Veterans Day

I decided to take some time this Veterans Day to learn something about contemporary veterans’ issues. As a hardcore pacifist, I tend not to know very much about anything related to the military, but I think it’s possible — and morally right — to be anti-war and pro-veteran at the same time. It disturbs me very much that we recruit young people into the military with promises of honor and rewards, and then neglect to take care of them when they get back from combat physically and emotionally removed from normal life and society. And I know that those of us who oppose war often look upon military families with a kind of distaste, or at least non-comprehension: “How could they go to war? Why would they support it?” without acknowledging the many, many factors that contribute to the decision to enlist. So, I thought I should do at least something to help me bridge that gap of understanding, and today was an appropriate day to do it.

I started with one of my regular news sites, UC Berkeley News Center, which had a good article and video about Cal’s student veterans. From that, I learned that the original GI Bill of Rights, which began after WWII as a highly successful initiative to send veterans to college and vocational training, was followed by another bill called the Montgomery GI Bill, which has been rendered pitifully inadequate by inflation. Under the Montgomery GI Bill, today’s veterans receive only enough money to pay for a two-year community college education. Fortunately, Congress recently passed a new GI Bill which will give veterans much better benefits — but it doesn’t take effect until August 2009. (FYI, John McCain strenuously opposed this bill, on the grounds that it would encourage people to leave the service instead of re-enlisting.) I also read a really cool NYT article about student vets that profiled several of them and their challenges in going back to school after war.

By browsing other articles, I also learned that one estimate places 1 out of every 4 homeless as a veteran, which makes our lack of social services even more shameful. I learned a little bit about how hard it is for vets to adjust to civilian life and deal with what they’ve experienced.

I rounded out my “lesson” by examining the 2008 Veteran Report Card — which I first heard about on Rachel Maddow’s radio show about a month back — which assigns grades to every congressperson based on their votes on key bills involving veterans. The report card is the work of IAVA, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an independent organization. California’s two senators, Boxer and Feinstein, both earned A+ grades, while President-Elect Obama received a B, and Senator McCain — for all his military talk and experience — an embarrassing D. The IAVA website has a page just for taking action, where I learned what I can do to make sure veterans are treated well. I’m not sure all the action alerts are up to date, but this remains a good place to start.

I still don’t know anything about what it’s like to be a veteran, but I think it’s important for the rest of us to learn something about veterans’ challenges and do what we can to make sure they come back from war with opportunities and rights that are the same — or better — than what they had before they left. You see how much my July political inactivity entry got to me! I’m now determined to correct my ignorance on things that matter to me, and I’m acting on that commitment.

That’s my little bit of education and activism for today. Happy Veterans Day.