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(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Spring 2015 (Volume 45, Number 1).)

From the National Office

By Bill Branson

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Fifty years ago, in 1965, the US began the ground war in Vietnam, and forty years ago, Saigon was taken and the US under President Ford declared the Vietnam War over. In VVAW's forty-eight years, we have used what we have experienced and learned from Vietnam to fight against unjust warfare, whether carried out directly or by proxy.

We have organized under the mission of peace, justice and the rights of all veterans. Our work has become more challenging in the past fifteen years as the global war on terror has turned into US incursions and bombings in multiple countries, on multiple fronts, simultaneously. Remember the first Gulf War? Many of us, and millions across the country, watched the air assault on Iraq begin on CNN, stuck to our TVs, engrossed in what we were watching before we hit the streets. Now, we are lucky to get a passing byline about the US dropping bombs on the new country of choice of the week.

This change in US warfare has made our role in fighting back against these injustices more difficult. Our country now has a nonchalant attitude towards dropping bombs and unleashing violence on civilian populations. Our government imposes its moral superiority and its idea of borders on the rest of the world. This is why we find our government trying to bomb ISIS back into the Stone Age (which only perpetuates the problems that gave ISIS its foothold) and our "Foreign Policy" producing chaos in Syria and the entire Middle East.

Now with the hopeful June finalization of the Iran Nuclear Deal, Iran is a renewed focus of US foreign policy. The outlined deal has the potential to make great strides forward in curbing nuclear proliferation. The barbaric, outlandish and even traitorous sabotage, led by the Republican Party, aided by Netanyahu, and even joined by some Democrats, has attempted to insert one "deal breaker" after another.

If a deal is not reached to implement real international-led inspections of the facilities and/or Iran does not allow for a transparent process, we may end up going ten steps backwards, or even with another war. We have sanctioned the hell out of Iran and that will be the crucial compensation Iran is demanding. And it's only fair.

At home, we are fighting our own battles, from an overzealous militarized police state to a broken VA system. How many unarmed citizens, especially young men and women of color have to die at the hands of the police before we change our justice system? Ferguson, South Carolina, Baltimore—where next? This is by no means an attack on police officers by and large. There are many well-intentioned law enforcement officers out there. However, when our country focuses funding for militarizing the police, and departments spend more time training in combat scenarios instead of conflict resolution and de-escalation tactics, we will only create a police system focused on creating safety through violence.

Remember when we warned that the evil the US has done abroad would eventually come home to roost? This plan tastes and smells very similar to the CIA and NSA worldwide program of spying and the rampage of secretly sanctioned murders by drone, disappearances and torture. You know, the program that is working so well for us in the Middle East?

GIs and veterans like us are fighting our own war to get access to the health care services that we have earned and need. In the year since the VA scandal in Phoenix became headline news, not enough has changed for the VA. National attention and scrutiny has been brought to the issues. And while system reform takes time, more must be done. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 is not enough! The Veterans Health Administration has to be completely reformed and rebuilt, from the bottom up and our country has to raise the standards for our health care and the consequences for when the system fails to provide that. Whistleblowers must be protected. Employees must have a voice in administrator's reviews. We vets, the "clients," must have a seat at the table.

We must work hard to prevent the incompetence and corruption that was fostered by the politicians and their rich, austerity-for-the-poor, masters, being used as an excuse to privatize the VA. OUR VA, is not a pie to be divided by the Medical Conglomerates!

We—veterans and our families—are paying, and continue to pay, for the results of the wars our country has created. Some scars do not heal. Nationally, veterans make up at least 20% of the suicide deaths. And veterans, especially younger veterans, are 2-3 times more likely to commit suicide than a civilian. At a time when the VA is overwhelmed and fractured, the need for real and comprehensive mental health services couldn't be greater.

The Security State dogs have been urged on by our draftdodging Congress to focus on so-called "traitors" like Bowe Bergdahl and Chelsea Manning. When will we prosecute the real criminals (actual traitors) like Nixon, Bush, Reagan and Cheney? Bush and Cheney took us to war with no evidence and their actions created a new generation of veterans. They created the circumstances for Bergdahl and Manning to take the actions that they did. They did nothing to put into place an infrastructure to help returning soldiers, like bolstering and growing the VA system.

This is why Vietnam Veterans Against the War is still here. Our work is not done. Our war may have officially ended forty years ago, but our mission for peace, justice and the rights of all veterans has just as much importance today as it did when we first started. The legacy of chemical poisoning and mental trauma is very apparent. The current conditions, as well as our circumstances, may not be conducive for the same sort of organized mass demonstrations, but there is still so much we can still do.

We can be vocal and share our experiences. When the Department of Defense's 50th commemoration of the Vietnam War seeks to gloss over and whitewash the war, we must be there to challenge that re-writing of history.

We must also keep speaking out. Contact your legislators to make sure that they are working to protect veterans' rights and prioritizing strengthening the VA. Share your experiences about the VA and what you would like to see improved on.

Lastly, we must fight against any new wars in whatever way we can.

Bill Branson is a VVAW board member.

Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons. Thanks to Aaron Hughes and IVAW for the illustrations. Thanks to Bill Branson, Jack Klein, Joe Miller, Ben Chitty, Ann Bailey, Brian Matarrese and others for contributing photos.

Charlie Branson
Bill Branson
Jeff Machota
Ellie Shunas
Jen Tayabji

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