Left Justified: Veterans getting screwed again

If I told you that American soldiers wounded in Iraq have to pay for their hospital food, would you get angry at me or the Bush administration, which is cutting veterans’ benefits? How about wounded National Guard soldiers from Georgia sitting in hot warehouses waiting for weeks to see a doctor?

These stories I haven’t seen on the regular news, but it sounds like the poor men and women who fought that stinking war in Iraq, and are still coming under attack, are getting the shaft (again) from our government.

I told this to some “super-patriots” and they berated me for denigrating our president’s leadership. I didn’t get angry with them; I’ve heard it all before. I’m a Vietnam veteran, and my friend, David Cline, who is national president of Veterans For Peace and four-time wounded vet from that Southeast Asian war, will tell us more “stories” this Monday, Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, 4848 Turner St.

I met Dave when I went back to Vietnam in 1988. It was sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War and was the second friendship tour that snuck into the then-embargoed country. (More than 10 years after the war, and the government was still punishing the Vietnamese for beating our military.) Dave Cline led the group, and I was proud to go back and make friends with Vietnamese soldiers who used to shoot at us, who really shot at Dave because he was a member of the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi and Tay Ninh, Vietnam. That’s where the Vietnamese constructed lots of tunnels.

Dave wrangled a tour of his old battlefield from our Vietnamese hosts. We were carted around by an angry Vietnamese general who wanted to refight the whole goldarned war. After we stopped and said some prayers in a Vietnamese military cemetery, the general had a change of heart and took us out to lunch.

Dave is much braver than I. He recently sat on the target range in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and got the Navy to stop shelling the island and turn it into a wildlife refuge.

During his 1967 Vietnam “tour” Dave was wounded four times and received three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star for bravery. He’s permanently disabled. After returning to the U.S., Dave joined the growing antiwar movement and, while still on active duty, he marched in demonstrations and wrote for the underground GI newspaper Fatigue Press at Fort Hood, Texas.

Since then, he’s supported homeless vets through Stand Downs; promoted reconciliation with the people of Vietnam; helped people recover from war trauma (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and substance abuse; and educated kids about war and military service.

So I hope you can meet a hero of one of the U.S.’s less popular wars try to prevent a bigger boondoggle. Vets, of course, are especially welcome.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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