent comment, Jay, so terribly true. So many people slap a yellow ribbon magnet on the back of their car or giant SUV and talk about how great is the sacrafice of our men and women in uniform - as if that is all we owe these soldiers for risking their lives to fight "people who hate us for our freedom."

I don't know why but I find myself incredibly moved by these soldiers, especially those associated with Veterans for Peace, who are attaching themselves to the occupy movements. They bring so much crediblity with them - the kind of credibility the right wingnuts can't deny. I noticed when Shamar Thomas was telling the police to leave the protesters alone, how the police didn't seem to know what to do. I would like to believe that he shamed them a little and maybe a few of them went home that night and thought about what they were doing and who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.

All I can say is I am really impressed with these soldiers for thinking for themselves and being willing to join the movement.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I just read this comment in the NY Times comment section in response to the story of the OWS protesters being thrown out of Zucotti Park. I thought this particular paragraph belonged here.

It was written by andydoubtless #67 New York City Nov 15, 2011

Because ordinary Americans cannot create their own multi-million dollar PACs, hire their own $600 an hour lobbyists, or make unlimited cash donations to phony interest groups, the system has ceased to work for them. Last year the Simpson-Bowles Commission's chairs proposed something they called a deficit reduction package--in which higher co-pays for U.S. veterans seeking health care would have been used to offset the cost of a lower marginal income tax rate for wealthy Americans. Think about it: a soldier who has risked his life in service to the country would be nickle-and-dimed for hospital care to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy.