Last Friday I attended "Veterans' Braintrust: Justice or Injustice?", a session at the Congressional Black Caucus's annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C. organized by Ron Armstead. Members of congress, military veterans, academics and citizens gathered to discuss the challenges that the current war is creating in terms of caring for veterans--as well as historic and ongoing discrimination against African American servicemembers.
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, a former Air Force chaplain and a leader of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, eloquently described that organization's demands, which include immediate withdrawal from Iraq, reparations to the Iraqi people, and adequate health care and support for returning veterans.
Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, highlighted the potential future costs of the war by pointing out the long-term toll of the Vietnam War on its veterans: more of whom have now committed suicide than were killed in the war (approx. 58,000). He also said that the living casualties of the war in Iraq are much higher than in the past; in the Vietnam War, the ratio of wounded to killed was 3:1; today, it is 17:1. The signature injuries of this war are traumatic brain injuries, which are both difficult to diagnose and require long-term treatment. Without a massive investment in protecting and preserving the mental and physical health of veterans, the future costs of this war will be tremendous. (photo above is from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington)