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(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Fall 2016 (Volume 46, Number 2).)

For Peace, Justice, and Veterans Rights

By Bill Branson

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From the National Office

Eisenhower. Kennedy. Johnson. Nixon. Ford. GHW Bush. Clinton. GW Bush. Obama.

Joe Miller at Chicago VVAW
Memorial Day Event, May 30, 2016.

Those are all of the presidents we've had in our time of service, from the war against Vietnam through the struggle for peace, justice and the rights of all veterans. The last time the US actually declared war was after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 when President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, bringing the US into World War II. But we know all too well that the semantics of whether or not we are at war do not affect the realities suffered by those who fight and those who are invaded. Conflicts and extended military engagements — like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — have the same consequences as a declared war. While the policies have varied under each of these Presidents, one common denominator has increasingly emerged - the fealty to the military-industrial complex.

We cannot predict who will be president when you are reading this (and if you read this before the elections, please take action: get out and vote), but we do know this: our mission remains as important as ever regardless of who is in the White House. Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) was founded in 1967, nearly fifty years ago, to fight for peace, justice, and the rights of all veterans. The struggle continues, perhaps these days more than ever. VVAW has never stopped working to protect the welfare of those who served our country.

We must continue to carry out the struggle to end the current conflicts the US is in so that we can get justice for all veterans, and for the victims of the wars carried out in our name. This will not happen without our constant vigilance and agitation. VVAW calls for the end of these wars, to withdraw the troops, and to stop the use of chemical weapons and drone warfare. Fifteen years after we invaded Afghanistan and thirteen years after we invaded Iraq, we still have troops on the ground. As of August, US-led forces are bombing ISIS in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, and sliding further into a dangerous quagmire by dancing around the Russians to bomb Syrian government forces.

If we as a country go to war, it will be for profit and for oil. The true costs will never be admitted. The true damage to our veterans, their families and those we attack will never be repaired. We should be providing lifetime healthcare for all veterans, regardless of bad paper or discharge status. We should be fully funding the VA, not defunding, destabilizing and trying to privatize the VA. A fully functioning VA should be the model for health care for the whole nation. But that is not what has been happening. GIs and veterans are coming home to a VA system that cannot handle the demand of both aging Vietnam vets and a new generation of vets needing care, especially those seeking mental health services. While the VA has added mental health providers and established a VA crisis support line, we know that veterans were turned away from the mental health services they sought out. We know that calls and texts to this hotline went unanswered. This resulted in veterans' deaths. The VA needs more infrastructure, support, and funding.

Barry Romo at Chicago VVAW
Memorial Day Event, May 30, 2016.

Our country must also provide restitution for the victims of our wars. Fifty years after the US dropped Agent Orange on Vietnam and its people, the country is still reaping the horrible consequences. Agent Orange contamination and poisoning is still affecting Vietnamese, as well as the children and grandchildren of Vietnam veterans. We applaud the fact that President Obama finally acknowledged the not-so-secret bombing of Laos just this year, but that is not enough, it is only the first step. Unexploded ordnance still litters the countryside. We as a country need to formally and publicly apologize, and take action to undo the damage by clearing the bombs and paying restitution to the victims of our war.

VVAW continues to work with those we were at war with fifty years ago. VVAW and its members have made many trips to Vietnam over the years. We fought for the normalization of relations with Vietnam, which didn't happen until 1996. We are currently donating funds to help house victims of our war on the Vietnamese people. But that is not enough and our work must continue.

It is time for the US to stop waging war and begin waging peace. The money wasted on bombs, planes, drones, and military adventures could easily be used towards providing free public health care to the whole country, free education for the whole country, and bolster programs to take care of the sick and elderly, especially as our countries' population and all of the baby boomers are aging. Instead, we as a nation allow our representatives and leaders to be bought and paid for by the military-industrial, and energy complexes.

We never thought that 50 years later we would still be fighting for justice. We have lost many good brothers and sisters since our struggle first began. We can't organize like we did when we were 20, but we know what needs to be done and how to do it. We have seen the horrors of war and have seen the power of collective organizing. Now it might only be our voices, not our bodies, that we can put on the line. But we will continue to do what we can and give what we are able. We know what our mission is. We must expose the lies and fight for peace, justice and the rights of all veterans.

Bill Branson is a VVAW board member and Chicago resident.

Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons. Thanks to Bill Branson, Ross Canton, Susan Schnall, Terry DuBose, Mike Hastie, Joe Miller, Jeff Motyka, Ellie Shunas, Scott LeGette Franklin, Stanley Campbell, John Retallack, and others for contributing photos.

Charlie Branson
Bill Branson
Jeff Machota
Ellie Shunas
Jen Tayabji

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