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“The Vets We Reject And Ignore”: Leave No Fallen Comrade Behind Applies At Home And To All Veterans, Regardless Of “Bad Paper”

Today, we honor the nation’s 22 million veterans, including more than 2.5 million who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war against Al Qaeda. But we are turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of veterans who were discharged “under conditions other than honorable” and so do not qualify as veterans under federal law.

Their discharges, which include overly broad categories encompassing everything from administrative discharges for minor misconduct to dishonorable discharges following a court-martial, nevertheless make them ineligible for the health care, employment, housing and education benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of the “bad paper” they carry in the form of their discharge certificates, many of these veterans struggle upon leaving the military. And when they falter, the burden for supporting them falls heavily on their local communities because federal agencies cannot, by law, help them.

No federal agency publishes the numbers of bad paper discharges. But historical studies suggest that at least several hundred thousand veterans fall into this category. Approximately 260,000 of the 8.7 million Vietnam-era veterans were pushed out of the service with bad paper. More recently, according to documents separately obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Army discharged 76,165 soldiers between 2006 and 2012 with bad paper. Of these recent Army discharges, only one in seven were kicked out following a criminal conviction for a serious offense. The rest were discharged for smaller breaches of military discipline like missing duty or abusing alcohol or drugs. For many of them, their misconduct was likely related to the stresses of war.

Instead of showing compassion for these troops who were carrying the invisible wounds of war, their commanders kicked them out. These troops’ getting pushed out under such circumstances would be enough of a blow, but these commanders compounded the injury by giving them bad paper, instead of merely administratively separating them from the service.

While assessing the needs of veterans in the Western United States, my research team met with community leaders and nonprofit agency staff members in seven cities with the largest populations of veterans, and interviewed others in outlying cities and rural areas as well. Across these communities, veterans with bad paper were believed to be significantly overrepresented in the at-risk veterans populations. All too frequently these veterans become part of the nation’s chronically homeless or incarcerated populations.

When they end up in distress or on the streets, their communities must bear this burden alone.

We have a moral obligation to those who serve, especially those who serve us in combat. At times, the military must discharge those who can’t perform or conform. However, commanders should exercise far greater discretion and compassion in trimming the ranks. Bad discharges indelibly mark veterans as damaged goods and cost society a great deal too.

Congress should also allow the V.A. to more broadly provide mental health care, homelessness support and other forms of crisis intervention to veterans with bad paper. The V.A. has case-by-case authority to do so now, but that does not help veterans with bad paper who have acute needs. A more compassionate policy would not diminish the military’s ability to maintain discipline, nor would it cheapen the valor of those who have served honorably.

The military has a process to fix bad paper, but that process takes too much time, and veterans often need legal help to prevail in an incredibly bureaucratic and difficult process.

The story of John Shepherd Jr., who earned a Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam but was kicked out after disobeying an order to return to combat after developing severe post-traumatic stress disorder, shows how difficult these cases can be. Mr. Shepherd went without V.A. support for 40 years until a team of students and lawyers at Yale Law School helped him correct his record this month.

Excellent programs exist to help veterans in such cases, but they deserve more resources. Small investments in pro bono legal services can help unlock a lifetime of access to the V.A. and help the neediest veterans with bad paper move on with their lives.

Finally, the veterans community should do more to lift up those veterans who have been discharged with bad paper, particularly in those cases where combat experience lies at the heart of the bad discharge. The American military ethos calls on all of us to leave no fallen comrade behind. That applies at home, too, and to all veterans, regardless of whether they carry bad paper.

By: Phillip Carter, Op-Ed Contributor, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, November 10, 2013

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Veterans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Two America’s Truer Now Than Ever”: Perishing On A Lonely Island Of Poverty In The Midst Of A Vast Ocean Of Material Prosperity

You may think you know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but there is much about the man and his message we have conveniently forgotten. He was a prophet, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah of old, calling kings and plutocrats to account — speaking truth to power.

King was only 39 when he was murdered in Memphis 45 years ago, on April 4th, 1968. The 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery were behind him. So was the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In the last year of his life, as he moved toward Memphis and his death, he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign, a “multi-racial army” that would come to Washington, build an encampment and demand from Congress an “Economic Bill of Rights” for all Americans — black, white, or brown. He had long known that the fight for racial equality could not be separated from the need for economic equity — fairness for all, including working people and the poor.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had more than a dream — he envisioned what America could be, if only it lived up to its promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for each and every citizen. That’s what we have conveniently forgotten as the years have passed and his reality has slowly been shrouded in the marble monuments of sainthood.

