Little DID I know writing about?guns in America where it would lead. This column will be me, an Englishman, looking at the US from outside. I have travelled widely in the USA and lived in NY for some time, so am not ignorant of the US. I will however be writing very much in a British style, maybe slightly longer articles than you are used to [I know you can handle that lol] and very much with an international flavour. I am NOT Piers Morgan, thank the lord. Piers Morgan was a tabloid journalist who was caught up in the Rupert Murdoch hacking scandal. We in the UK never understood why he did so well in the US as we could not stand him in the UK. Well, I have to thank you for taking him?–?it took him away from us.
Back to the serious stuff and what my column is about this week. I am writing about veterans, both yours and ours here in the UK. There are major similarities in duties, missions etc…for the two countries, in fact many being interchangeable units on the ground. While the UK’s veterans are not perfectly looked after and there is room for improvement, there is a massive difference in treatment between UK veterans and US veterans.
I will start with the personal experience of a friend; I worked with the USMC, the RAF Regt [Light Infantry] and others while designing simulations. I know a lot of serving and ex service personnel. One of my good friends was a master sergeant in the US Army. He had been in for 22 years and was due out on terminal leave, he had already done several active tours and two?tours in Iraq. He volunteered to go for a 3rd tour as he could not let his men and the new guys go out without being there to guide them. He felt he had to go back to look after his men, despite desperately not wanting to go.
While deployed he got shot, hit seven?times, bullets broke his rifle in two and even his body armour could not save him 2 months in hospital. He was nearby four?IEDs when they went off, luckily in vehicles; he was around the chemical burning pits used to burn chemicals found by the army and disposed of in fire pits. He finished his tour and had pretty severe PTSD, but got on with things; he became a deputy sheriff and settled down to civilian life.
Six months later he had a massive stroke; he was 43. If not for his job as a deputy and his medical cover that came with that job, he would be dead! He got no counselling when he left the army, as he says ?the moment you leave, you are on your own!?
Despite serving his country for 22 years, getting wounded and doing several active tours, he has received virtually no help — and yes he has asked — from the VA. His stroke left him unable to walk. The VA even disputes that his stroke is related to his military service, despite 22 years? service and everything he went through, his family has no history of strokes and he was very young at 43 when it happened. He went to the VA for counselling and despite all he did and saw, they said he was suffering from anxiety, not PTSD. This is the VA!
He went to a private counsellor and was diagnosed with acute PTSD, straight away, he has even had to leave restaurants when doors slammed as he thinks he is being shot at or worse, but it’s not PTSD according to the VA, that’s just normal anxiety.
Rick’s wife is now looking at selling the family home, to be able to afford things that should be Ricks by right. He needs an Action Track Chair just to be able live a semblance of his previous life. In fact, Rick’s wife is still fighting to actually have the VA recognise that his illness and stroke are service related.
To summarise, Rick served his country with integrity, diligence, and in the end risked his life many times over?–?even going back on active duty — when he could have stayed home. Never questioning, just doing his job, as best as he could. A senior NCO, the backbone of any army anywhere.
What happened when he left? In simple words, nothing, less than nothing in fact. He was left to fend for himself, support and help were almost non-existent and never there when needed?– pretty much useless when they were there.
In a broader sense, why is this so? Why is this the case in a country that is so incredibly rich? Why are veterans in the USA treated so utterly appallingly?
There are many books citing US soldiers and how the US government uses them, the term Imperial Grunts has gained usage following the publication of the very good book by Robert Kaplan [Imperial Grunts by Robert D. Kaplan]. There is a reason for this, the role many soldiers find themselves in is enforcing US foreign policy, but that’s for another article.
The point is, that as the schwerpunkt [tip of the spear] of US policy abroad, serving and doing their job, with almost unparalleled professionalism, when they leave — in fact the moment they leave they are cast aside — no longer useful, no longer worth anything, and cast aside as a Roman Commander may have cast aside a rusty sword or dagger. Even Roman Legionnaires were rewarded with land and money upon retirement.
Why does the US consider its veterans so worthless, so undeserving of any kind of decent care or fair treatment?
