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(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Spring 2013 (Volume 43, Number 1).)

From the National Office

By Bill Branson

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Welcome to the Spring 2013 issue of The Veteran!

Forty years ago, we saw the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. A month after the December 1972 Christmas Bombings, the Paris Peace Accords were signed. By the end of March 1973, our combat troops were brought home. It would be two more years before the official end of the Vietnam War. This triggers a lot of memories for us.

Some have asked why Vietnam Veterans Against the War is still around, forty-six years after we first marched together. Our mission to fight for peace, justice and the rights of all veterans is as necessary in today's world as it was then. What we witnessed and experienced, what we have learned, and what we know gives us a unique voice that must continue to be heard.

Sure, we are in the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. But, we are still engaged in a war and "nation-building" farce we shouldn't have been in to start with. We have been sending our young men and women off to war, as we were sent off to war, to come home with tremendous physical and psychological injuries. They have returned only to be repeatedly deployed. Just like us, now that the war is winding down the military is unceremoniously kicking out hundreds with bad discharges. The vets who qualify for benefits have returned to an overwhelmed VA system where they cannot get the care they need.

In February, the Department of Veteran Affairs released a new study that showed that an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day. That is almost one veteran every hour of every day. And almost 70% of these unfortunate deaths were in veterans 50 years old and older — our brothers and sisters who survived the war in Vietnam to come home to a psychological war that never ended. That is why VVAW's work is still as important as ever.

We must also fight to protect the benefits we have earned through our service. Yet again, there are proposals in Washington that would cut our benefits. Some elected officials, including President Obama (who has included this proposal in his 2013 budget), want to "tweak" how the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is calculated. COLA is what makes our VA and Social Security benefits keep up with inflation. But the proposed "tweak" that would switch how COLA is calculated to the chained-CPI model is basically a lot of economics that means a cut in benefits that will not keep up with inflation. And this COLA is used for Social Security benefits, disability benefits AND Veterans benefits.

We have much work to do. We may not be taking to the streets like we did when we were in our 20s, but we can still make a difference. We can help our younger brothers and sisters who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can help our brothers and sisters who are facing hard times through events like the Chicago Homeless Vets Standdown. We are spread across the country, and around the world, and we may not often be able to come together at an event en masse. But our individual actions must continue. We each must do what we can, where we can.

Get out and into the classrooms and make sure our younger generations know the truths about the war and what GIs and veterans face. Write a letter to the editor. Take copies of this issue of The Veteran with you the next time you go to the VA, the Legion, etc. Contact your Senator and Representative about the issues that affect us. Call on them to stand against cuts to Veterans benefits, to work for fairer discharges, and to fight for improving the VA so that veterans are not waiting so long to get the care that they need. We each need to take these issues that we carry close to our heart and do whatever we can to advance our cause. If we each do this, our actions collectively resound for peace, justice and the rights of all veterans.

We hope you enjoy this issue of The Veteran and that you see the important role that lays ahead for us.

Bill Branson is a VVAW national coordinator.

Chicago, 1974.

Thanks to Jeff Danziger, Billy Curmano and Jeffrey Hirsch for their cartoons. Thanks to Barry Romo, Susan Schnall, Brian Matarrese, Ben Chitty, Cindy Piester, Suzanne Cogan, Marc Levy, Trina Irish, Bill Branson, Rick Jahnkow, the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project and others for contributing photos.

Charlie Branson
Bill Branson
Jeff Machota
Ellie Shunas
Jen Tayabji

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