On Veterans Day, Honoring and Caring for Vets

Memories and reflections honor veterans at home and soldiers still fighting two wars abroad

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Today is Veterans Day, the 56th since President Eisenhower signed it into law after the close of the Korean War. As the U.S. wages war in Iraq and Afghanistan, today's Veterans Day brings columns honoring soldiers for their service to American society.

Thinking about veterans, I recalled Army Sgt. Robert Bartlett, who was badly wounded in Iraq. He was driving an armored Humvee that struck an IED; the blast ripped off much of his face. Shrapnel punctured internal organs; he lost an eye and was virtually dead when medics dragged him out of the wreckage. It took two years of surgery before he could smile.

But he is irrepressibly proud of his military service -- and horrified at the ugly reality of war. Months before the blast, Bartlett told me, an Iraqi had appeared at the front gate of his base, saying that children were missing from his village. Bartlett took a squad to investigate. A dozen children had been caught up somehow in a Sunni-Shiite struggle over a neighborhood. They'd been kidnapped and shot to death, their bodies left on a dusty street. A joint U.S.-Iraqi strike force eventually found and arrested the guilty. "War is not ever a good experience,'' Bartlett said between physical therapy sessions at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington. [...]

Most of us don't risk our lives to confront evil; we don't have to. But it might be worth pondering for a moment why we are spared, and whom we have to thank for that blessing. Among those who come to my mind are not only the military veterans, but the civilians I have met in war zones -- the diplomats, the negotiators, the humanitarian aid workers, who also risk their lives and absorb war's horror."
  • Strong, Not Stressed  The Washington Post's David Ignatius counters concerns that Major Nidal Hasan exposed "an extreme version of what can happen with an overstressed force." He writes, "In truth, the U.S. military may be the most resilient part of American society right now. The soldiers are clearly in better shape than the political class that sent them to war and the economic leadership that has mismanaged the economy. [...] Through all its difficulties, the military has kept its stride."
  • Ending Vet Homelessness  Retired General Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, explains how VA is working hard to curb the troubling rate of homelessness among veterans. "Our character as a nation is revealed by the honors we accord them and measured by the respect with which we care for them," he writes.
We are developing a five-year plan by which to attack the entire downward spiral that ends in homelessness. We must offer veterans education, vocational training and jobs; treat depression and fight substance abuse; and provide safe housing. We estimate that, every night, 131,000 veterans sleep on the streets of this wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. Six years ago, that estimate numbered 195,000. While we seem to be making progress, the current economic downturn threatens to reverse that progress by increasing veteran homelessness by 10 percent to 15 percent over the next five years. Simply doing what we have been doing for the last six years will not be enough.
  • 'Healing Our Troubled Vets'  The Los Angeles Times warns, "veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may be having a harder time readjusting to civilian life than previous generations of warriors." They note "soaring" rates of suicide, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and homelessness, all worsened by the recession. "The likeliest explanation for these troublesome trends is that the military is stretched too thin. In order to fight two Middle Eastern wars, troops have been forced to serve multiple deployments, and reservists who thought their combat days were over have found themselves on the front lines."
  • No Unnecessary Wars  Middle East expert Juan Cole, who usually pens long columns on foreign policy news, today simply writes: "Veteran's Day: The most patriotic way to honor future veterans of foreign wars is not to create any unnecessarily."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.