Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day -- Three Quick Thoughts

(1) There is an AP article out today in a lot of newspapers discussing how the percentage of veterans now seeking a disability claim with the VA is significantly higher than it has been after other wars have ended or tailed off.  The article rightly points out that battlefield medicine means that many veterans who would have perished in past conflicts now survive, that many of today's veterans have TBI and/or PTSD, and that the uncertain state of the economy leads more veterans to seek service-connected benefits before receiving their DD-214, which discharges them from active duty.  

It's also worth noting that today's military is an older force than it has been in years past.  In bygone eras, the military relied heavily on young conscripts.  With the advent of the all-volunteer force, of course, that changed.  Benefits packages changed along with incentive structures in order to keep a group (caste?) of professional soldiers in the ranks for many years.  With a younger military that featured shorter enlistments, it was probably the case that unless a servicemember had a very visible war wound, he was thanked for his service and sent on his merry way -- 0% VA-service connected.  Today, you've got way more soldiers in their thirties, forties, and even fifties out on patrols, flying around the battlespace, carrying  heavy loads of gear on their backs, etc.  Multiple deployments are the norm for nearly all of these people.  Because the military takes a total ownership policy towards its people (anyone on active duty is considered to be so 24/7, even while on leave, and is always subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice), it applies a 'Pottery Barn' standard towards its people..."If we break it, we'll own it."  So the category of 'disabled veteran' includes a lot of people with knee injuries, back injuries, shoulder injuries, etc.  It's not what everyone thinks of when they hear 'disabled veteran' but someone who slipped and fell during a pickup basketball game on an aircraft carrier might be 20% disabled for life if a serious ankle injury resulted.  A 48 year-old man who has documented his back and knee problems that he didn't have when he entered the service 25 years ago is almost certainly going to be "VA service-connected."  But to keep that in perspective, ask yourself this:  What 48 year-old man do you know who doesn't have any back or knee problems?  

Another point worth mentioning is that the VA is very savvy about its outreach.  That's almost entirely a good thing -- it means that veterans who might otherwise be reluctant to seek the help they need are now likelier to get that very help, but there's also a flip side:  during our demobilization at Fort Dix, we were flat-out told more than once that "you're headed out into an uncertain economy.  If you've been having any pains at all since you deployed, or any bad dreams/anxiety, etc. come talk to us and we'll see what we can do for you."  

Trust me, I'm not trivializing the very real, and very important, concerns and needs faced by disabled veterans.  However, I just want to add a slight bit of perspective here to say that not every one of the 45% of veterans seeking a VA disability claim is what people would typically think of when they hear "disabled veteran."  

(2) I caught something in the Globe today on the Op-Ed page that spun the tired narrative about how the nation pawns off military duty onto just "the poor and the brave."  As I've tried to do here on this blog and also via comments on other blogs like Dick Howe's  and Cliff Krieger's, I will once again counter that author's prevailing notion.  Today, the following Massachusetts communities will mourn sons or daughters lost in service to the nation in Afghanistan since 2001:  Belmont, Duxbury, Sudbury, Marblehead, Needham, Scituate, and Danvers.  One community will mourn the loss of a Medal of Honor recipient (Raynham).  Meanwhile, the following communities do not share the distinction of having suffered Afghanistan battlefield losses:  Springfield, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Cambridge, and Lawrence.  

What does that all really mean?  Not a ton, because we're talking about extremely tiny sample sizes (1 combat loss in Afghanistan as opposed to 0).  Still, it should serve as somewhat of a counterpoint to people who still peddle the old idea that military service is something *outsourced* to someone else by the people holding all the cards.  Not only is it just factually off-the-mark, but the idea that military service is only experienced by those with "nowhere else to go" (apologies to the fictional Zach Mayo, who later kicked his Drill Instructor in a sensitive place!) is somewhat offensive to those who wear the cloth.  

(3) George DeLuca came by City Hall on Thursday to scoop up some filming material to use for a Memorial Day message.  One thing I talked about is the tradition of raising a flag all the way up in the morning, and then bringing it to half-staff until noon on Memorial Day.  At noon, the flag is then brought all the way up where it remains for the rest of the day.  I think the symbolism of this is very important.  Yes, Memorial Day should involve remembrance and contemplation of those who have given all, as well as the neverending emotional toll that leaves on those left behind.  However, it also seems like a perfect opportunity for those of who "hold high the torch passed from falling hands" (roughly paraphrasing Flanders Fields) to enjoy this day with the people that we hold dear, and to appreciate the opportunity to do so, whether that means going to the beach, barbecuing with the neighbors, or maybe just reading the "Backyardigans A through Z Adventure Book" to our one year-old daughter for the 5th time today.   

Which, right now, sounds like a most excellent idea.  


C R Krieger said...

Great point about who goes.  For a short period we were taking in folks who were not high school grads, and that was for the Army.  The other services have held to the high school grad rule for decades.  Why?  It shows you can stick to something and accomplish it.

Viet-nam the same thing.  The story was we sent Blacks to die.  If anything, we sent Catholics to die.  Just the quirk of the statistics.

But, everyone who went served their nation.  And thank you for so doing.

Regards  —  Cliff

Nick McNulty said...

Great stuff, here. The Globe has gotten better in the past few years it seems to me, but I do see the hackneyed stock stories you describe from time to time.

I didn't see many poor folks over there last year, Captain, did you? Not many young ones for that matter either, but one thing I thought of when I read that same report was how much soldiers used to keep a stiff upper lip and not report ailments until recent years, and second how I noticed at de-mob stations, both times, there were certain parties encouraging you to put in claims if there was even a remote possibility of a service-related injury.

Not crying fraud or anything, but I saw that there, not sure how much that encouragement to claim inflates our rolls.