Opinion: Let’s show our veterans some love

May 25, 2014


“I want a love I can see. That’s the only kind that means a thing to me. Don’t want a love you have to tell me about. That kind of loving I can sure do without.”

— The Temptations, 1963

A few days ago in an airport restaurant, I saw a scene that has become commonplace in recent years. These soldiers were sitting there talking, waiting for their meal. And this guy on the way out detoured over to them. “Thank you for your service,” he said.

They nodded, thanked him for thanking them. He went on his way and they went back to talking.

“Thank you for your service.” I wonder sometimes how military personnel feel about hearing that everywhere they go.

I mean, I went with my wife once to pick up a nephew, an airman returning home from overseas, and we could hardly get out of the airport for all the people stopping him to thank him. I asked what he thinks of that. He shrugged and said something noncommittal.

“Thank you for your service.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve always suspected that if I were a serviceman, I might get a little tired of hearing that. Not that it isn’t earnest and not that it isn’t well meant. It is both. Indeed, a nation that treated homecoming veterans of the last long and controversial war with something less than gratitude seems determined to prove it has learned its lesson. That’s laudable.

But at the same time, in the context of how we actually treat our veterans, the greeting has also come to feel, well ... facile. For me, at least, it calls to mind the Motown chestnut quoted above and the distinction between a love made manifest and one that is only words.

What would it look like if we gave our service personnel a love they could see? Well, here is what it would not look like:

It would not look like Veterans Affairs facilities across the country requiring sick and injured veterans to wait months to see the doctor, then falsifying records to make it appear they were actually being seen much more quickly. This, of course, is the scandal that has roiled the White House and put Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on the defensive.

But look past that. A love they could see would also not look like a backlog of disability claims that peaked last year at more than 900,000, forcing some veterans to wait a year or more for their benefits. Nor would it look like the 2007 Washington Post report about wounded men recovering in a military hospital with rotting walls, creeping mold and vermin sauntering about.

Point being, this new scandal is not new. Rather, it is but a variation on a sadly recurrent theme: the neglect of our veterans.

We’ve heard many excuses: computer systems that don’t talk to one another, lack of oversight, unrealistic expectations, yada yada yada.

But here’s the thing: These men and women volunteer to go into harm’s way, putting body and mind on the line in defense of their nation’s interests. They don’t make excuses, don’t justify or rationalize. They simply do.

And because they do, we have a sacred covenant with them. It is a betrayal of that covenant and a profound national disgrace that they are treated so shoddily when it is time for us to fulfill our part of the bargain, to, as Lincoln put it, “care for him who shall have borne the battle.” So we must confront our government with a simple, bipartisan demand: No more excuses. Fix this, now.

That would reflect a love — and respect — that service personnel could see. And that they richly deserve.

“Thank you for your service” is all well and good. But if we do not put some muscle into that gratitude, if we continue to countenance this shabby treatment, it might be better — or at least, more honest — to just shut up and let our military men and women walk through the airport in peace.

— Leonard Pitts Jr.is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

Most people think they are showing respect for our troops by shaking their hand or posting memes on Facebook. But many of these same people will vote for politicians who say "no taxes". They received a tax cut during a time of war, and they didn't have to sacrifice anything, unless they had family or friends in the war. Our deficit grew huge, because of this. The average American, despite claiming to support the troops do not want to pay for what it will take to support those troops.

All VA hospitals are underfunded and understaffed, and sequester really hurt them. They have had a huge increase in veterans who need care, because of the 2 wars we've been fighting for several years. Anyone remember those wars? Why hospital personnel faked the records is beyond me. Their own selfishness, so they could get bonuses, I assume. They should have been yelling at the top of their lungs that there wasn't enough money to do the job. The selfish jerks should be found and fired, and maybe even arrested. Maybe we have made enough spending cuts, and need to pay up. If you really want to support the troops, do it with your taxes, a handshake doesn't get them medical care. Vote for politicians who are brave enough to tell people, sorry, but we need more money to pay for these things.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

And one more thing. Quit voting for politicians who pass spending bills for tanks and other equipment that our military leaders say they don't need or want. That money should be diverted to taking care of our veterans.

George Lippencott 4 years ago

Maybe because they provide jobs in a politicians district?? If we do not make tanks the people making tanks lose their jobs They did nothing wrong. In the long term we can but not abruptly - not without hurting innocent people.

The simplistic notion that you can turn the ship of state on a dime is sophomoric!

Leslie Swearingen 4 years ago

Shame on you, George, that is not what Dorothy wrote or meant. What she wrote is the simple truth, far too much money is spent on the military and wars. If that money was spent on building factories and improving the infrastructure that would create new jobs for those now making instruments of destruction. We could even build hospitals which would mean a need for more doctors, nurses, techs, janitorial help and of course, construction workers and architects.

And, let us not forget, schools, universities and teachers and professors who would teach people to do all those things.

George Lippencott 4 years ago


A fair amount goes to pay for past wars in health care and retirements. Much goes to operate a base structure that employees almost half a million civilians - sometimes in remote areas of our country. Some goes to pay for the technology and operators that we sent to search for the girls in Nigeria.

Building tanks is a small part of a very complicated and sophisticated system. Your relatively simplistic solutions primarily demonstrate an unfortunate ignorance about the subject. I would really appreciate a more sophisticated dialogue beyond the drum beat of cut defense (as if we haven't)

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

I would prefer to get advice from those who do the job, the military. The politicians are forcing the tanks to make brownie points at home and get reelected. If the military says they don't need more tanks, they don't need them. I'm tired of politicians who think they are experts in education, science, water pollution, medicine, farming, etc. Their ideology does not allow them to listen to the people who are experts.

