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(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Spring 2021 (Volume 51, Number 1).)

We Have To Be Winter Soldiers

By Bill Branson

[Printer-Friendly Version]

From the National Office

1971 was a year of great crisis in the US. 1971 was also a year of intense struggle, and growth, for VVAW.

2021 is the 50th anniversary of many of VVAW's iconic actions—national, regional, and local: the Playboy ad, the Winter Soldier Investigations, Dewey Canyon III, Operation Heart of America, Operation POW, Operation Peace on Earth, and more.

In this issue and the next, we will feature memories and reflections on those times.

VVAW is collecting the stories, photos, and videos of 1971 in an easy-to-access location on our website. We would like you to add your stories. To leave your memories and view our collection, go to: www.vvaw.org/1971

"We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, no reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out." —John Kerry, April 22, 1971

We are breathing a sigh of relief that Trump has been defeated at the polls. While completely aware of his toxic influence, we were still taken aback by the fury of his insurrectionists on January 6. In response, VVAW issued a statement "Fascism is Not an Option" (see above). We encourage members to be vigilant. The Right has not given up. The Trump cult is active and very dangerous. The insurrectionists need to be prosecuted.

We know the right wing has been organizing from within the military forever. We raised this issue in the 1970s. We are glad that the Defense Secretary has called on the Services to conduct a 60-day stand-down on the issue of extremism in the military. The military must go further and root out the white supremacists who are expanding their influence

We are encouraged by the fast pace President Biden is undoing the damage of the Trump years, but we need to apply pressure where and when we can to advocate for peace, justice, and veterans' rights. After seeing how effective the VA has been in getting the COVID-19 vaccines to us, we know how much more it can do if we reverse the attacks and push for change.

Congress just approved the Saves Lives Act, that makes all veterans, as well as their spouses and caregivers, eligible for a coronavirus vaccine through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The House approved the legislation under unanimous consent. That shows how the VA should be open and free to vets and families, period. In my opinion, the VA is the real example of what Healthcare for All should be, not Medicare.

We hope that newly appointed VA Secretary Denis McDonough can help fix and improve the VA. We need to encourage our elected representatives and Secretary McDonough to do the following:

    * Reverse the privatization of the VA, including restoring or building VA clinics and Vet Centers in areas relegated to privatized care.
    * Fill all VA staff vacancies.
    * Pursue a program of VA expansion.
    * Restore the offices and access to the Veterans Service Officers from the various Vets organizations and VA employee union reps.
    * Forgive the debts that the VA failed to bill for during the COVID crisis. NO surprise bills for Vets!

Also, we urge VA Secretary Denis McDonough to re-examine a proposed Trump-era regulation that would unjustly freeze out thousands of veterans from VA benefits. Specifically, the rule would hamper the ability of veterans with less-than-honorable discharges to access VA care and support. This population is disproportionately composed of veterans of color, veterans with mental health conditions, veterans at risk of suicide, and LGBTQ+ veterans.

A recent, groundbreaking study by economists at Stanford University contrasted the care of veterans in the VA with the care of non-veterans in non-VA facilities. The Stanford study categorically demonstrates that veterans who get their care at the VA live longer during and after a medical emergency, and at lower cost, than those receiving non-VA care. The message of this study is crystal clear: privatizing VA care by outsourcing more services to the private sector is not only irresponsible policy making but actually may cost veterans their lives. The study found that the VA spends less than the private sector providers in producing such markedly better outcomes. Once again, we call for no privatization of the VA, and VA access for ALL veterans, regardless of discharge status.

We also need to pressure President Biden and Congress to end the Forever Wars.

    * Bring the troops home, from the Middle East, Afghanistan and the 250 secret bases in Africa, and around the world.
    * Provide all "downsized" GIs with FREE education, fully paid, including a stipend for living expenses. That means all the way through a doctorate degree. Oh, and no time limits.
    * When these troops come home, put them to work on the COVID pandemic.

We know this is a lot. But, better we go for it, than sit back and let them keep destroying the VA, making GIs kill for someone's profit, and condemning vets to a lifetime of debt penury for getting an education. Not to mention letting vets watch their families die, because vaccination in the public sector is so FUBAR.

Contact your elected representatives. Write your local papers. We must make sure the voices for veterans, peace, and justice are not silenced.

Especially during this time, don't forget your friends and comrades in the struggle. Everyone who can needs to reach out and give a call or email or zoom or whatever. We can't let this current period push any of our friends over the edge. Let's make ourselves available!

We know that struggle is an ongoing process. We may be slower, thicker, and balder than we were 50 years ago, but we know our voices still need to be heard. The fight for peace, justice, and veterans rights is never over.

Bill Branson is a member of the VVAW Board.

Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons.Thanks to Sheldon Ramsdell, Elaine Elinson, Bill Christofferson, Mark Hartford, Phil Hostetter, Bill Richardson, E. C. Streeter, Bhavia Wagner, Tran Thi Thuy, Nancy Grider, Steve Jaffe, and others for contributing photos.

Jeff Machota
Bill Branson
Joe Miller

Dewey Canyon III, April 1971.

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