But read part of the speech Dr. King made at Stanford University in 1967, a year before his assassination and marvel at how relevant his words remain:

“There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And in a sense this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and dignity for their spirits…

“…Tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infected vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

Breathtakingly prescient words as we look around us at a society where the chasm between the super-rich and poor is wider and deeper than ever. According to a Department of Housing and Urban Development press release, “On a single night last January, 633,782 people were homeless in the United States.” The Institute for Policy Studies’ online weekly “Too Much” notes that single-room-occupancy shelter rates run about $558 per month and quotes analyst Paul Buchheit, who says that at that rate, “Any one of America’s ten richest collected enough in 2012 income to pay an entire year’s rent for all of America’s homeless.”

But why rent when you can buy? “Too Much” also reports that the widow of recently deceased financier Martin Zweig “amid a Manhattan luxury boom” has placed their apartment at the top of the posh Pierre Hotel on the market for $125 million: “A sale at that price would set a new New York record for a luxury personal residence, more than $30 million over the current real estate high marks.”

Meanwhile, a new briefing paper from the advocacy group National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds there are 27 million unemployed or underemployed workers in the U.S. labor force, including “not only the unemployed counted by official jobs reports, but also the eight million part-time workers who would rather be working full-time and the 6.8 million discouraged workers who want to work but who have stopped looking altogether.” Five years after the financial meltdown, “the average duration of unemployment remains at least twice that of any other recession since the 1950s.”

And if you think austerity’s a good idea, NELP estimates that, “Taken together, the ‘sequester’ and other budget-cutting policies will likely slow GDP this year by 2.1 percentage points, costing the U.S. economy over 2.4 million jobs.”

Walmart’s one of those companies laying people off, but according to the website Business Insider, the mega-chain’s CEO Michael Duke gets paid 1,034 times more than his average worker. Matter of fact, “In the past 30 years, compensation for chief executives in America has increased 127 times faster than the average worker’s salary.”

Two Americas indeed.

 

By: Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Moyers and Company, April 10, 2013

April 15, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Christian Hypocrisy From The Religious Right

W.W.J.D.?  How about  what would Jesus say? What would he say about the way we treat the poor, the  homeless, the hungry, the sick, the elderly?

I haven’t gone and gotten all religious on you, I promise. I  was  listening recently to an interview on the radio with a man from the Council of   Churches on poverty. He  reminded me how those on the religious right  use the Bible and specifically the  words of Jesus to defend their  desire to overturn Roe v. Wade and fight against abortion, or to define marriage  between and man and a woman to prevent gay people from marrying.

But what about the issue of those who are suffering? Those  who are in  need? Where are the religious  right on that? Why isn’t it a value or  moral to help a sick child, an elderly  person or someone who is hungry?

The Bible contains over 300 verses dedicated to the poor and  social  injustice. In all of those verses it is clear God is concerned for both;   so why aren’t those who claim to follow him?

Those on the religious right want to defund programs such as  Social  Security, Medicare, welfare, food stamps, healthcare, etc. What I want  to know is: why aren’t these so  called people of God offering their  homes to the homeless, food to the hungry,  a coat to someone who is  poor and cold?

The concept of “it takes a village” was not Secretary  Clinton’s idea;  it originated with the teachings of Jesus. Don’t take my word for it,  read his words.  (In some books they’re in red; that should make it  easier for you.)

With the current cuts in federal programs, more and more  people are  being turned away from shelters, yet at a time when the economy is  bad,  the unemployment rate is high, people keep losing their homes and there   are more people living below the poverty line than in 50 years;  what do we  expect these people, some of whom are children, to do?!

Those in the churches aren’t helping, many church doors are  locked to  these people. When you phone a religious organization asking for  help,  they’ll send you to a shelter; which is government funded, which their   congregation wants to cut the funding for.  See the problem?

And it goes beyond our borders. In the horn of Africa where  there is  severe famine and where children are dying daily, the United States   gives less than we have in the past, thanks to the cuts in funding.

I find it hard not to gag when I read “In God We Trust” on  our  currency when we don’t follow God’s laws.  The religious right will  fight hard to give a tax credit to a rich man,  but doesn’t want to pay  for a blanket for a homeless one. Didn’t the Bible say something about  it being  easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a  rich man to get  into heaven? In America, it’s the other way around. If  you’re rich, it’s like  heaven; if you’re poor, it’s hell.

I was scared and shocked when I agreed with something Pat  Robertson  said recently. He said the right are being too extreme and to tone it   down. He should’ve told the religious right to do something I think  they’ve  stopped doing long ago; read the book they so readily use to  further their  agenda.

By: Leslie Marshall, U. S. News and World Report, October 26, 2011

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Religion, Social Security | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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