Avoiding War Is the Best Way to Support Our Soldiers

Both pro- and anti-war activists seem to agree that we need to support our soldiers. However, the two sides disagree on the best way to do so.

To determine the answer, it's important to look at what kind of support our soldiers' bosses (the Bush Administration and the Department of Defense) have offered them past and present: Bush violated his campaign pledge to veterans of, "A promise made is a promise kept" (which he said at the American Legion Convention in 2000).

Before assuming office, Bush vowed to restore lifetime health care as had been promised between 1941 and 1956 to 20-year World War II and Korean War veterans and their dependents. Once in the White House, Bush refused to restore their health care, and his legal team fought the subsequent court case brought by the veterans.

That's not the only wrong Bush refuses to make right: For the past 100 years, disabled military retirees have been forced to pay their disability benefits out of their own retirement pay. Late last year, 402 House members and 85 senators voted to correct this inequity. Bush then vetoed the legislation.

The Bush administration's 2003 budget falls 1.5 billion dollars short of adequately funding veterans care -- $1.5 billion dollars under the amount required to maintain a humane level of health care. Consequently, 300,000 veterans wait an average of seven months for an appointment with a primary care physician -- and those are the lucky vets who haven't been denied PCP care for their ailments.

The disability rate for Gulf War I veterans is nearly twice that of Vietnam War vets. Of the 207,000 Gulf War vets with a military service-connected disability, tens of thousands are believed to suffer as a result of their service in Desert Storm.

Evidence indicates some symptoms could be indicative of exposure to radioactivity, possibly from depleted uranium used in our own weaponry. Other symptoms may have been caused by experimental vaccines administered to soldiers. Recent peer-reviewed medical research associates low-level chemical warfare agent exposure with long-term brain damage in studies on rats.

The U.S. government's support for veterans of past conflicts has been inadequate and neglectful, and there's no evidence to suggest our current troops will be treated any better.

Last October, an Army audit discovered that over 60 percent of gas masks and over 90 percent of the machines used to detect invisible chemical arms attacks are defective. Worse, the Army isn't confident about the condition of much of the equipment our troops in Iraq are using at this moment.

The current trend of the Army is to focus on technology while neglecting human resources. The Army's modern personnel system functions more like Enron than a military institution, promoting an atmosphere that favors opportunists. Officers are more motivated to spend time advancing themselves than working with soldiers. This has resulted in a poorly prepared infantry which happens to be at less than half of its Vietnam-era strength.

In his last press conference before the war began, Bush claimed if there was a war with Iraq, casualties would be minimized. This is in conflict with the Pentagon's shipment of 100,000 body bags and 6,000 coffins to a military base in Sicily -- and with national Navy advertisements offering a $6,000 signing bonus for morticians.

Our government fails to consider the emotional toll a war with Iraq will take on our troops. Ground troops waging assaults and mopping up bombing runs could discover that half of the slaughtered Iraqis are children, as 50 percent of Iraq's population is under the age of 15. Soldiers fortunate enough to return home physically unscathed will still have to face their consciences due to these inescapable truths: that they fought a war killing thousands of innocents to protect our nation from a non-existent threat; that rather than paving the way for a stable Iraqi democracy, they increased the suffering and death in that country while facilitating a greedy elite's quest for more power and wealth.

Finally, just a day after Congress passed a "Support Our Troops" resolution, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted last week to slash $25 billion from the Department of Veterans Affairs budget over the next 10 years. According to Veterans For Common Sense, these cuts will impact VA's ability to care for casualties resulting from the war on Iraq. It also cuts $204 million from Impact Aid, a program that helps educate the children of service members.

The answer is obvious: there is only one way to truly support our soldiers, and that's to bring them home.

David Lynch is a graphic designer, writer, political activist and Appalachian fiddler who lives in western North Carolina.

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