Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Open Letter to OK Senator Tom Coburn about Veterans' Benefits



 Dear Senator Coburn,

You appeared on television and seemed proud of your vote against veterans’ benefits. You lifted your head high as you argued for fiscal restraint and against money that would support veterans as they rebuild their lives, disrupted when called to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. You made a similar argument while filibustering against money for the 9-11 First Responders until national sentiment turned against you and suppressed your fine, fiduciary sensibilities. Even then you still held out until you’d reduced the amount of money to help those rendered unable to work by toxins at Ground Zero.

However proud you may be, I believe you should hang your head in shame instead of posturing before national cameras. I believe the charge of hypocrisy could be thrown at you, and it would stick. Here’s why.

You have been a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, even voting against efforts to set a timetable for withdrawal and in favor of sending more troops for a surge. When dreadful accidents in country were traced to the doors of contractors, notably Halliburton, and legislation was created to examine the process to award contracts, you voted against tighter oversight. You also voted against legislation that would have granted soldiers time at home equal to their time in country; e.g., 15 months at home after a 15-month deployment. Such rest and time to re-bond with family are essential to the well-being of not only the soldier but his family and the community. You didn’t see fit to grant this. (from information found at http://www.thepoliticalguide.com/Profiles/Senate/Oklahoma/Tom_Coburn/Views/The_War_in_Iraq)

Now you claim to care about the future, especially in behalf of our future children and grandchildren, by refusing to support funding for Veterans Benefits even though one in four veterans is unemployed (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/09/23/senate-gop-obstructionists-throw-veterans-under-the-bus-vote-down-bill-to-help-vets-in-need-of-jobs). In addition, according to Pentagon data, at least one returning soldier committed suicide each day in the first six months of 2012.

The causes for the highest suicide rate recorded in the past decade are as varied as the men, but war is a significant factor. Our nation’s youngest men are called upon to terminate the enemy with extreme prejudice. They bear witness to the savagery of war, to the grotesque power that weapons have over the human form, to the frailties of their fellow men. They come home to families that think nothing of loud, close thunder or a car backfiring. Relatives, children and wives sleep peacefully through the night while many veterans struggle to find any sleep. The jobs that should have be waiting for them fail to materialize. The college they hoped to attend requires powers of concentration that they no longer possess. If they lost a limb or two or four, they may not be able to drive a car or even climb the stairs to sleep beside their wives. If a veteran sustained Traumatic Brain Injury, he may not be able to move home or live independently. His care and rehabilitation may apply intolerable pressure to the family with divorce the result. Or a veteran's family may be forced to accept food stamps and disability because someone must be available every hour of every day to care for wounds, even the ones that do not leave visible scars. That veteran's children will not enjoy a life of comfort or opportunity because the family income level now depends upon the largess of government and family.

These are the real and basic problems that veterans face: shelter, food, work, and a sense of self-worth. These are the real and basic needs that a nation should meet after it has asked its young adults to set aside everything else and risk their lives for intangibles such as democracy, Arab Springs, freedom, and patriotism. His is not to reason why; his is but to do or die.

And he does, but not without being forever, permanently, irrevocably changed. He will not come home the same boy or girl who left. He will have clenched his jaw, steeled his eye, and calmed his hand in order to kill another human being. He will convince himself that the other being deserved to die, and he will throw himself in harm’s way for a comrade, buddy, pal. For the rest of their lives, most of them will strike an uneasy peace by not allowing themselves to dwell upon those days. Many will find a new resolve never to pick up another weapon or harm any creature. Some will sign up for another tour, taking comfort in the orders, the routine, the brotherhood. Others will sweat and sleep fitfully at night while by day, they smile and act as if nothing, even war, has ever touched them.

If you had ever served, Senator Coburn, in any of the branches of the military or if you had been deployed to a war zone, then surely you would be able to empathize with the plight of veterans re-entering this noisy, bountiful nation where most of us have never known the horror of corrupted, broken bodies or the fear of high-powered weapons aimed from hills far above. And, Senator Coburn, you surely would not be able to dismiss the needs of these veterans as cavalierly as you did when telling the world about your “no” vote for benefits to be paid for with money from Medicare-fraud penalties.

In the words of one writer for Forbes, " . . . the Senator—along with his unappreciative cohorts in the Senate—was unable to generate much concern for the more present and immediate impact their votes have on the children of our veterans who go off to risk their lives for their country and return unable to gain employment. One is additionally left to ponder what those veterans who did not make it home—leaving their children to live with the most immediate and tragic consequences—would think about Senator Coburn’s priorities" (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/09/23/senate-gop-obstructionists-throw-veterans-under-the-bus-vote-down-bill-to-help-vets-in-need-of-jobs).

While you stand up for a sound fiscal future, you discard those who are here now, in need, those who could help rebuild a strong nation. Shame on you, Senator Coburn. Shame.

Sincerely, A Constituent Who Could Never Vote for You to Return to Office
(And to be perfectly candid, a constituent who has never voted for you at all)

P.S. The first post for this blog (June 25, 2010) is about a WWII veteran who gave life to an infant conceived and born during the final days of fire bombings and dropped bombs in Japan. This unknown soldier gave his ration of powdered milk to a Japanese family who could not feed its youngest survivor. Now, instead of thinking about the U.S. as an imperialist nation or about soldiers as conquering invaders, the baby grown into a woman remembers kindness. Our troops have the power to transform the world, one person at a time. Would that members of the U. S. Senate, Tom Coburn in particular, could remember what this nation asks of its armed forces and support them when they return home.