George Lippencott 4 years ago

Have you ever address the Joint Chiefs in the "Tank"?? Do you know how military policy is made? Do you think that senior military officers are not subject to the requirement to support the Presidents Budget as are all government personnel??

The choice they now face (because of sequestration) is between readiness and people. That is a false choice. You need both. You can cut Defense while still maintaining readiness and being fair with the troops but it takes longer.

There is a base closure task force out there somewhere (will not report until after the election) that will offer some pain where it needs to be offered. A study group on military retirement is also hiding in the weeds until after the election. It too may offer solutions - we may not need to do things as we do. Changing military health care is a fair approach but not for those already well into a career - we are more measured for the civil servants - maybe because they are a preferred constituency

The issue was money for veterans services. It does not have to come from Defense and it does not have to come from tax increases.

Is paying subsidies to middle class tax payers (a new program called the AFCA) really of higher priority then our veterans?

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

Get them the training they need to help our veterans instead. They don't all have to be doctors. Why not put that wasted money, in educating the people who build the tanks to work in veteran's hospitals. We can't keep spending money on things we don't need. Why not divert that money in to fixing bridges and highways. Those building the tanks, could have first dibs on those jobs.

George Lippencott 4 years ago

Fine. Where is the program. There is much advocacy on here for cutting defense but little if any for addressing those impacted by those cuts.

The federal budget is abouit three trillion per year. If our priorities were correct there would be no problem. The only solution offered by many here is to raise taxes. There are other simple solutions but each side hold out for their constituents. Unfortunately our veterans do not appear to have any effective advocacy support.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

There are solutions, other than raising taxes, but our legislators are too obsessed about getting reelected to make the tough decisions. They need to listen to people who know what they are doing, and forget about being reelected. They should be governing, not running for office.

George Lippencott 4 years ago

No complaint from me! Of course, dialogue that brands those we disagree with a idiots or worse does not help to get reasonable people elected

George Lippencott 4 years ago

I should keep my mouth shut but I just cannot

First of all not all our veterans are volunteers. Many from the Vietnam era were draftees or draft motivated. In this case a distinction without a difference.

Now we have muddied the water (as we usually do) with this issue. The VA simply does not have the resources to meet the obligations we have assigned to it. The DOD does not have the resources to meet the obligations to veterans (retirement and health care) that are its' responsibility.

Yes we could levy more taxes – particularly on the rich who enjoy income tax rates that are not uniformly progressive and have access to many tax privileged forms of income. Asking for a fair share would be nice. That said it would not even address the annual deficit let alone provide more funding.

How can our society justify adding subsidies to people who have never served and who enjoy middle class incomes when 1. we already provide a very substantial safety net 2. we are adding at the very time we are subtracting from veterans to whom commitments were made in return for service 3. so far only the veterans are being asked for sacrifice (reductions in commitments)

Priorities! Priorities! Priorities!!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

And don't keep your mouth shut. We don't need to argue. That's whats going on in Congress. Everybody should come up with ideas that could work, and people and their ideologies need to get out of the way.

George Lippencott 4 years ago

We need to be informed about what we think we know. Are you really informed about Defense Policy (not Foreign Policy)? Is Leslie?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years ago

As a Viet Nam era veteran, I like to wear the ball hat with my ship name on it (forwards, of course, I do not belong to any gang).

Occasionally some total stranger will come up and say "thank you for your service". Most recently when I was visiting the display at the KC Union Station.

I don't know about others, but I do appreciate this kindness. When we were returning from WESTPAC (U.S. Pacific Fleet) and entering San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge, we were greeted by the local hippies with trash and rotten fruit tossed as us.

There has been a remarkable turnaround in public attitudes towards military veterans in recent times, those of us who were once regarded as "baby killers" and worse are now recognized for our military service, draftees or volunteers

Thanks to all of you who have noted our work and please remember to support our veterans in any way that motivates you..

Paul R Getto 4 years ago

Politicians love to build, but not maintain. Interstate Highways and taking care of the vets we have destroyed for no strategic reason are just two examples.

Lawrence Morgan 4 years ago

I am a Vietnam-era veteran. The reason that veterans don't have resources and lobbying is that for many, it is difficult just to live from day to day. It is not like those who did not serve. Many people who avoided the service made plenty of money in their twenties, while veterans, when they got back from the service, had nowhere to go. Especially - and I am one of those - when their point of view differed from that of the American Legion, for instance. I went a number of times to the American Legion, only to be told - like many others - that I HAD to support the Vietnam war, and if I didn't, then get out of there.

I wanted to go to grad school, but I could not find an acceptable school - the Veterans Administration denied such requests (going to KU for grad school meant that many teachers and students had moved on, and weren't interested in such things. They were interested in studies of some writer, for instance, who was of very little interest today - I was in the English area). I could go on and on, but the reality is that my friends who didn't go into the service had degrees and were getting jobs. The war was not of interest to them at all.

For veterans, on the other hand, there was a very different world out there. It's a little like racism - and god forbid, if the person was a minority, even though they had served well in the military - when they got out it was good luck if they found the GI Bill to be suitable for them, because most universities paid no attention to people of color, especially when they were also veterans. And this has persisted to this day.

The people at the VA were, for the most part, not veterans - and they had little concern or patience for many veterans' problems. This was certainly true in Kansas. In reality, most had no connection to the war whatsoever - they instead regarded this position as a job, hoping to move on to higher and better things soon.

Many veterans had a very different point of view on life upon leaving the service. There were few, VA or otherwise, who had any interest in what they had to say, what they had experienced. And a lot of this is true today, as well.

It's no wonder that veterans are so poorly served by the Veterans Administration. It's been this way for a long, long time. Only now, after many years, is it starting to come out in the open.

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