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I want to know how much the average American citizen knows about what kinds of hardships and hurdles soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are faced with everyday. I am guessing most of us get our information from cable network news. The same news sources that have become cheerleaders for their “preferred political teams.” Coverage of war zones are sanitized, so todays audience won’t be inclined to protest like they did in the 60s, when the evening news showed American soldiers coming home from Viet Nam in coffins.
I am bringing this up because the Obama Administration is set on using military action in Syria… even if it means defying the United Nations and going alone. Its a scenario that seems to play out, over and over… ending with the same result… chaos in the country we “helped” and American soldiers paying the ultimate price.
First off… how many know how many tours a typical soldier has done since we “liberated’ Iraq and continue our adventures in Afghanistan? The answer is three to four, and they typically have to stay one year each time. Many are in the Reserves and find the jobs they left to, “fight for our freedoms,” are not held for them as they were promised by employers. Cory Schuyler, 36, said his willingness to serve his country cost him his job — a job that the U.S. government promised to keep open for him when he joined the National Guard upon his return from overseas and which he contends government officials now won’t help him get back.
Schuyler’s is among 1,000s of complaints filed by military vets, according to the Department of Labor. A law called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, or USERRA, was supposed to help Reservists return to the same job they left in civilian life. Employers were supposed to make concessions to save the Reservists job, but many small businesses could not financially meet that obligation, especially if he/she could be deployed for as long as two years.
Other military vets cannot find work as a civilian; some reasons are; employers are wary of hiring a soldier returning home from war. They have a stigma attached that they might be “unstable.” Or soldiers that have enlisted for a long time, might not have job skills for the new civilian job market. Many are physically or mentally wounded.
Do you know how many soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have mental issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? It is estimated that 1 in 5 vets are diagnosed with this illness (and the numbers are growing); recent studies link an increased risk of heart disease as a result of PTSD. In 2012, 349 military vets committed suicide… all linked to PTSD. Many soldiers are addicted to painkillers resulting from their injuries, and it is estimated than possibly 10% of those incarcerated once served in the military.
Do you know how many Iraq and Afghanistan are either homeless or at risk, since 2010? As of 2012, 26,531 of them were living on the streets, at risk of losing their homes, staying in temporary housing or receiving federal vouchers to pay rent, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Do you know how much the tab is (so far) since our government chose to go after Saddam Hussein — to confiscate his “weapons of mass destruction”; fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan? The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs expects to spend $57 billion on disability benefits this year. That’s $57 billion to help soldiers with a myriad of physical and mental ailments, all resulting from fighting in wars. Total costs of war, including future obligations associated with it are $3987 billion – these numbers do not include payments to injured vets over the age of 65 receiving Medicare.
Many of those who enlist, do so because they can’t find work in the private sector. Many sign up right out of high school — persuaded by a savvy military recruiter promising students money for college and the chance to see the world… all under the guise of “protecting American freedoms.” You won’t see disgruntled soldiers on any news networks anytime soon but you can read some of their stories on this blog. It is one of many springing up in the blogosphere…telling the real stories of what is going on in these war zones.
The stories we hear coming out of Washington is not what is really happening. The American people are being lied to… the same lies that are told to the kids who joined the military in the first place. We are not fighting to help people in other countries to obtain democracy. Our soldiers are fighting to serve the financial interests of the greedy Plutocratic Oligarchs. This is especially true in the Middle East. Our soldiers are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”
Back in 2006 an army reservist was found guilty of abusing Iraq prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The accused soldier insisted he was only following orders. (anyone who served in the military knows that refusing to follow an order from a commanding officer, can find themselves thrown in the brig.) Pfc. Lynndie R. England’s defense lawyers had argued that England, a records clerk who had no training as a prison guard when the Army sent her to Iraq’s toughest prison, was following orders of officers and CIA agents at the prison when she took part in the abuse. One lawyer said England’s commanders ordered her to pose for the leash picture. “They picked her to get the smallest, youngest, lowest-rank woman they could find, and that would increase the humiliation for an Iraqi man,” Rose Mary Zapor said.
She is among seven who is serving several years behind bars for “following orders.” England and the other defendants were screwed either way. They would have been in trouble for not following orders and only received tough penalties for their actions, because the public found out about it. So how much abuse goes on in war zones and prison camps that never reach the media and how do we know the media can be trusted to report such abuses, especially in the current climate of “spying” from our government?
US Pte First Class, Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years for challenging the U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. Manning uncovered proof of U.S. torture, and abuse by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi soldiers and civilians, and released these documents to Wikileaks. No one involved in the allegations were ever charged. Manning’s leaks also revealed the fact that the Obama administration colluded with the Yemeni dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh to execute a secret war without the consent of Congress and systematically lie about it. Yet Manning, who blew the whistle, is the only one facing legal prosecution. Lets say (hypothetically) she took part in the abuses … if she followed orders and what ever she was involved in was leaked to the public… she probably would have gone to prison like England did…”damned if she did and damned if she don’t.”
Why is she serving prison time for exposing war crimes like those that happened in Abu Ghraib? Is the real reason that she embarrassed President Obama by exposing his lies? This administration who claims to welcome and protect whistleblowers, seems to have changed its story, when the one being exposed is the Commander in Chief or high ranking officials in the military.
So what exactly is the incentive to get a teenager to sign up for the military these days? Is it the opportunity to find themselves in a situation where they could be maimed, killed, or get themselves thrown in prison if they “follow orders,” or have to look the other way when they see abuses and then drown those memories with alcohol and drugs? What kind of “support” do returning vets actually receive that reflects the ”mantra” on bumper stickers, so many display on the backs of their vehicles? How does one show how they “support the troops?” Our government seems to have a strange way of showing theirs.