Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans' Day

So here we are on a holiday that celebrates the sacrifices and triumphs of our nation's veterans. All honor to them.

Alas, recently declassified information now reveals that both our government and our private sector has once again failed returning veterans. The health care scandal was bad enough, as was the various administration moves to deny them benefits, but here's what's happened to the National Guard and Reservists:

"Since 9/11, nearly 11,000 National Guard and Reserve troops have been denied prompt reemployment. 20,000 service men and women had their pensions cut, and another 11,000 lost their health insurance."

So much for the thanks of a grateful nation.

What's worse is that the Pentagon apparently was in cahoots with the scumbucket employers who perpetrated this--- otherwise why classify this information in the first place?

Yet more evidence that "Support Our Troops" is just a bumper-sticker slogan for those in power.

It would be great to have a list of the offenders, so we know whose tires to slash.

11 Comments:

Blogger Pat said...

Thanks for posting this, Walter. I just finished posting a long tirade on my own blog on why I will no longer watch the local news - i.e. there is no content to it any more. That I get my news online these days.

This is such a shame and disgrace I can't speak. The last time we treated our veterans that way wasn't even Vietnam, it was after World War I. And Bush isn't Hoover, that's an insult to Hoover.

There is one archetype you mess with at your peril: the image of those who gave their lives to save us. When we start seeing our veterans as that, the regime that mistreats them is well on its way out of town with a coat of tar and feathers.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Synova said...

Oh, for the love of Pete.

And I suppose all the miscreant employers are Bushites.

Sheesh.

Or, in other words, that's what you get for sitting out the "not my war" war, because doing nothing is better than taking care of the things you *do* care about and perhaps being seen to be supportive of the war or administration by association, and that's far worse than anything imaginable.

Or maybe it's just that people mess up and when they make messes the messes need to get straightened out by someone, which takes effort.

Which happens, especially, in any large government organization.

Think DMV on steroids.

But NOooooo, It's *malice.*

Gotcha.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

Walter, as the son, grandson, and great-grandson of professional soldiers, I can assure you that one of the great constants of military life is that the politicians will screw you.

It's like killing and dying, or lying recruiters -- it goes with the job.

"When you're wounded and left
On Afghanistant's plains
And the women come out
To cut up your remains
You'll roll to your rifle
And blow out your brains
And go to your God
Like a soldier."

So it's deplorable, but not surprising or unusual.

11:54 AM  
Blogger dubjay said...

Whereas it is certainly traditional to treat one's veterans badly--- Elizabeth I left her sailors on the beach to starve, after the menace of the Armada had passed--- that isn't what our nation is supposed to be about.

What continually strikes me about this Administration is the utter contempt with which they treat the people who are expected to fight and die for them. They've deprived them of benefits, refused to send them safe or effective equipment in the field, subjected them to below-standard health care, subjected troubled soldiers to psychological abuse, and now letting their jobs be taken away.

Maybe if some of them had actually served in the active-duty military, they'd see things differently. But no, they had other priorities.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Synova said...

I probably shouldn't have commented at all but *seriously*...

Do you think that this administration treats those in the military (or out of it) with contempt?

By what standards?

Equipment, offensive and defensive, is better than it's ever been. Living conditions, in theater or out, are better than they've ever been. Health care is mindbogglingly spectacular, considering, and the biggest medical "problems" are from the fact that soldiers *don't* die. And psych care? They actually *have* it. And employment protection for National Guard? In which other conflict did that ever exist?

Can all of it be better. Yeah. Probably. But not by waving a magic wand and not by *caring* more.

It takes people working out the kinks, finding those who experience a snafu of one sort or another and getting it fixed. The problems don't happen because the people in charge don't care (and most of the people in charge ARE active duty military) the problems happen because it's the nature of the beast.

8:43 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

Synova--- well yes, I do.

We are talking about a Commander in Chief who went to share Thanksgiving dinner with the troops a couple years ago, and who brought a cardboard turkey. A prop. Many photographs were taken of the CiC with a big knife and fork, about to take a slice out of that turkey and feed it to the troops.

Presumably after the photo op, Mr. Bush went somewhere else to have his real dinner.

I have seen no report on whether or not soldiers actually had to eat the cardboard turkey.

Does this show a certain contempt? Hell, yes.

There's a certain levity in this anecdote, but I don't see anything funny in cutting $28 billion in veterans' benefits less than a year after the start of the Iraq War.

