Semper Fidelis, the motto of the United States Marine Corps, means “always faithful.” In the recent years, it seems as if that fidelity, which is so celebrated, is not being reciprocated by the leadership in the U.S. to military service veterans.
On Friday, Nov. 11, Americans nationwide will once again bring out the colors of the country and its military services. Speeches will be given, honoring those serving and who have served. Politicians will pose in front of troops, and parades will be accompanied by music and applauding crowds. Troops will be seen on forward operating bases saying hi to mom on CNN, as well as feature stories about families who lost a son or daughter to the war.
“We support our troops” has been the mantra of the American populace and that of the corporate and political spheres during the past decade, ever since American troops first set foot in Afghanistan.
Yellow ribbons have adorned schools and businesses near military bases, businesses and car fenders without much thought into why they are placed there. Music artists and teenagers have popularized the wearing of shiny dogtags this decade as well, not realizing that dogtags are used to identify the otherwise unidentifiable dead.
Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated daily to images on television screens of families, celebrities and politicians saying, “America supports you.” American civilians, after learning that an individual is a veteran, will usually say, “Thank you for your service,” as if it's some kind of nervous tick, while having no idea what the veteran did in service, or why.
It's funny then, that the Veteran's Administration when nearly one out of every four homeless persons in America are veterans. Nobody stops to thank them and nobody salutes them. Instead, people tell them to get a job when they ask for change.
In America, we are told that you need a bachelor's degree or a skilled trade to even hope to make it into any type of dignified employment. Thus, the veteran has to go to school first to get that good-paying job.
The Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill promise to pay for a veteran's schooling. The military use the bills as recruitment tools, and for many veterans, the promise of a paid-for education is a primary reason for enlistment. The Post-9/11 Bill affects primarily younger veterans, and is available to vets who served on or after 11 Sept., 2001.
The Post-9/11 bill pays for 100 percent of tuition, plus a book and housing stipend which most vets count on in order to pay rent and other bills so they can continue going to school. Most newly separated vets are 22-24 years old, sometimes with families. They are usually not too keen on moving back into their parents’ basement.
In 2008, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was noticiably very vocal in his support of troops in his presidential election bid, voted against expanding GI Bill benefits, in an attempt to prevent troops from leaving service at a time when the country's forces were showing signs of being spread too thin. In 2011, Congress is placing vet's benefits on the chopping block again, in the name of reducing the budget deficit.
Newly enlisted military members, in their first year of service, surrender $100 per month for a year to pay in to the GI Bill, as well as federal taxes which should help pay for it as well. Denial or reduction of educational benefits is essentially stealing from a veteran who paid into the program with their time, service and money.
VA hospitals all over the country, like the one in Long Beach, is constantly full of patients who wait, sometimes for hours, to be seen by their doctor. Many of these patients are older and served in Korea and Viet Nam. While the VA is full of hard-working people, the VA system is underfunded, undermanned and constantly struggles to provide the services vets need.
As time goes by, more and more veterans will be filing claims, as people leave the services after serving in a wartime military. The problems, if not addressed now, will only become worse for veterans and their families.
All in all, veteran's benefits is a cost of war, like life, bullets, meals, band-aids, and fuel. In recent years, active-duty service members face a grim reality when it comes time to leave service: their benefits are being stripped, and the stagnated economy means it's harder to find a job.
Their options are clear: roll the dice as a civilian, or re-enlist.
In a military where some active-duty members and families live out of their cars for lack of housing near or on base, a service member is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Active-duty and reserve military personnel make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Every Marine, sailor, soldier, airman and coast guardsman, fit into one less than one of every hundred Americans. In addition, many foreigners join the U.S. military in hopes to attain citizenship, an education and a better life.
These are the people who, whether they agree with the wars or not, are tasked with meeting danger so civilians don't have to. All vets want in return is an education and a decent job. Instead of offering “thanks” American companies should offer jobs. “Thank you” just doesn’t cut it when rent is overdue.
This veteran's day, when you're waving your flag on your day off, remember that many veterans are not getting what they were promised when they signed that piece of paper and swore an oath. Consider then, taking a few of those spare burgers off down to a homeless shelter. You never know, that guy who you feed may have seen their friends die at the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Beirut, Baghdad or in Tora Bora.