So let’s see what is likely to happen to any veteran leaving the services of the USA. If a veteran is relatively ok, able to get a job and not suffering PSTD or any physical injury, they are liable to do better than the general population in terms of job and income. The less than 50 percent of them able to work will do well. A veteran makes a good employee or a good employer taken on a general basis. They will usually be hard-working and committed, with an unusual job loyalty. So this really begs the question: why are so many not employed, not in work and, even worse, homeless?
At the moment there are approximately 23 million veterans as of Sept. 2009, the latest actual non projected figures. This is from all conflicts/wars, WW2/Korea up to Iraq/Afghanistan. There are between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans homeless at some time during the year. On any given night in the US, more than 300,000 veterans will be living on the streets or in shelters . Veterans make up just 11 percent of the adult civilian population, but 26 percent of the homeless population.
Just as an example of how bad things really are, in case the above statistics were not enough, the number of homeless Vietnam-era veterans, male and female, is greater than the number of soldiers who actually died during the war, that is an incredibly shaming figure.
45 percent of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There are 10.4 million veterans 18 to 64 in the labour force, a much lower figure than the national average. There are 5.5 million veterans with various types of disability, injuries sustained usually in combat.
This is the one thing all US wars have in common; veterans ?will? be treated appallingly. Care will be slow or non-existent, benefits have to be fought for. Healthcare and counselling will be at least months away when applied for. Veterans by every party, by every administration are ignored and left to rot. This is not dramatics, this is not over the top, it’s a simple statement of fact. It is something that should shame every American citizen.
At the present time the US military not including reservists is just under 1.5 million. [This is in total, army, navy, airforce, coastguard, USMC]. The British military is only around 300,000 in comparison. But in role and composition, they are very similar.
While far from perfect, British veterans can expect a very different story when being discharged. There are numerous and well-funded government and private charitable organisations looking after veterans. There are facilities dealing with PTSD, hospitals specialising in helping maimed and injured veterans learn to integrate back into society. In the UK despite having a military roughly 1/5 the size of the US the figures for homelessness and other problems are vastly different.
Six percent of the overall homeless population in the UK are veterans as of 2007, with an estimated 1,100 veterans living rough. So despite the size difference on any given night in the UK, 1,100 veterans will be homeless, whereas in the US whose army is only five?times the size that of the UK, the number of homeless is 300,000 on any given night. Why this huge discrepancy?
America is a very patriotic country and all of these veterans are peoples — fathers, brothers, mothers, husbands and wives. So why is it allowed to happen? Where are the support services?
Numerous administrations have tried to address the problem; the money is there, so why do veterans have to wait so long for any kind of treatment?
Why is there no kind of social housing for those returning with injuries, or psychiatric problems?
Why are benefits and awards so long in being granted?
It seems the help never ever filters down to where it’s needed. The more I have read on the subject, the more convinced I am that it is a societal attitude that is the problem. In the UK being homeless is seen as something that needs fixing; there is social housing, retraining schemes etc…already in place for the general population, so this easily fits into fulfilling the needs of veterans.
Charities in the UK can point to very positive achievements in reducing what homelessness there is with veterans and also in the effectiveness of hospitals and specialist facilities set up to deal with the specific needs of veterans. In the US, there is not this net; there is not this care on a societal level to look after each other. It’s much easier to become and remain homeless in the US whether a veteran or not, the whole is seen as ?well if they can’t look after themselves why should we?.
In the case of veterans the answer to that question is self evident and should be shaming to every American who values their freedom.
I hear all the time from the right-wing in America about how free you are and how proud you are of your boys serving, how they are protecting your freedom. So honestly, person to person, why don’t you value them enough to look after them? Why is Rick having to sell his house just so he can get mobile and enjoy his family? As I am told my many Americans, freedom is not free, so why do you treat those who keep you free so utterly without pity or care?
Let us know your thoughts at the Liberal America Facebook page.
Sources and Statistics:
Homeless Research Institute (2007)
2008 American Community Survey
US Census Bureau
UK Census Office
The British Legion
Link To Ricks GoFundMe Page: