Left Justified: Memorial Day

By Stanley Campbell

Happy Memorial Day, and if you are a disabled American veteran, you’ll soon be one of the war dead that the public is memorializing. Vets lobbying the government for vets’ rights created our veterans’ help system. And they did a good job. I am a veteran who enjoyed the federal GI Bill and received free Illinois state college education at RVC. And I still have the right to buy a home under the GI Bill (realtors be aware)!

But I thank God the Viet Cong were such good shots, for they aimed their rockets at DaNang airport instead of my little hooch in the middle of a supply depot. I’d hate to be a traumatized soldier returning from the modern battlefield, with the maze of paperwork one must properly fill out before receiving help—especially mental health help.

The latest edition of the Veteran (available at the information table of JustGoods, 201 Seventh St, open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday) has an article by Vets’ counselor Ray Parrish encouraging veterans to educate themselves about their rights. Ray gives suggestions on training and volunteer opportunities for the veterans to help each other.

Ray counsels veterans and is paid by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (which war? Any war!). VVAW protested the use and abuse of Agent Orange and other chemicals on the modern battlefield. VVAW was the first to identify Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD—what you get when you see your buddy splattered over the modern battlefield).

VVAW is not well liked among other veterans’ organizations. Too “political” and anti-war. But we got complaints against them. For example, DAV (Disabled American Veterans) will tell you the overwhelming majority of veterans are NOT disabled, and DAV is quite happy to rally around politicians who wave the flag, promise to keep God on our money and the “Pledge” in our schools. Never mind the vets’ needs. Or so says Bill Perry, a service officer with Disabled American Veterans CSO. He also says that if you make ANY ERROR in the VA claims maze, you’ll be forced into a two-year appeal process. Then he says, “Get expert advice, evaluations, and treatment” and gives his phone number (215-945-1269, or 215-945-3350) just in case you are one of those veterans.

In Chicago, the Veterans for Peace group is a member of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations. They want disability claims to be paid immediately on the presumption of the veteran’s honesty. Of course, the bureaucrats and Republicans (see how natural that sounds) don’t want that. The minority party, in both houses of Congress wants to “cut entitlements” (to vets) so they can increase tax breaks to the super wealthy. There are well over $100 BILLION in vets’ entitlements, and $500 million or so makes an attractive tax cut. Vets and their friends and families should make more than a peep about keeping ALL the hundred BILLION that vets have earned, FOR VETS!

You know the more conservative groups have lobbyists and made big contributions to congressmen. The cuts are coming, and, instead of raising mental health support for wounded vets, there’s gonna be major cuts in veterans’ benefits.

Again, Ray Parrish says that “At a recent Welcome Home for student veterans, there were a dozen or so who thanked us for our training literature and the fact we had a therapist on staff. Other newer Iraq and Afghan vets’ organizations were looking forward to having their own service officer” (an accredited agent who can help get veterans’ services—yes, the paperwork and bureaucracy is so maze-like that vets need a professional just to get what they deserve).

Mr. Parrish (who’s been to Rockford many times as our guest) says that “If VVAW had the money, it would be great to have more counselors like me. I would look for those with a minimum of three years full-time experience in VA claims, mental health counseling, and organizing/public speaking. Locating them in GI coffeehouses and IVAW (Iraq Vets Against the War) chapters wouldn’t be a bad idea.” Yes, there is an organization called “Iraq Vets Against the War,” and they kick ass.

Aaron Davis, a Utah VVAW member, says “we need more service officers assisting veterans and their families. I have been trying to interest the peace veterans for years. Most members want to bitch about the limp anti-war movement or send me stuff I’ve already read. The real work is helping veterans.”

He is the founder of www.homefrontvet.org that advocates help for family members of wounded or killed soldiers.

There’s a woman here in Winnebago County who lost her daughter in the Middle East, and then lost her husband, who drank himself out of the country. She came to one of our Wednesday night prayers for peace (5:30 p.m. at State and Water), and told her woeful tale. She is now an advocate for family help and recently appeared before a congressional hearing.

So happy Memorial Day. If you can, join us as we commemorate those who died for your well-being (Monday, May 31, 7 p.m. at JustGoods meeting room, 201 Seventh St., Rockford). And let’s try to have fewer dead soldiers, OK?

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

From the May 26-June 1, 2010 issue

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