Nobody knows exactly where or when Memorial Day began. Over two dozen American cities claim to be the birthplace of the holiday. During the Civil War, groups of women in the South would decorate the graves of their war dead.
The first official observation of Memorial Day was May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. By 1890 all Northern states were observing Memorial Day.
The South didn’t recognize Memorial Day until after World War I. Before that the Southern states had various days for honoring their war dead, and they only honored Confederate soldiers. Several Southern states continue to have a separate holiday for honoring Confederate soldiers.
While you’re enjoying the 3-day weekend, partying, drinking (or whatever your drug of choice is), please remember everyone who died defending our country. Nightline will be broadcasting the names and photographs of all U.S. service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past year. The broadcast will take approximately 45 minutes.
And while we’re honoring the dead, we need to be painfully aware of the problems facing our soldiers and veterans, and how they’re being shortchanged. Regardless of political viewpoints or how one feels about the war in Iraq, our soldiers and veterans need to be rewarded for risking their lives.
Some politicians are shouting “Support Our Troops!” from the rooftops, and then are privately trying to reduce their health care and benefits. These politicians need to be pulled out from under their rock and brought squirming and blinking into the light of day. This shortchanging of our veterans is absolutely immoral and criminal and needs to be exposed.
At the Armed Forces Retirement Home, managed by the Pentagon, residents are suing Defense Secretary Rumsfeld over budget cuts which are jeopardizing their health care. They are no longer able to get medical checkups or prescriptions on site.
A spokesman for the home says the changes have improved “efficiency.” Efficiency for whom? At whose expense? A veteran of the Korean and Viet Nam wars said “When you're playing football and you get hurt, they say 'suck it up' — we're just too old to suck it up any more.” Suck it up? It’s one thing to tell a football player to suck it up, but an aging veteran of two wars? Is this how they thought they’d be rewarded for risking their lives?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an underreported but very real problem for soldiers and veterans of the Iraqi war. More than 10,000 Iraqi war veterans have sought help for this condition. Months or years of looking for unseen snipers and roadside bombers have caused mass paranoia.
One soldier returning from Iraq said: “I am getting better with crowds, but still if it is a very confined space and I am totally surrounded I have issues with that.”
Another said: “When I am in crowds I tend to watch people's hands.”
Welcome back; now suck it up. And you’d better not have incurred any debt while you were gone. The recent bankruptcy law passed by Congress and signed by Bush wipes out any and all protections from creditors that soldiers and veterans used to have. This law was written by and for the banks and credit companies. Soldiers? Veterans? What did they contribute to my campaign?
And some of the favorite targets of payday lenders (who are barely one notch above loan sharks) are military bases. Some of the politicians who scream the loudest about supporting our troops are sitting on their thumbs while these lowlife hustlers prey on military personnel, charging as much as 391% annual interest for a short term loan. Some of these loan sharks’ “customers” are desperate enough to take out a second loan to pay off the first loan, a third loan to pay off the second, etc. until they have five or six loans they’re paying off. Hundreds of dollars a month can go into this vicious circle. One loan — one desperate decision — can lead to a downward spiral.
But whenever any kind of banking “reform” comes before Congress, the money and clout of the banking industry outweighs any concern for military families. You’ll never hear a politician screaming “Support Our Bankers” in front of TV cameras, but that’s where their priorities are.
American Legion Magazine has interviews with two senators and two congressmen from the Veterans Affairs Committee. Congressman Steve Buyer, R-Indiana and Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho both give longwinded answers full of euphemisms and political doubletalk. Basically their flowery rhetoric translates into: Cost-effectiveness. Let’s spend billions to send them off to war, and then pinch pennies when they return. You’ve served your purpose — now get lost.
Congressman Lane Evans, D-Illinois says: “The budget submitted by the White House is one of the most dishonest, disingenuous and insensitive documents I've seen in over two decades in Congress. The administration's budget shortchanges the nation's sick and disabled veterans and seeks to force hundreds of thousands of additional deserving veterans out of the VA health-care system. In his State of the Union message, President Bush saluted the bravery and sacrifice of our troops and promised that a grateful country will do everything possible to help them recover. The budget he has proposed, which devastates programs for veterans, instead makes a cruel mockery of his own rhetoric.”
He also says: “The Bush administration seeks a mere 0.5 percent more for 2006 than Congress appropriated for 2005. It ignores the 13 percent to 14 percent VA testified it needs annually to maintain services at current levels.”
Senator Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii says: “If we don't work together to provide adequate appropriations, the shortfall is going to get worse. We are at war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The president has told us that the war on terror will not be won overnight. Every day, military men and women are returning home in need of medical care for physical as well as psychological wounds. Ultimately, many will seek VA care. The influx places even greater pressure on already-overwhelmed VA facilities and staff. Our job in Congress is to try to give VA the resources it needs to meet its obligations to veterans. The president's 2006 budget falls short.”
Congressman Evans and Senator Akaka are saying the right things. Can they (or will they) follow through?
cross-posted at Bring It On!