Memorial Day Reflections

I’m a fourth-generation citizen-soldier. My grandfather served in the 1st Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”) as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under General “Black Jack” Pershing in World War I. The way my dad told the story, grandpa was wounded in battle in 1918, buried under a pile of German soldiers and nearly died himself. Dad was a military policeman serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II. It was a testament to how desperately America needed soldiers then that Dad was even drafted; he’d been blind in one eye since the age of 13. He, too, survived his war. My brother served in the Navy during Vietnam. He was a “deck ape”, one of the guys who made sure the planes were actually ready to be catapulted off the deck of the carrier he served on, the U.S.S. America. My brother also made it home, thankfully.

I was a Cold Warrior, both in the Guard and Reserve, and later in my day job as a military analyst at the CIA. I’m a Desert Storm era veteran, though luckily for me the CIA deemed me “essential personnel” during the war which ensured I’d never be deployed. I’ve always felt some guilt over that, especially knowing what I do about how many tens of thousands of Desert Storm veterans continue to suffer from serious medical problems as a result of their exposure to multiple environmental hazards during and after the conflict. A landmark November 2008 report, published by the VA’s Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses, gave a clear idea of the magnitude of the problem, but nearly four years later it’s conclusions and recommendations have long since been forgotten–just like the men and women of that war.

It’s been over 30 years since I enlisted in the Missouri National Guard, but in that time one of the things that has not changed is our nation’s propensity to laud veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day while often leaving them to languish all the days in between. That’s wrong–and you can do something about it.

Whether you’ve worn the uniform or not is not as important as whether you show you appreciate the sacrifice of those who have worn it. So tonight, after you put away your barbecue utensils and your grill, get on your computer, locate your Congressperson’s contact page, and let them know in no uncertain terms that before Congress tackles any other problem it needs to pay the debt it still owes veterans of generations past. Telling Congress to properly fund health care services for America’s veterans is the very least you can do, particularly for “forgotten veterans” like the men and women of Desert Storm. Show them you care. Act today.

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