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A coalition for veterans

This will be the last article submitted from my Yucatecan hideaway. It has been said that time and tide waits for no man. Well, I have one more thing to add to that—taxes! I feel compelled by nature (and the laws of our land) to return home and do my patriotic duty. I can only hope that a substantial portion goes to support our nation’s veterans.

In last month’s article I wrote about the problems and challenges of the long established Veterans Service Organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans. These challenges and problems include, but are not limited to, the aging of and reduction in number of their memberships. There is also an apparent lack of understanding for the need to reach out to younger veterans of the modern era. The established VSOs have not been reaching out in any great way to those veterans that have served this country since the end of Viet Nam—over a generation ago. It seems that these venerable organizations have opted to focus more on the past than the future.

Even the Vietnam Veterans Association—an organization born primarily due to the disconnect, i.e.: a ‘Popular War’ versus an ‘Unpopular War’, between WWII/Korean war era vets and those who served during Viet Nam—has been slow to adopt the cause of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems that each VSO has focused solely on their particular conflict and ignored the commonalities that define military service regardless of when or where. That is, in my opinion, a very myopic and parochial view of the purpose of a VSO.

A study of the mission statements of several VSOs leads me to the opinion that—with very little deviation or re-wording—they are essentially interchangeable from one organization to another. They all purport to ensure that veterans receive all they are entitled to, vigorously lobby for legislation to accomplish these goals and to provide support services for the veterans and their families. This is essentially true for all of them—regardless of their stated purpose or date of creation. The problem is, in my opinion, these organizations feel their primary work is done once the problems associated with their particular conflict have been ameliorated.

The major differences between these VSOs seem to be the median age of their membership and the primary method of communicating with their members. The older, more established, groups continue to send out monthly magazines to all members but do also have websites and make email contact possible. The newer ones primarily use the Internet, email and twitter to better meet the immediacy of our 24/7 Information Age. The Veterans of Modern Warfare (formed in 1990) has a very active ‘twitter’ site as well as web pages and daily updates on legislation that may impact veterans.

The Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans Association—which says that it has over 125,000 members—has a site that is basically a ‘Facebook’ for veterans. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the biggest ‘veterans only’ social network around and is named ‘Community of Veterans.’ Never before have military personnel had more immediate communications with friends and family.

With well over 100,000 men and women still under arms in Iraq and Afghanistan that will—eventually—leave military service that number is bound to go up 

Veterans groups formed since 1990 are focused exclusively on the issues raised by their particular conflict. All of this is well and good but I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be better if there wasn’t an umbrella group that focused on the totality of veterans’ issues regardless of the specific conflict for which they were formed. Isn’t it a fact that any disabled veteran—be they from WWII or Iraq—has a need for adequate medical or rehabilitation services? The end results of all wars make no distinction as to theater of operations or era. It is a foregone conclusion that there will be casualties—both mental and physical—that need to be dealt with long after the conflict is over. Not all of these casualties will readily defined or visible. Isn’t the dissolution of a family due to repeated and frequent deployments just as much a casualty as the loss of a limb? I believe that we need to spend more time on the big picture of the overall needs of all veterans rather than focus the just the conflicts that we have lived through.

As if someone were reading my mind I have recently come across an organization that may just be what contemporary veterans need. I recently found a group that may—I say may—bring some semblance of order to these knotty problems. They call themselves the ‘Coalition for Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans’ ). Included in this coalition are many of the older VSOs but also a large number of more diverse associations like NPR, Air Compassion for Veterans, Swords to Plowshares and the Ad Council. This coalition was formed around 2005 and has many varied philosophies and views but they are joined together to provide a wide variety of services for our returning men and women veterans of the ongoing conflicts. I’ll have more on this coalition in the future. I can only hope that they succeed in their efforts.

Only time will tell if we will can find long term answers to these problems. We first must accept the fact that we, as a nation, have failed our veterans after they have done what was asked of them and that we, again as a nation, must step up and do what is right to correct that shortcoming. We owe a great debt to our young men and women and to date we haven’t done their service justice.

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Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

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