December 7th, 2008

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Coming Home

One in what ought to be several posts as I try to catch up with the things I've been reading.

"COMING HOME" 2008: IRAQ & AFGHAN VETS RETURN
WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE ARE THEY, NOW? HOW HAS THE WAR AFFECTED OUR PEOPLE?


VA Hospitals are not what they once were, or what they were meant to be, after WWII. They means-test and narrowly define "service-connected" medical problems, discouraging vets from seeking treatment. The whole system has been hanging by a thread for decades, eyed for possible conversion to Medicare or Medicaid facilities, or privatization. Some entire States only have one VA Hospital. And there is little or no outreach to the new generation of veterans. (or even Abraham Lincoln, who is quoted on the buildings, and graveyards, "to comfort he who has borne the battle, and his widow and his orphan." Since I get to read it at the LA Federal Cemetary, on the way to Wadsworth VA Hospital, well it's made me a bit more bitter than when I read it on the side of the VA's actual offices in DC; near Lafayette Park).

Given the fact that this was an all-volunteer effort, drawing largely upon our National Guard and Reserves, with their older personnel, constantly rotated in and out of two war zones, the effect of the war on the larger population has been minimized. At the same time, while none of the rest of us was at risk, we all knew somebody who was at risk. The shipping clerk or his wife. The corner druggist or her husband. The mailman, fireman, policeman or woman we used to see almost every day. The boy next door. The girl you sat next to in school. Women. Lots of women in this one, in combat for the first time, despite the regulations against it. Well, they're back, mostly intact. They look the same, sort of. A little older. A little haggard, maybe. Probably lost a few pounds. Kinda tired around the eyes. Sometimes they just stare off into space. We all do that, sometimes, right? But we did not choose to go to war. And they did.

That last, "they knew what they were doing" is something I see a lot of. Well, yes, and no.

War, well you don't know what you are getting into. Want the ugly truth...? Even if you've been in one already, you don't know what you are getting into. One of the guys on the teams I was working in Iraq was on his third war. They are all different.

I walk the halls, and I see a strange mix of people. Men in their fifties and sixties, a few in their ninties. A vewy few in thier forties (like me) and a few in their twenties.

I was tempted to ask the kid, with the spike through is lower lip (decorative) when he'd been in, but it felt wrong. We sit there and share the sense of having been in something (the army) which is a bond, but the details... we leave each other be, lest we stir something painful.

A lot of us look determined, and a trifle worn down. The system isn't friendly.

Go, read the whole thing, and hope Shinseki (for whom I have a great respect), will be able to fix some of the mess.