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November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

~President-elect Obama appeared at the Bronze Soldiers Memorial at Soldier Field in Chicago today, where he laid down a wreath with Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth, who is now the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs for Illinois, lost both of her legs and partial use of one arm in the Iraq War. There are some rumors that Duckworth may either be chosen by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill Barack Obama's open Senate seat, or be offered a position in the Obama administration, and VoteVets.org has a petition going to show support for such a move.

Obama also issued this statement:

As we mark Veterans Day, all Americans are united in honoring the extraordinary service and selfless sacrifice of our nation's veterans. Our veterans are part of an unbroken line of heroes who have defended the American people and stood up for American values - from the beaches of Normandy to the battles in East Asia; from the deserts of Kuwait to the skies above Kosovo; from the cities of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan. Since 9/11, a new generation of American heroes has borne a heavy load in facing down the threats of the 21st century, and their families have been asked to bear the painful absence of a loved one. These Americans are the best and bravest among us, and they are all in our thoughts and prayers.

"On this Veterans Day, let us rededicate ourselves to keep a sacred trust with all who have worn the uniform of the United States of America: that America will serve you as well as you have served your country. As your next Commander-in-Chief, I promise to work every single day to keep that sacred trust with all who have served. May God bless our veterans, and may God bless the United States of America.

~President Bush spent his final Veterans Day as president in New York aboard the USS Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, which left active service in 1982 and officially was reopened as a museum today. "Veterans have inspired me," he said. "I was raised by a veteran. I appreciate the commitment to our country that the veterans have made. I am committed to making sure that today's veterans get all the health care and support they need from the federal government for agreeing to serve in a time of danger."

The Intreprid Museum's sister organizations include:
  • The Intreprid Fallen Heroes Fund, which has provided close to $75 million in support for the families of military personnel lost in service to our nation, and for severely wounded military personnel and veterans. "The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund recently launched a new project to assist wounded warriors who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The Fund will construct the National Intrepid Center of Excellence to support the research, diagnosis, and treatment of TBI. Medical experts believe that due to the nature of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, TBI is much more prevalent in these modern conflicts than in the past. Improved treatment of TBI is needed and is deserved by our brave servicemen and women. Our TBI Center will serve veterans injured in previous conflicts as well as those wounded in the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."
  • The Fisher House Foundation - "a unique private-public partnership that supports America's military in their time of need. The program recognizes the special sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and the hardships of military service by meeting a humanitarian need beyond that normally provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Because members of the military and their families are stationed worldwide and must often travel great distances for specialized medical care, Fisher House Foundation donates "comfort homes," built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury. Fisher House also administers the Hero Miles program for the Department of Defense, a program that collects donated frequent flier miles and "provides free airline tickets to military men and women who are undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center incident to their service in Iraq or Afghanistan, and their families".
  • The Intrepid Relief Fund, whose principal project is Operation Mend. Operated at UCLA Medical Center, Operation Mend is a unique initiative that provides returning service members with some of the country’s best plastic and reconstructive surgery. The care is provided at no cost by leading plastic surgeons, while the Fund underwrites soldiers’ transportation and lodging costs.

~A Vet's Message to the GOP on Veteran's Day - Shove It

~Photographer David DeJonge has traveled the world for the last few years on a "quest to find and photograph the few surviving veterans of [World War I], which raged from 1914 to 1918. 'In my view, America has missed the boat in documenting this part of history,' said DeJonge, a portrait photographer from Zeeland, Michigan. "It was such a pivotal moment in global history.'" CNN and AOL News have pictures and video. Veterans Day (or Armistice Day in other countries) is November 11th because this is the anniversary of the day that World War I ended.

~Alternet has a sad and disturbing story on the status of women, rape, and health care in the military. A couple of excerpts:

TRICARE, the United States Department of Defense Military Health System that covers active duty members, will only pay for rape kits if the victim is seen in a military or a VA facility.

But the Pentagon acknowledges that 80 percent of military rapes are never reported. And that 80 percent who go off-base to protect their anonymity (and/or their careers) are on their own. If a soldier is on leave, or is five-hours from the nearest VA, or if a soldier is simply delivered to the nearest hospital by the local ambulance driver, their rape kits are not covered under TRICARE. Neither are other forensic exams that might be used in domestic violence situations.

Front-line treatment shouldn't be conditional on where a rape occurs or where the nearest treatment is available. This is not only a parity issue, but a further obstacle to treatment and justice.

Women in the military are twice as likely to be raped as their civilian counterparts. In fact, "women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq," Congresswoman Jane Harman, D-Calif., told the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs in May.

[Tammy] Duckworth is now director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, but in 2004, she was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq and lost both of her legs in a crash. She describes the care she received at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as "excellent," but adds, "the comfort package I received contained men's Jockey shorts, and the local VA hospital carried Viagra but not my birth control."

There are currently about 1.7 million female veterans in the United States, and the Department of Defense estimates that there are about 200,000 women, 15 percent of the military, on active duty. Thirty-nine percent of those women return from Iraq or Afghanistan with mental health issues, and, for more than a third who seek VA health care, the precipitating trauma was a sexual assault.

~The AP has a story about homelessness among female veterans and the fact that the system has been slow to adapt and react to the mental health needs and services required by veterans, with even fewer programs to address the unique needs of female veterans.

Of the 1.8 million female military veterans, [Army veteran Carisa] Dogen was among the 7,000 to 8,000 who are homeless, as estimated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She is among the few who have benefited from new housing specifically for female veterans, an initiative homeless advocates say falls far short of what is needed.

Few Veterans Affairs centers offer residential mental health treatment specifically for women with post-traumatic stress disorder, said Amy Fairweather, director of the Iraq veterans program for Swords to Plowshares. "The services are really behind the curve," she said.

The VA has 15 such facilities that can accept women. Female veterans without housing often resort to shelters. Out of 500 VA-run homeless shelters, 300 can accept women. Only 22 have programs that address female veterans specifically or have living arrangements separate from men. In programs that serve both sexes, women are usually in the minority and are often uncomfortable discussing physical issues, such as sexual trauma, Dougherty said. As a result, some don't make progress with their problems.

~As Colin Powell reminded us when he endorsed Barack Obama, despite what some right-wingers would have us believe, Muslims have fought and died for America too.

~Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is "the nation's first and largest group dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the civilian supporters of those Troops and Veterans." Visit their site to learn more about IAVA's mission and resources for veterans.

Also, IAVA has just launched a new Veterans Support Campaign. Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA Executive Director, says the campaign will "connect veterans with one another and ease their transition to civilian life. Created by veterans, for veterans, this innovative media campaign is like nothing America has ever seen. People nationwide will be moved to tears and motivated to action. The Veterans Support Campaign is the welcome home that our newest generation of heroes have been waiting for." The campaign's home will be CommunityofVeterans.org, a new social networking and resource site for veterans.

I think we've been pretty clear that we're not fans of the Iraq war or the Bush administration's military strategy in general. But today is less about that and more about honoring and supporting the men and women who don't have the power to start wars or end them, and can only carry out the missions they are given to the best of their abilities. You can oppose the Iraq war (or all wars) and still believe that no rape victim should have to pay for her own rape kit because she couldn't get to a VA hospital or chose to go somewhere else anonymously because she was afraid, that no veteran should ever be homeless, that we should remember and learn lessons from our military history, and that veterans should always have access to whatever health care they need, including mental health care.

World War II veteran Anna Hoffman. [AP photo from Yahoo]

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