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(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Fall 2015 (Volume 45, Number 2).)

Veterans Fight Back

By Bill Branson

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From the National Office

The beating of the war drums has picked up significantly, with the 2016 presidential elections campaign well underway. The twenty-one contenders' (as of the date this article was drafted) war mongering antics are hard to ignore, no matter how ridiculous they are. Some candidates have spoken against a deal with Iran, have criticized and called on President Obama to abandon diplomacy with China after the cybersecurity attacks, and have openly called for the bombing of ISIS and of Syria. We cannot ignore their posturing, no matter how ludicrous. One of these chickenhawks may be our next President and Commander-In-Chief.

With so many of our government officials in bed with the military industrial complex, patriotism and capitalism are very easily confused. Warfare is profit making for the rich, whether or not 'we' win. The US lost the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers, on both sides, and civilians lost their lives. A great deal of the Mideast is in utter chaos. But companies like Halliburton are making out like bandits. The war mongers are not patriots, they are not sacrificing anything, and they are not doing this work to protect our country. They don't see red, white and blue, they only see green. All of that money goes into their pockets, not to the soldiers who fought or to the VA system crumbling under the weight of a new generation of veterans.

The VA has floundered under the pressure of the newest generation of veterans. More of us Vietnam-era veterans are retiring and requiring more health services. Over a year after the Phoenix VA scandal became public, after Shinseki was forced out of office, the wait for veterans has only gotten worse. In June, the VA reported this data along with the $2.6 billion budget shortfall they are facing. This could force furloughs and hiring freezes, only further hindering the VA in meeting the needs of veterans. Maybe Halliburton has a couple billion dollars to spare? Maybe some of these war profiteers should pay taxes?

Despite the longer waiting list, the VA did see 2.7 million more appointments in the last year. The VA has been working to expand its services, to make more appointments available. But the scandals continue. VVAW calls on the VA and on Congress to expand the VA system and build it from the bottom up. The VA needs more funding to provide the services that are in demand from vets, who deserve access to health care. In addition to the funding to strengthen the VA system, there must be an independently conducted, outside investigation into the continuing higher administration cover-ups related to accessing care. There must be whistleblower protections put in place to protect workers. And there must be veteran involvement in continuing to figure out what VA systems need to be improved, what is or isn't working.

We must continue to remain alert to the calls for 'privatizing' the VA. Some of the voices raised in Congress, exposing the VA's shortcomings, are not those of our friends. All these jackals want to do is cram more money into the pockets of Big Pharma and Big Healthcare Insurance. This institution belongs to all us veterans and our families. It is not for sale to the lowest bidder!

In addition, it is time to create a single type discharge for all who serve in the Armed Services. Over 110,000 soldiers were dishonorably or other-than-honorably discharged for being gay between Word War II and the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." As we know, these dishonorable discharges prevent veterans from accessing VA benefits and health care. They often prevent you from getting certain jobs like civil service employment, prevent you from getting aid, and can even block you from getting a loan. All that was needed for this to happen was an accusation of "being gay." All veterans deserve access to their VA health care and other earned benefits. Veterans can apply for a discharge upgrade, but the paperwork, process and appeals can be extremely time-consuming, expensive, confusing and cumbersome. There is a bill in front of Congress — sponsored by Senators Schatz and Gillibrand and Representatives Pocan and Rangel — called the Restore Honor to Service Members Act that would streamline discharge upgrades for those who were discharged due to sexual orientation (perceived or actual). There are currently 134 co-sponsors on the sister bills. Contact your Representative and Senators to tell them that you support this legislation.

We hope you enjoy this issue of The Veteran. You will find articles from VVAW members across the country on a variety of issues as well as several articles devoted to remembering our fallen comrade Dave Curry.

Also, this marks the last issue of The Veteran in the format you have been used to for the last 45 years. Due to changes in the print industry we are being forced to change the look of the paper. These changes will not stop us from being a voice for peace, justice, and the rights of all veterans as we have been for the past 4 and a half decades. Feedback will be appreciated.

As always, thanks for your support.

Bill Branson is a VVAW board member and Chicago resident.

Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons. Thanks to Bill Branson, Claudia Krich, Janet Curry, Robert Halgash, Ben Chitty, Ann Bailey, Susan Schnall, and others for contributing photos.

Charlie Branson
Bill Branson
Jeff Machota
Ellie Shunas
Jen Tayabji

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