There are times, we believe, when the truth sits in plain view but we cannot see it, and fallacies of patriotism are accepted and not questioned. Veterans suffering from life-threatening and terminal illnesses caused by exposure to toxic smoke from burn pits maintained by the U.S. military should get fair and compassionate care and comfort from the nation they served.
We all agree to that. Or do we?
We hear the refrain so often, with a flag waving in the background, “Thank a veteran. Thank a veteran.” We hear it from celebrities and politicians, to car dealers, from neighbors and friends. “Thank a veteran.”
It’s just not true to our actions.
For nearly two decades we sent members of our all-volunteer army into harm’s way, in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the promise their nation would stand behind them, now and forever. They served with dignity, with honor, even though, in hindsight, our involvement in those wars, and how we became involved, were questionable at the start, and are still questionable to this day.
There was no WMD, the cause pushed for entering the Iraq War 18 years ago. And, most Americans do not understand why went in, and why we are still on the ground in Afghanistan, an obvious failure in U.S. leadership to provide coherent explanations for our involvement, for two decades.
The very use of football field-sized burn pits to burn waste of all kinds around the clock is a statement against the interest of the soldiers who served at nearby bases and were forced to breath that smoke at work and in the barracks, 24/7. The evidence it was dangerous was known when the match was lit; it’s always been known.
The failure to attend to the needs of these returning veterans, many of whom have died from diseases caused by exposure to the never-ending streams of toxic smoke from more than 250 burn pits maintained by the U.S. military near combat bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, is another declaration against the belief that we care as a nation for our veterans after they return from service.
The failure of the U.S. military, the Veterans Administration, the president and Congress to address the dire medical needs of this growing group of veterans is a statement to them and to their families: Go away and die.
For several years now, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has lobbied fellow members of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee to hold hearings about burn pit illnesses and allow veterans and their families to testify. We appreciate the Ohio senator’s advocacy on their behalf, and his promise to tell their stories and submit written testimonies from them to the committee.
But U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson decided to exclude veterans from testifying, and, in our view, that’s his way of telling them to “drop dead.” As chairman of the Senate committee, Isakson, R-Georgia, has the power to let them testify, and the power to deny their voices from being heard. Isakson, who has delayed these hearing for years, has had plenty of time to formulate an explanation for barring veterans, but he’s refused to address the question.
Many of the veterans suffering illnesses from exposure believe the military and the VA want to avoid tracking, categorizing or properly treating their illnesses due to the huge financial liability it would create to render such services. Some believe the military and the VA can “wait them out,” meaning let them die with that financial liability dying with them.
Some times the truth sits in plain sight, right behind or next to false platitudes of respect and gratitude. With Isakson’s decision to bar veterans from the upcoming hearing, this would seem to be one of those times.