Honor and Sacrifice On Veteran’s Day
By Dean Michael L. Coyne and Assistant Dean Diane M. Sullivan Massachusetts School of Law
Out on the campaign trail, the presidential candidates spoke often of the debt we owe our veterans. Vice President Elect Pence has a son who is presently serving overseas in the military. Let us hope that these are encouraging signs that President Elect Trump will honor our obligations to those whose blood, sweat, and sacrifice is the cost of our freedom. Fewer than 1% of all Americans serve in the military protecting the rights of the other 99%. As Churchill said, “We sleep safely at night because rough men – – and women – – stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” Never before has America asked so much for so long as it asked of those many millions of men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, we do so little to help them.
America must demand so much more in the treatment of our soldiers, whose battles often don’t end on foreign soil. Vice President Biden said, “As a nation we have a lot of obligations – – to the young, to the old, to all the poor. But there’s no obligation that is truly sacred other than the commitment to our veterans.”
Too many men and women have gone off in service of their country without proper fitting equipment, gear and the tools to do their job appropriately. Medical care and equipment for female soldiers is particularly inadequate. Nearly one in four female soldiers are victims of sexual assault. Too many returning soldiers commit suicide – – nearly one an hour, and over 8,000 per year. Suicide by your veterans constitutes 20% of all suicides, and while women generally kill themselves far less often than men, among veterans, the suicide rates are nearly the same. Too many soldiers return home in futile search for appropriate care for the injuries caused from their service to the county. Soldiers sacrifice their comfort and security for our comfort and security. Don’t we owe those who protected our freedom all the care they need?
A veteran we knew had been hit particularly hard. He was working, and like many of us, just getting along. His meager wages at a fast food restaurant barely allowed him to keep his head above water and the bill collectors at bay. He knew he would be unable to work much longer as he was losing his increasingly difficult struggle with his disabilities aggravated by the relentless aging process. He went to Social Security to see if he would be eligible for assistance. They told him that as long as he was working they would not assess his eligibility for funding. He had to quit his job! He was afraid to quit because he would have insufficient money to exist. With the assistance of strangers, he began the journey to qualify for benefits.
With no money, no transportation and limited education he, like so many disabled individuals, found the process overwhelming. Nevertheless, he soldiered on and completed all the “necessary paperwork”. It was apparent to all who met him that he clearly qualified for benefits. Yet months and months later, there was still no decision, no money, and no real help. At that point, he was told that unless an individual is homeless it takes well over a year to process a claim for benefits. A sad fact in America today is that the great bulk of our nation’s homeless are indeed our former soldiers. One out of every four homeless person is veteran with female veterans being the fastest growing segment of our homeless population.
It is morally reprehensible to think a veteran must be homeless in the winter in New England or in the scorching heat of the South before the government acts. Lucky for our friend, he had friends who had friends whose voices are not as easily ignored like Secretary of State, John Kerry. Secretary of State, Kerry can’t help everyone. America needs to do much, much better.
President Obama and Vice President Biden, as your terms near a close this Veterans Day, choose to be men of honor. President Elect Trump, let your actions mirror your words spoken on the campaign trail. Finally get government moving so that we start to pay that debt that can never fully be paid. Let’s make the lives of our returning soldiers nearly as comfortable as their sacrifices have made ours.
Michael L. Coyne is the Dean and a Professor of Law at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover. He can be reached at Coyne@mslaw.edu. Diane Sullivan is an Assistant Dean and Professor of Law at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover. She can be reached at Dianes@mslaw.edu.