George Orwell said: “We sleep safely in our beds because rough men (and women) stand ready in the night to visit violence on those that would do us harm.” But then who then stands ready to take care of those same men and women upon their return when they are all too often disabled, disillusioned, or disheartened?
I was recently listening to All Things Considered on National Public Radio (NPR) about how soldiers were discharged for misconduct due to mental illness. One particular soldier shared his innermost fears and was considering suicide, but his therapists had a lack of empathy about his needs. Feeling as if this type of treatment wasn't fair and certainly wasn't lessening his depression, Eric James began secretly recording his sessions with behavioral health specialists and shed a light on a big problem with the military kicking soldiers out of service, denying them their rightful benefits, including providing treatment for mental health disorders, post traumatic distress, brain injuries, or other medical issues.
This Veterans Day, consider what it feels like to be a veteran and how as citizens it is our responsibility to support them in their time of need, as they continue to support us in Iraq, Afghanistan and here in the United States.
Due to the NPR reporting, a group of 12 U.S. senators is calling on the Army to investigate the discharges of tens of thousands of soldiers dismissed for misconduct. According to a November 4th NPR follow-up article, “The senators say this violates the intent of a 2009 law that Congress passed to ensure troops who returned from wars with mental health disorders were not discarded without being evaluated.”
THE FILM "FATIGUE"
This story brought me back to "Fatigue,” a film poem I created years ago from the perspective of a soldier looking through a target viewfinder. The film was shot at Fort Hancock, a government owned recreational park on Sandy Hook, a 7-mile barrier reef in New Jersey overlooking New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Today, the landscape is one of “fun-in-the sun” where huge cruise ships and shipping carriers make their way out to the main channel of the Atlantic Ocean. In the late 1800s up to the 1960's, Fort Hancock was a critical coastal artillery base, where currently all the remnants of aged war technology—nike missiles, disappearing gun batteries, anti-aircraft missiles and huge artillery shells are fully in public view. On one of my many visits, I recorded a child repeating the words on a poster, "If it flies, it dies." The film's flashback sequences capture the essence of what a war-torn and emotionally distraught soldier might encounter in the name of protecting US citizens.
52 REASONS TO LOVE A VET
A recent response to the growing neglect of our country’s veterans, “52 Reasons to Love a Vet” was conceived and curated by my good friend Ella Rue, who was appalled that the Veterans Affairs Hospital (VA) discharged her son while in quarantine with open MRSA wounds. The New Jersey VA falsely informed the family that they were not responsible for his care and suggested this soldier find private health care coverage. After personally securing health care for her son to ensure his safety and well-being, it occurred to Ella and her husband Bob that there are thousands of returning men and women who fall through the cracks—denied the services they are promised and are legally entitled to.
To initiate a dialogue for policy change, Ella brought together 19 world-renowned artists, illustrators and designers to create editorial illustrations addressing concerns related to the military, veterans and/or thoughts on patriotism. The art is currently on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge MA and will tour galleries, museums, and colleges and universities with the intention of education people of all ages about the need for supporting the physical and emotional needs of veterans when they return home. Decks of traditional playing cards, signed prints and books are available for sale, with the funds going to a 501c3 fund specifically to assist veterans with educational and health related needs.
This Veterans Day, consider what it feels like to be a veteran and how as citizens it is our responsibility to support them in their time of need, as they continue to support us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and here in the United States. If our country has money to engineer and develop new stealth bombers to the tune of $21.4 billion, then the military should also take care of the men and women who put their lives at risk every day, many who come home in desperate need of healthcare and the benefits they surely deserve.