Bob Schwartz

Tag: veterans

Veterans Month and Mental Health

It is appropriate to talk about this Veterans Day 2018—Sunday, November 11—when talking about veterans and mental health.

Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day, the day that World War I ended. This Veterans Day marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Modern awareness of the widespread psychological effects of warfare began early in World War I, with the phenomenon of “shell shock.” In looking back at the war, there is still a question of how many cases were, in terms then used, “commotional” (due to explosions at close range) and how many cases were “emotional” (due to the psychological experience of war). In either case, numbers of warriors came home different and troubled—troubles which might last for the rest of their lives, and even serve to shorten those lives.

In the wars since, different theories and treatments have been developed, different labels have been attached. Today, those of us on the outside of this experience know it as PTSD. Those on the inside know it as the hell of war and its aftermath.

This will be another month—since a day is absolutely not enough—of honoring veterans. Judging by the still inadequate attention and support, they are more honored in the breach than in the observance. Among the failures too long to list is insufficiently acknowledging and taking responsibility for the mental health of those who we send to serve.

If you don’t want war—blessed are the peacemakers—then work for that. If you want war, or reluctantly think that war is necessary, treat those you send to fight for you as your own family, your own siblings, your own children. Because they are somebody’s.

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A Very Short Primer on Veterans

1. When we as people of a nation order or ask others to fight for any cause, we must treat them, their service, and their families with the highest practical lifelong honor and healing, that is, with more than just symbols or rhetoric.

2. As we order or ask for that service, from the first we must study the causes that we are fighting for, in light of all our truest values, not just the values that are convenient, expedient, self-serving or inadequately considered.

3. While we will likely never be a world without warriors, we owe it to the warriors—past, present and future—to be peacemakers.

Veterans Studies as an Academic Discipline

This began with a simple thought: The use of veterans as a political prop is about as immoral as the failure as a nation to fully and properly honor their service beyond politically expedient lip-service.

I wondered just how seriously we take veterans, and whether they have yet received the same sort of academic attention that practically every other cultural and social cohort has. The answer is that it is just starting, and that is a good thing.

Travis L. Martin has helped pioneer the program:

My goal is to inform people of the importance and feasibility of establishing “Veterans Studies” as an academic discipline. Below you will hear my story, as well as those of students I’ve taught in Eastern Kentucky University’s Veterans Studies Program. I was a student veteran when I approached faculty and administrators with the idea. And it will take that kind of grass roots activism to get Veterans Studies established as a discipline at institutions across the country….

Why do we need Veterans Studies programs? Well, in 1947, veterans comprised up to 49% of all college students. Professors from that era will tell you stories of makeshift camps and barracks built to accommodate them. In the wake of WW2, the option to pursue higher education helped America avoid a catastrophic influx of unemployed veterans into the job market. School became synonymous with service. However, a rift formed between the military and academia when the anti-war movement found a home on college campuses during the Vietnam War. While veterans have come a long way since then, those returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan still deal with many of the same stereotypes….

The first Women’s Studies program was founded in 1970 at San Diego State. This program sought to undo the stereotypes that held back the advancement of women in society for centuries. Today, there are more than 900 Women’s and Gender Studies programs throughout the world. Likewise, the first program to examine the culture of African Americans originated at San Francisco State in 1968. Today, there are more than 300 programs. Similar stories can be found about programs ranging from Appalachian Studies, to Irish Studies, to Jewish Studies, to programs for about every underrepresented, misunderstood population on the globe. Why are veterans excluded from these initiatives?

This problem is one driven by too much lip-service and not enough action. In 2011, $9.9 billion had already been spent on tuition assistance. Student veterans are big business. While this money is certainly a welcome relief for those institutions of higher learning struggling with low enrollments and government budget cuts, those benefiting do not seem concerned with investing it in long-term initiatives designed to transform the societies in which their veteran graduates live and work….