Or in cutting off access to the health care system for 164,000 veterans and cutting 1.5 billion in housing funds and veterans' benefits on the same day that Mr. Bush visited a veterans' hospital and proclaimed, "Seeing the care that these troops get is comforting for me and Laura. We should and must provide the best care for anybody who is willing to put their life in harm's way."

Or forcing active-duty servicemen, wounded in military hospitals, to pay for their own care.

Or rolling back imminent-danger pay and family-separation pay.

Do I get the impression that the administration doesn't care about a soldier once he's used up and is no longer of use to the military?

Yes, I do.

Does that demonstrate contempt?

Yes, it does.

While the body armor now provided to U.S. troops is the best ever provided, and while it's superior in mobility to the armor issued previously, soldiers in Iraq have been forbidden from wearing =better= armor that they've purchased with their own money.

And then there's the incredible lethargy with which the administration has pursued the issue of up-armoring the vehicles used in Iraq, even =years= after it was clear that IEDs were going to be a major problem.

Though the Pentagon is now enthusiastically buying MRAPS at a cost of $1 million per, it took them an awfully damn long time to react to where so many of their casualties were coming from.

Let's not forget the Walter Reed Hospital scandal. Congress was briefed in 2004 about the problems, but no action was taken until the scandal went public just this year.

I know that you've got to "go to war with the army you've got," in Mr. Rumsfeld's resonant phrase, but fixing the army once the bugs have been found needs to be a priority, and here it wasn't.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Synova said...

Bush held a real turkey, dressed up pretty, which was displayed on the serving line while Bush served troops going through the line from the regular cafeteria trays. If he ate somewhere else later it was because the meal was over.

The turkey wasn't cardboard, or plastic. It never was. The newspaper who printed the original claim printed a correction.

There's a certain levity in this anecdote, and perhaps something important in the fact that the plastic turkey example of superficiality isn't and never was true.

So I have a question. If the president's contempt (I won't speak for his decision making or policies, just his relationship with the military) is so obvious, why do so many of those in the military not catch on?

(I have stories of military medical stupidity and organizational failure from my active duty years during Clinton. Maybe I just don't see the significance.)

7:10 PM  
Blogger halojones-fan said...

"Cardboard turkey" is the anti-Bush equivalent of the blood libel. It's one of those story that's just so deliciously RIGHT that you just know it's true. You don't even have to look into it. You KNOW it's true. You KNOW it's true.

Of course it turns out to be complete bullshit, but hey--it's the sort of thing that ought to be true, and that's good enough, right? It might be fake, but it's certainly accurate.

"...soldiers in Iraq have been forbidden from wearing =better= armor that they've purchased with their own money."

No. Dragon Skin is not better. Dragon Skin melts at the temperatures encountered in the desert.

"Though the Pentagon is now enthusiastically buying MRAPS at a cost of $1 million per, it took them an awfully damn long time to react to where so many of their casualties were coming from."

That's because it took them this long to get the design done, tested, and buildable. You can't just weld scrap metal to the outside of your jeep and expect it to be useful. I'm rather surprised to find a nominally tech-savvy writer asserting that it's easy to create an explosion-resistant vehicle, actually.

7:39 AM  
Blogger dubjay said...

I have stories of military medical stupidity and organizational failure from my active duty years during Clinton. Maybe I just don't see the significance.

Oh, granted. Clinton was supremely clueless when it came to the military. That would have been reasonably okay if he'd left the decision-making to people who were competent, but he was such a hands-on geek that he couldn't bring himself to do that.

As for the prop turkey story, I couldn't find any retractions or corrections online, but I found enough red-state bloggers crowing about it (usually in posts that begin "the thing that you stupid liberals fail to understand . . . ") that I'm reasonably convinced that this was a non-story.

I retract any statement about prop turkeys.

So I have a question. If the president's contempt is so obvious, why do so many of those in the military not catch on?

Officers are leaving the military in accelerated numbers, particularly recently-minted West Point graduates. This is going to be a considerable problem in any future war. (As for the generals, the fewer the better)

Dragon Skin is not better. Dragon Skin melts at the temperatures encountered in the desert.

Unproven at best. When submerged in 165-degree liquid for 6 hours,
half the Dragon Skin vests in a Pentagon test suffered from a breakdown of the adhesive backing. This was clearly a test designed to produce a failure, and in any case the adhesive has since been changed.

It was not a realistic test in realistic conditions. (If you submerged a soldier in 165-degree water for six hours, he'd die, so the whole test was kind of pointless--- if your armor fails several hours after your death, it's not going to matter much.)

