Today is Veterans Day in the US.
I wrote last year about my friend Mike, who served as an Army Ranger in the Vietnam War. Though he looks much younger than his years, he has lived with painful physical injuries from the war that are worsening with age. He has other health problems linked to Agent Orange exposure, and he takes a cocktail of psychiatric medications for PTSD and other mental health problems.
I am sorry to report that over the past year Mike has taken a turn for the worse. He was diagnosed with MS, and although he is experiencing some characteristic symptoms, he does not buy the diagnosis 100% (for good reason, as it is difficult to diagnose definitively). More troubling are some neuro-psychological problems that appear to be sparking up. Recently, for the first time I’ve seen him uncharacteristically lose his temper (not at me, at a mutual friend). Just this Sunday he kept insisting to me that Republicans are better on gay rights than Democrats. Now I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry: I holstered my locked-&-loaded mockery pistol and gently but firmly insisted otherwise, with reference to the repeal of DADT and the feds dropping the DOMA appeals, among other things. I AM NOT A MONSTER, PEOPLE. Mike cheerfully changed the subject to how much he loves Obama and thinks he’s done a tremendous job as president. I let that one stand, and just said well, I’m a lot farther to the left than Obama. (<—understatement of the year, or the decade?)
We talk about a lot of things, me and Mike—his experiences during the war, his grown daughters and grandchildren, his home town of Detroit, his exes and the women he’s dating, New York City past and present—but mostly we talk about movies. We share a sweet tooth for clever action-adventure, smart thrillers and wicked fun sci-fi. Occasionally he tries to talk to me about professional sports, whereupon my eyes glaze over and I either start looking at my iPhone and paying him annoyed lip service (“uh-huh…”), or I fall tragically into a coma.
What worries me now is that he lives alone and, MS or no, he is facing an increasingly uphill battle with mobility and quality of life. I especially fear the mental impact on him, since despite his injuries he has spent the better part of his life exceptionally fit. I mean, I have no doubt whatsoever that this d00d could kill us all with his bare hands in seconds, like right now. Of course his deteriorating mental health worries me greatly, and not just for his sake but for entirely selfish reasons. There will surely come a day that my friend Mike is not present in my life any more, one way or another.
In the meantime, if he wants to talk I want to listen, with patience and without judgement (unless it’s about the goddamn sports. Jeezus Mike, just shut the fuck up about the sports, mmmkay?). As I’ve written before, I want to be a safe person for him to open up to, and not just about the war. I want to empathize, deeply, sincerely, compassionately, though obviously I can have no earthly idea what he has been through. I think it’s the least I can fucking do.
Just FYI: veteran suicides average more than 22 a day, and more than 69% of them are among those aged 50 and older.
If you have a Mike in your life, can you reach out today and just…listen? And, you know, maybe not just today.
Here are some other things you can do for the veterans of our evil and stupid wars:
Because America’s Owners believe themselves entitled to the sacrifices made by these men and women and their families, VA programs are chronically underfunded and veterans benefits are perpetually on the chopping block. Wounded Warrior steps in with counseling, job resources and material support for veterans and their families. Donate whatever funds you can give, say thank you via Facebook, or “donate” a Facebook post or Tweet to show these men and women your support. There are also volunteer opportunities and other ways to help.
Veterans for Peace™ is a coalition of military veterans and their allies whose mission is threefold: exposing the true costs of war (economic, environmental, human casualties, PTSD & suicide, social); building a culture of peace; and healing the wounds of war, at home and abroad. To that end, it works with other organizations:
- To increase public awareness of the costs of war
- To restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations
- To end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons
- To seek justice for veterans and victims of war
- To abolish war as an instrument of national policy
If you cannot afford to offer financial support, you can educate yourself and others with downloadable resources. There is an online store that sells some really great stuff (everything from a “HOW IS THE WAR ECONOMY WORKING FOR YOU?” bumper sticker for a dollar, to a 9-foot “FREE CHELSEA MANNING” banner for $30). Why not do some early holiday shopping for a veteran in your life? Or pick up some anti-war swag for yourself, and piss off a war-mongering Democrat today. (I’m looking at you, Hillary Clinton.)
See also my recent post about a veteran for peace.
Former Pvt. Chelsea Manning is an American hero presently serving 35 years in a U.S. prison for exposing many illegal acts, corrupt and duplicitous practices and war crimes committed by the United States government for the benefit of America’s Owners. As of April 23, 2014, a Kansas district judge has approved PVT Manning’s request for legal name change (from Bradley), and you can address mail envelopes to her as “Chelsea E. Manning.” For the cost of a stamp you can write to her.
NOTE: mail must be addressed exactly as follows:
CHELSEA E. MANNING 89289
1300 NORTH WAREHOUSE ROAD
FORT LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS 66027-2304
Seriously, no joke:
- Do not include a hash (“#”) in front of Manning’s inmate number.
- Do not include any title in front of Manning’s name, such as “Ms.,” “Mr.,” “PVT,” “PFC,” etc.
- Do not include any additional information in the address, such as “US Army” or “US Disciplinary Barracks.”
- Do not modify the address to conform to USPS standards, such as abbreviating “North,” “Road,” “Fort,” or “Kansas.”
- For international mail, either “USA” or “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” are acceptable on a separate line.
For more information about restrictions on content, see here (or the blog of her lawyer David Coombs). The Chelsea Manning Support Network is also raising funds for her legal fees; you can also donate to her prison account, which she can use to make phone calls, buy stamps and purchase other small comfort items. Be sure to at least sign the petition to President Obama demanding a pardon for Manning—a simple action guaranteed to be just as irritating to him as it is futile!
Call them up and tell them exactly what you think of cutting veterans benefits so that the planet-polluting corporations who benefit from our soldiers’ sacrifices can pay low-to-no taxes. Why not email your congresscritters a little note, and tell them to cut the defense budget in half and fund universal single-payer health care*, education, infrastructure and clean energy with the savings. Demand legislation requiring that companies benefiting financially from our wars be run as non-profits. Get yourself on the government’s lefty watch list today!
*In a masterstroke of truly ingenious reasoning, US soldiers who are less-than-honorably discharged with psychological problems are not entitled to VA health care—including mental health care.
The Palace wishes a Happy Veterans Day to all veterans, and their families and friends.