Veterans Studies is not just about teaching veterans. It is about bringing non-veterans and veterans together at a common center rooted in scholarship. Non-veteran students take my courses to complete “diversity of experience” credits and, if they choose, go on to earn a minor or certificate in a field that prepares them for work within military and veteran communities….

That both veterans and non-veterans take the course is vital. The two groups learn to communicate by framing veteran experience in three key ways: the institutional, cultural, and relational dimensions of Veterans Studies. The institutional portion of the course teaches the students how the different branches function as a hierarchy and together—in the past as well as the present—to keep America safe. The cultural dimension exposes them to works of literature, films, and the typical ways in which veterans are depicted by the media. Finally, in the last portion of the course, students learn about how veterans assimilate into society after taking off the uniform….

Veterans Studies, as it exists in the courses I’ve designed, integrates oral, written, and visual communications skills in projects requiring critical inquiry and research. Students, taking Veterans Studies courses for a variety of professional and personal reasons, must cross disciplinary lines in order to make the first forays into this field. Further, group work, specifically, the kind of group work that asks veteran and non-veteran students to collaborate and produce work relevant to all parties, is foundational in both composition and the future of Veterans Studies….

Schools benefiting financially from the sacrifices of service men and women have a responsibility to create veteran-friendly environments and produce graduates capable of interacting respectfully and knowledgeable about veterans issues in the workplace and their day-to-day lives. The time has come for Veterans Studies Programs to claim their rightful places within the walls of academia.

IAVA: “WTF!?!? A tax on our GI Bill!!”

I’ve posted frequently about the sorry state of veterans affairs in America. Hypocritical “Thank you for your service”—particularly from flag-lapel-pin-wearing ultra-patriotic politicians—followed by every effort to not serve those who deserve it.

Following is the text of an email just received from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) about the latest travesty. As the email says: “Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level.”


You’re not gonna believe this!

Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level by announcing a ridiculous plan to tax enlistees $2,400 to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill. Yes, some in Congress want to tax troops to use the GI Bill. It’s insanity!

It’s bad for veterans. Bad for our military. Bad for recruiting. Bad for our economy. And especially bad for families making a base pay of only about $19,000 a year.

And IAVA won’t stand for it. No way.

If you’ve volunteered to serve this country, you are entitled to your education benefits. It’s a cost of war. PERIOD.

IAVA created and passed the original post-9/11 GI Bill back in 2008. And we’ve been holding the line to defend it ever since. We fought to upgrade it in 2010. We’ve also helped hundreds of thousands of vets use it. And thanks to your support last year, we successfully fought $4B in proposed cuts.

But our earned wartime benefits are under attack again by politicians looking to nickel and dime our brothers and sisters–as bullets continue to fly at them in combat around the world.

IAVA will ferociously #DefendTheGIBill. Now and forever. We will fight to ensure all enlistees get the same benefits (or better) than we got. And we need you to have our back.

Sign our petition to send a clear message to Congress now: if you need money to pay for stuff, find it elsewhere! Not from the wallets of young enlistees.

Together, we will hold the line. And we will win.

Onward,

Paul Rieckhoff
Iraq veteran
Founder and CEO
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA

PS. We need fuel for this urgent fight. Donate now to #DefendTheGIBill.

Veterans Day and Operation Unite America

veterans-day

Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day, which this year arrives during the same week as Election Day (you remember that day, don’t you?)

The great Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has organized Operation Unite America:

Veterans Day 2016 is just 3 days after Election Day. Join IAVA’s campaign to do the impossible: bring together all Americans.

After a long, brutal and disgusting election season, everyone’s had it. It hasn’t been a good look for America. Everyone is exhausted–many are outright embarrassed. But Republican, Democrat, Independent, Other…we’re ALL sick of the bickering, the commercials, the debates, the politics, the fighting.

