This is the picture of the war so far for me. I cannot tell you why, but among all images of this fiasco, my brain has not released this picture's hold over it.
On Monday, Sgt. Shannon spoke at a congressional hearing on the horrid conditions of the lack of medical care at Walter Reed hospital, the crown jewel of our military hospital system.
During his speech, he lost his train of thought a number of times and was visibly frustrated by the inability to focus on everything he wanted to say. For once, members of congress were patient and gave him as much time as he needed.
He lost his train of thought due to the brain injury that has become commonplace among our casualties of the Iraq War. He told of the anger he now has very little control over and I am reminded that those killed in this horrible war may end up being the luckier casualties of this war.
We have spent so much time focusing on the relative lack of deaths of American soldiers (due to good doctors, nothing else) that we have only recently noticed that we are having many more men and women returning to the states with serious conditions they and their families will live with for their entire lives. These men and women will spend the rest of their lives fighting with a Veterans Administration bent on taking little responsibility for their conditions or need for aftercare.
The families of the fallen will continue to mourn, but the parents, spouses and children of the severely wounded will privately mourn while spending the next decades with little or no support from the military, VA, media outlets or politicians that sent them to Iraq (or the politicians, companies and parties that have profited greatly from this war).
The VA will look at men like Sgt. Shannon and work hard to put the burden of proof upon the vets to prove their injuries and handicaps are combat related. The VA will hem and haw, making these heroes spend much more time filing claims and appeals, crying in their own homes and being reminded that the government forgets its wounded upon reentry to civilian life. I have seen this in the life of my father, a veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He has spent the past 40+ years hearing from the VA that because he was on a ship during his Pacific tour, he did not experience combat.
He has suffered from hearing loss directly connected to his time on board a Destroyer tender. His medical office was sitting between to massive guns, but since he could have lost his hearing at any other time (last I checked he did not attend rock concerts or have an iPod), how can he prove it was from 4 years on a ship during wartime? Only now, as he nears the end of his life, do they consider his claims to have merit (you can guess from my tone and experience that I really don't like the VA).
Of course, the latest Bush Administration %#*! up shows that the Pentagon is no longer waiting until discharge from the military to abuse its combat veterans. By not preparing for the aftermath of battles and giving its hospital administration to incompetent Republican supporting contractors that cannot deliver ice to Katrina victims, they have shown their disregard for those that fight for the freedom they espouse at photo ops (the only time they support troops) and in talking points.
I have visited veterans and injured soldiers at the VA hospitals and seen their sadness at the treatment by the very leaders that chose to send them into harms way. They have been trained and told to never complain or tell anyone of their pain and hurt. They have been told to support their superiors and any boneheaded decision made because it is their duty. They have been sold a lie that Republicans are the only people that care for them and support them. They have even supported the President and seen that he was reelected in 2004 only to send more of them to their death or injury with no discernible plan for their success or support.
And this is how we treat them.