Column: After the glory

By Gus Bode

Washington Post reporters Dana Hill and Anne Hull have blown the lid off the conditions of Walter Reed Hospital. By exposing the reality of life for wounded veterans, the American public must now conclude that it’s not war protesters who do not support the troops, instead, it is the American government that does not support the troops.

Oh yes, the loud cry of support for the troops is vociferous and raucous on the floors of Congress. There are grand parades on Veterans Day. We have all types of majestic rituals for those who are currently serving and lots of lip service for older warriors. Moreover, the advertisements for the military are compelling and quite enticing.

Yet, what happens after the glory? What happens when their war is no longer the flavor of the day? Many men, like my father who served in the Korean War, are forgotten and discarded. What happens when these veterans are mentally ill and homeless? Why do they have to endure delays and huge stacks of paperwork to have their needs met when they have offered themselves up to lay down for their country? Why do some vets have to apply for food stamps? Why has not the Veterans Administration been more responsive and sensitive to veterans? Those who argue that protesters have ruined the soldier’s morale are apparently unaware of Building 18 at Walter Reed Hospital.


Hill and Washington’s outstanding expos� of conditions in Building 18 describe a grim situation. “Mouse droppings, cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses,” long waits to see doctors and ill treatment, lined with depression and frustration, mirror the lives of returning injured veterans. Yet, while this new round of returning veterans are facing life after the glory of parades, decorations and Army commercials, they are discovering what other veterans learned the hard way that after the fanfare and accolades they are soon as disposable as tissue paper once it’s used.

Historically, this is not new; the American government has given very little respect to its veterans. In 1932, World War I veterans (known as Bonus Marchers) marched to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress for early payment of their veteran’s bonuses due to the economic depression. General MacArthur ordered troops to beat veterans; troops tear-gassed the marchers, burned their shacks and forcibly drove them across the Potomac River. Many black veterans in the 1940s, upon returning home from serving in World War II, were beaten and shot while wearing the uniform. Many of them wondered aloud why they were fighting for democracy overseas when there was no democracy in Mississippi.

For years, Vietnam veterans struggled to force the government to acknowledge the damaging effects of Agent Orange. Agent Orange was heavily contaminated with dioxin, TCDD, a deadly cancer. Over many years, Vietnam veterans began to get sick, have birth defected children and often died while struggling to have the Veterans Administration provide testing, treatment and compensation for those affected. Finally, the Veterans Administration acknowledged the reality of Agent Orange but the toll it took on veterans’ lives was excruciating.

After the first Gulf War, many soldiers complained of another illness better known as Gulf War Syndrome. Forced to prove that they were truly afflicted, many of these brave men and women suffered for years. Currently, Iraqi War veterans are returning with catastrophic injuries and serious stress related problems. What these men and women, who are returning, need more than parades and fancy rhetoric is stellar medical care, compassion and prompt assistance from the government that sent them into battle. Moreover, in twenty years, their cause should still be our cause. That is truly supporting the troops.

LeNie Adolphson alumna: history, 200