Here is your mission (if you choose to accept it!), JOIN US:

Tag your Veterans Day activities on social media with #veteransday

Donate $11 to IAVA to help us support veterans

Attend a #veteransday #VetTogether

 

tammy-duckworth

In the wake of Election Day, it is happy news to report that Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois won a seat in the U.S. Senate. She is an Iraq War veteran, awarded the Purple Heart after losing both her legs. She joins a number of women warriors in Congress, which needs more women and more experienced warriors who know how to choose our wars carefully. And who will take good care of other warriors when they come home.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Sometimes Heroes Need Help

If it didn’t reduce the impact and get old for readers, I’d post about Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and veterans issues just about every day. As I’ve noted many times, eagerly asking men and women to patriotically sacrifice for our security and then not treating them as the most important people in our country is a moral test we continue to flunk.

IAVA has reported its Program Impact in 2015 and it is impressive and heartening. Please read it and be astonished by how much one committed organization can do to advocate for so many important Americans. The report begins:

IAVA had huge accomplishments in 2015. We reached a record 439,269 veterans nationwide through in-person and online programs — and we did it with fewer resources, while maintaining top ratings from leading nonprofit reporting agencies, GuideStar and Charity Watch.

So if you are frustrated by how slowly and imperfectly our politics match our commitments in this area, please donate to IAVA. It is easy to say thank you to our veterans, as just about every politician does. It is harder and more costly to back it up capably and unconditionally.

Veterans Day: The Annual Shame of a Nation

Veterans Boots

Failure to take full and proper care of veterans is not a Democratic or Republican shame. The only reason to focus on Republicans here is that last night, in their debate, on the eve of Veterans Day, only four passing mentions of veterans were made during two hours.

The debate was formally about the economy, but since every one behind the podiums is practiced at changing the subject, there’s no reason some or all of them couldn’t have just said: The economy is an important topic, but just tonight, this particular night, I’d like to focus my time exclusively on veterans matters.

Here’s what one of them might have said:

There is enough responsibility to go around for getting this nation involved in military conflicts. It doesn’t matter what party started it or finished it or didn’t finish it. It doesn’t matter whether it was a great idea or a terrible idea or whether it is too soon to tell. As a nation, we do what we do, and we have to pay the price and keep our promises. In the case of military service, that promise is to spare no expense or effort to not only make combatants whole, or whole as humanly possible, but to elevate their service to priority status in our national consciousness and commitments.

That’s why I’m going to spend whatever minutes I have on this national debate platform tonight to talk specifically about immediate solutions to veterans issues, rather than casting blame or blowing hot air. I also call upon the millionaires and billionaires supporting us and trying to influence the election to divert just a little of that money to nonpartisan efforts such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to start solving the problem. Of course, making this a government first priority would be nice too. Because if it comes down to a choice between any of us actually getting the nomination, which is admittedly a long shot for most of us anyway, and the comfort and well-being of those men and women we’ve flag-wavingly asked to fight on our behalf, I’d rather ask that those veterans be made whole than that I be President.

I know. Dream on.

VA Health Crisis: Listen to IAVA

VA IG Report

We should listen to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America about this VA health system crisis.

As the name implies, IAVA represents the latest generation of American war veterans. They are in some ways the most attuned to the current realities and sensibilities of veterans’ issues in 2014. Not because they have been around the longest, but because they are native to the way things work, or don’t, here in the early 21st century in America.

Those realities regarding the health care crisis in the VA are shocking to some, but come as no surprise to those who have watched it happening, including Congress (both parties) and the President.

Is it fixable? What won’t fix it is political posturing, handwringing, or even the delayed but imminent departure of VA Secretary Shinseki.

What will fix it? Good policy well executed, without excuses or cover up. The IAVA can help with that.

In the wake of yesterday’s Inspector General Report about the Phoenix VA health system, IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff said:

The new IG report on the Phoenix VA is damning and outrageous. It also reveals the need for a criminal investigation. Each day we learn how awful things are in Phoenix and across the country. The VA’s problems are broad and deep – and President Obama and his team haven’t demonstrated they can fix it. As one of only two combat veterans, Senator John McCain’s call for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation is particularly impactful…

Today’s report makes it painfully clear that the VA does not always have our veterans’ backs. Even before this report came out, IAVA members were losing confidence in Secretary Shinseki and President Obama. At Memorial Day events across the nation, our members voiced outrage, anger, and impatience at the growing VA scandal. This new report only increases the belief that the promise to veterans has been broken. We are sharing this report now with our members and seeking their reaction. In the coming days, we will share the voices of our members with the President, VA leaders and those in Congress.

