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From The National Office
By Bill Branson
Welcome to the Spring 2012 issue of The Veteran.
When VVAW first started in 1967, many of us never thought we would reach 30. Now 45 years later, we are still giving all we have to fight for peace, justice and the rights of all veterans. Many of us never thought VVAW would still be around decades after our war ended. We lost many brothers and sisters in the war, and we have lost many brothers and sisters since then. Those of us still around can feel the aches and pains of aging, the illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure, and the ravages of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But we still struggle, to stand up for GIs and veterans, for our generation and for those that have since been sent to fight in unjust wars, like us.
We live in a time of great uncertainty. That is the one thing to remain constant. Across the world, tensions and threats of war only shift from one region, to the next, and back again. In North Korea, the passing of Kim Jung-il and the installation of his son, Kim Jung-un as the leader, has created instability across the region. As the national 100-day mourning period of his father ended, Kim Jung-un unsuccessfully held a missile launch test, casting great suspicion as to the intentions of North Korea's leaders. In the Middle East, Iran continues to increase its uranium enrichment, reportedly for medical purposes, but Israel, another nuclear power, has threatened to attack Iran to halt Iran's uranium enrichment. In spite of the misgivings of our military, and opposition from the majority of our population, the war drums are beating for Iran. With troops still being drawn down in Afghanistan, could we be in another war before the end of the year? As veterans opposed to unjust wars, we must fight for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and we must stand firmly against an invasion, whether by drone or by foot, into any other country. The time is past due for the US to be out of the Middle East, for our country to invest in rebuilding our nation, and taking care of our soldiers.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been charged with seventeen counts of premeditated murder and other crimes after being accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians early in the morning of March 11, 2012. The first details to emerge about this horrible tragedy pointed to a cold, calculated and premeditated attack, spread across two incidences in a village near where Staff Sgt. Bales was stationed. The US government quickly paid out compensation to the victims and injured Afghani civilians. But it took several weeks to hear the details of what could have led to this tragedy.
Staff Sgt. Bales was serving on his fourth tour of duty overseas between Iraq and Afghanistan. He witnessed many violent tragedies and was severely injured more than once. During his second tour of duty, something happened that created a noticeable change in his behavior. He began suffering from nightmares and depression. From what we know, he never sought treatment, but these details indicate a probable case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If our government took care of its soldiers — by not sending troops on multiple deployments, by not denying a soldier's right to heal, by working to end the stigma preventing many soldiers from seeking treatment for PTSD — then this tragedy might have been avoided. It is not hard for us to remember that the MyLai Massacre was only the most publicized massacre in the Vietnam War. How many others have occurred in the AfPak war? What Sgt. Bales did was horrendous, but what we have done as a country leaves us responsible, with the blood on our hands.
VVAW continues to provide quality Military Counseling at no charge with two full-time workers — Ray Parrish, providing military and discharge services, and Johanna (Hans) Buwalda, a licensed mental health counselor. Hans is working to expand the network of mental health providers across the country to help veterans in need, both with VA evaluations and with getting the care they seek.
We continue to provide IVAW's Field Organizing Program with crucial financial support. We share our war and anti-war experiences and struggles with documentarians to preserve what we have seen and what we have worked for. And, as we have done since the horrifying realities about Agent Orange were revealed in 38 years ago, VVAW continues to be directly involved in the struggle for victims of Agent Orange, here and in Vietnam.
We call on all VVAW members and supporters to do what you can where you can - Get Involved! We still have lots of work to do — while many of us may not be able to take the streets as we did after Vietnam, there is still so much we can do to further the struggle for peace, justice and decent benefits for all veterans.
Bill Branson is a VVAW national coordinator.
Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons. Thanks to Aaron Hughes and Paul Cameron for their sketches. Thanks to Horace Coleman, Ann Hirschman, Barry Romo, Marty Webster, Laurie Sandow, Bill Christofferson, Poppy Kohner, Charles Henderson, Crystal Colon, Nick Medevecky, Daniel Lavery and others for contributing photos.