Such objective testing as exists--- there's not much--- shows Dragon Skin as holding up pretty well.

When soldiers in the field start to complain about their body armor melting, I'll believe that Pentagon report.

That's because it took them this long to get the design done, tested, and buildable. You can't just weld scrap metal to the outside of your jeep and expect it to be useful.

Well actually you can, sort of. That's what the applique armor used on (for example) the Stryker is about. You put it on for operations requiring more protection, and you can even remove it afterwards.

Add-on armor kits have their own problems, but they're better than no add-on armor at all.

That's because it took them this long to get the design done, tested, and buildable . . . I'm rather surprised to find a nominally tech-savvy writer asserting that it's easy to create an explosion-resistant vehicle, actually.

Kits for up-armoring Humvees were designed prior to the Gulf War, as a result of experience with Bosnian minefields. The chief obstacle to deployment was the government's resistance to purchasing them.

In 2004, at a point in the war where 70% of our casualties were a result of IEDs, a Pentagon study reported that only 1000 armored Humvees were needed. (We now have 10,000.)

As for MRAPs, the British Army has operatated a variation of the Cougar (called the Tempest) since 2002--- and these are built in America, folks, it's not like we didn't know about them. The US didn't order substantial numbers of them till recently (something like 20,000).

Maybe we had to get rid of Rumsfeld first.

In any case, until that flood of new gear arrives, troops are forced to rely on stopgaps like the Hunter Box--- which is quite a nifty whatzit, actually, showing true American improvisation in the face of challenge. But still a stopgap, for all that.

5:26 PM  
Blogger halojones-fan said...

"When submerged in 165-degree liquid for 6 hours,
half the Dragon Skin vests in a Pentagon test suffered from a breakdown of the adhesive backing. This was clearly a test designed to produce a failure, and in any case the adhesive has since been changed."

The temperature in a closed box, in the sun, in the desert, can certainly reach 165 degrees.

And it's not as though the test standard, or the contract specification, wasn't available beforehand. It's not as though Pinnacle didn't know what they were going to have to meet.

And you're right that a soldier wouldn't withstand exposure to high heat, but that isn't the point of the heat-exposure test. It's a question of transport and storage of the item itself. That is, can I just throw it in the back of a truck, or do I need to keep it in an air-conditioned trailer? Can I leave it out in the rain, or do I need to keep it in a bag? If it gets soaked with sweat, can I just toss it in a pile and ignore it or do I have to place it upright so that it dries more quickly?

This all seems like nitpicky, piddly little details, but it does make a difference. It's like "dry-clean only"; if you put it through the washing machine, then it's wrecked, and wrecking a suit of body armor is rather more important than wrecking a silk shirt.

"Well actually you can, sort of. That's what the applique armor used on (for example) the Stryker is about."

You've missed my point. The Stryker's armor packages are part of the initial design, and they're tested and proven to work. It's not as though some guys just said "hey, these Strykers need more armor, let's get a bunch of steel plates from the junkyard and weld them to the side."

"Add-on armor kits have their own problems, but they're better than no add-on armor at all."

Actually, sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they aren't mounted properly, so an explosion just blows them off the truck. Sometimes they obscure sight lines and keep you from seeing the bad guys--or they obscure egress routes and trap you in a burning vehicle. Sometimes the steel isn't thick enough, or is cheap mild steel instead of expensive high-alloy steel, and the bullets punch through it like it was a tin can.

"The chief obstacle to deployment was the government's resistance to purchasing them."

I'll agree with you there. But it's not correct to suggest that "better protection" is simply a matter of adding more metal.

8:15 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

That is, can I just throw it in the back of a truck, or do I need to keep it in an air-conditioned trailer? Can I leave it out in the rain, or do I need to keep it in a bag? If it gets soaked with sweat, can I just toss it in a pile and ignore it or do I have to place it upright so that it dries more quickly?

Okay, that makes sense. Except that a much better test for the piece of armor is to do exactly what you're describing with it, rather than subject it to a test that it won't encounter in the field.

Just throw the stuff in an APC and park it in the Iraqi sun for a few days.

As for up-armoring, it's true that there can be problems. In general, though, the people in the field know what they need better than the acquisition guys in D.C., and it behooves the latter to listen to the former.

Apropos listening . . . may I congratulate folks here for the civil tone of this debate? Looking at the political blogs the other day convinced me that political discourse in our time consists entirely of people shouting slogans while not listening, and I'd like to thank everyone here for raising the standard a bit.

5:06 PM  

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