In the IAVA 2014 Policy Agenda, the VA health system was just one of a number of initiatives offered for consideration. On that score, IAVA recommends this (excerpted):

I. Establish a Presidential Commission to end the VA claims backlog.

II. Transform the Veterans’ Benefits Administration’s (VBA) adversarial culture…

III. Reform VA’s work credit and productivity evaluation system for claims processor….

IV. Outline the VA’s responsibility about the requirements to substantiate a claim….

V. Adopt the “treating physician rule” for medical evaluations for compensation and pension…

VI. Require appeals form to be sent along with the Notice of Decision letters in order to expedite the appeals process.

VII. Evaluate the Segmented Lanes work initiative to continually assess whether it is meeting the goals of fast tracking…

VIII. Report the intake of new compensation and pension claims on the Monday Morning Workload Report.

IX. Report separated statistics on the intake and processing of supplemental and original claims in the Monday Morning Workload Report…

XIII. Continue to engage veteran stakeholders in updating the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).

XIV. Require the VA to accept a PTSD diagnosis provided from a qualified private medical provider.

X. Establish a model to accurately project the claims workload and the resource and staffing requirements needed to meet the demand.

XI. Make all disability benefits questionnaires available to private medical providers.

XII. Simplify notification letters to provide easily digestible, specific and clear information about the reasons for rating decisions.

XV. Allow the VA to incentivize private medical providers to furnish medical health records to the VA for processing.

XVI. Clarify and report accuracy ratings for each regional VA….

This is an agenda, and if the President and the good people of Congress want to adjust or add, that is their prerogative and duty. But you have to start somewhere, with something on the table, and this is a good place for that. If these warriors are smart enough and capable enough and honorable enough to fight our wars, they are surely able to suggest the smart, honorable, and capable ways of treating them when those wars are over.

Go Silent on Memorial Day

Go Silent
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) this week launched a new campaign asking all Americans to “Go Silent” this Memorial Day in honor of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The “Go Silent” campaign encourages Americans to pledge at IAVA.org to pause and be silent for a full minute at 12:01 p.m. EDT on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.

The Pew Research Center has reported extensively on the Military-Civilian Gap:

America’s post-9/11 wars mark the longest period of sustained combat in the nation’s history – and never before has America waged war with so small a share of its population carrying the fight.

Military Participation

For more about IAVA.

To donate to IAVA.

Thank You for Your Service

IAVA
I continue to receive comments from veterans of the recent wars about the post The Tin Anniversary of the Iraq War.  Rather than just reply to each comment, here is what I want to say.

Politics debases our language. Language is a tool, and like all tools, can be used for good, for ill, or for some combination.

In the political context, it is hard to tell whether “thank you for your service” from various politicos is sincere, tactical or, most likely, both. But even if it is meaningful, it sometimes seems like an automatic phrase, much like the obligatory speech close “and God bless the United States of America.” It becomes a cliché.

The Vietnam War is not just a textbook case in modern American history. It is an entire encyclopedia. One of the sorriest lessons was the treatment of returning vets. “Thank you for your service” is something those vets rarely if ever heard. All these years later, they mostly still haven’t.

Here it is, to the veterans and the fallen of our wars, then and now, however essential or popular or ill-conceived the wars may be or have been, and to their families, friends and everyone who has supported them in all ways: Thank you for your service.

In a related note, thanks to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) for keeping the veterans of our longest wars out front and in our faces. Among our “never agains” should be never again asking Americans to sacrifice so gravely, then thanking them loudly or not at all, and then putting them at the back of the line. These people are not political props or calendar items, because every day is Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

Thank you.