Honor war dead — and those who survive war and return

May 29, 2011 Issues: Veterans

Two South Florida lawmakers who sit on opposite sides of the aisle — Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Frederica Wilson — have pushed the Veterans Administration to clean up its act, literally, at its hospitals in the wake of horrifying reports that improperly sterilized and, worse, unsterilized equipment put thousands of veterans at risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis. Miami’s VA hospital was one of several committing such egregious mistakes.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Ms. Wilson set a fine example for their congressional colleagues — and the rest of us — to follow. War may be inevitable, but apathy is unacceptable — as are veterans made to suffer in silence, unaided.

Posted on Sun, May. 29, 2011
Honor war dead — and those who survive war and return
The Miami Herald Editorial
HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

The truth is as sad as it is inevitable: The reason why we observe Memorial Day is never going away, because war, it seems, will always be with us. And no matter how technologically smart or strategically brilliant the war, blood will be spilled.

South Florida lost a native son three weeks ago. Sgt. Amaru Aguilar, 26, died in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, killed by small-arms fire. Sgt. Aguilar, of Miami, had been deployed less than two months earlier.

So this holiday is not one of celebration, but one of reflection, of honor, of gratitude to the Americans who died doing what so many of us have not done, have not volunteered for and, most likely, won’t be called upon to do.

But that does not mean that the rest of us are off the hook, free to wave American flags from the sidelines before heading to the mall or the beach. The rest of us have a responsibility, too: to honor those who gave their lives to protect us by honoring those who survived war to come home, though physically wounded and psychologically scarred. In these cases, honor means that we demand returning veterans be made whole when they are hurting and fragile.
Troubling red flags are waving, too.

There has been heartening progress in treating the psychological problems that continue to dog some combat troops once they are back stateside. For too long, military authorities ignored the pleas for help, made troops justify requests for treatment or sent them back out to fight without getting it. Indeed, these soldiers were stigmatized, strongly encouraged to just tough it out. Many brave troops did, but, along with their unsuspecting families, paid the price once they came home.

In fact, one in every five suicides in this country involves a veteran. Last year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, that number was 20 percent of 30,000 suicides, some committed while vets waited for help that never came.

This is as outrageous as it is unacceptable.

Last July, President Obama wisely eliminated a misguided rule that had required veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress to first prove that a specific event, such as a firefight or a bomb blast, had triggered it.

Still, just a few months ago, a Missouri senator charged that the military was discharging troops who have seen combat — and who might suffer severe nightmares or airsickness, for instance — rather than providing treatment. The disturbing upshot: Many who might be afflicted with mental health conditions, including PTSD and traumatic brain injury, have left the service without official medical diagnoses. That means that they have no chance of receiving medical benefits.
Any such shameful behavior on the part of the military warrants rigorous investigation — and remedy.

Two South Florida lawmakers who sit on opposite sides of the aisle — Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Frederica Wilson — have pushed the Veterans Administration to clean up its act, literally, at its hospitals in the wake of horrifying reports that improperly sterilized and, worse, unsterilized equipment put thousands of veterans at risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis. Miami’s VA hospital was one of several committing such egregious mistakes.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Ms. Wilson set a fine example for their congressional colleagues — and the rest of us — to follow. War may be inevitable, but apathy is unacceptable — as are veterans made to suffer in silence, unaided.
  
 

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