How we treat our vets

Jun. 13, 2014 @ 04:45 PM

Our country does not have a great track record for how it treats its veterans. We love to wave the flag, but past acts have shown how little we value the men and women who fight for it.
Take the treatment of the “Bonus Expeditionary Forces.” Many veterans returning from World War I were destitute. They had received generally low wages, while many of their counterparts who hadn’t served benefited economically from wartime industry. So Congress on May 19, 1924, passed the World War Adjustment Compensation Act to try to ameliorate the economic stress the vets were under. There was a catch, though, according to the Veterans Affairs’ website. If a veteran was entitled to more than $50, they received a certificate – or “bonuses,” as the veterans called them -- that would be payable in 20 years, and generally had a face value of $1,500.
When the Depression hit in full, veterans began calling for immediate payment of their bonuses. Unemployed veterans marched to Washington, D.C. They slept in tents and shanties in deplorable conditions. Their pleas fell on deaf congressional ears, and the situation deteriorated into violence, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur being charged with forcibly removing the veterans and their families.
“Daily Show” host John Stewart has taken aim at the ridiculousness of viewing this as an isolated incident, pointing out that Revolutionary War soldiers were sentenced to death (later commuted) who took Congress hostage over pensions they didn’t receive, and our government refused to accept any liability for the health issues Vietnam veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange caused.
So while we may be – and should be -- angry and horrified at the most current revelation about veterans’ treatment at the hands of our government, we certainly shouldn’t be surprised.
U.S. Rep G.K. Butterfield, who represents part of Durham, has waded into the most recent VA debacle. He has asked federal officials to explain contradictory numbers for the time it takes new mental health patients to be seen here. It’s a pretty wide gap. A VA audit found it was 104 days, but local VA officials say they can’t replicate those numbers, and their data show it’s 14 days. Butterfield said rightly that the “conflicting claims within the same department are a glaring example of the system failures within the VA health care system.”
We hope now that a spotlight is shining on the most recent mistreatment of veterans that it will help them get the care they deserve. We fear it’s not the last time our country will fail them.